Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 23, 2012

Regarding re: resilience, recovery and more

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on August 23, 2012

Remember when you were instructed in Algebra class to “show your work”?  I have been working on a hypothesis that diversity is more important to resilience than redundancy.   I’m not ready (able) to offer the full algorithm, but here are some elements of the equation.

Resilience: “The ability to adapt to changing conditions and withstand and rapidly recover from disruption due to emergencies.” (Presidential Policy Directive 8 and other federal documents).

“Resilience is defined as the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change so as to retain essentially the same function, structure, identity and feedbacks…” (Diversity and Resilience of Social-Ecological Systems)

Recover: 1. to get back or regain (something lost or taken away): to recover a stolen watch; 2. to make up for or make good (loss, damage, etc., to oneself); 3. to regain the strength, composure, balance, or the like, of (oneself). (From Dictionary.com)

“The term “recovery” refers to those capabilities necessary to assist communities affected by an incident to recover effectively, including, but not limited to, rebuilding infrastructure systems; providing adequate interim and long-term housing for survivors; restoring health, social, and community services; promoting economic development; and restoring natural and cultural resources. (PPD-8 and other federal documents)

Restore: “1. to bring back into existence, use, or the like; reestablish: to restore order. 2. to bring back to a former, original, or normal condition, as a building, statue, or painting. 3. to bring back to a state of health, soundness, or vigor. 4. to put back to a former place, or to a former position, rank, etc.: to restore the king to his throne. 5. to give back; make return or restitution of (anything taken away or lost).” (See Dictionary.com)

(In contemporary usage there is little distinction between recover and restore. We may tend to recover things that have been lost and restore things that have been damaged. Sudden losses are usually recovered, while slow deterioration is typically restored. We are inclined to recover what is personally owned and restore what is shared in common. But exceptions abound. Etymologically there is a slight suggestion that recovery obscures what has been lost (covers it over), while restoration is often celebrated precisely because of what had been lost or nearly lost.)

Redundant: 1. characterized by verbosity or unnecessary repetition in expressing ideas; prolix: a redundant style. 2. being in excess; exceeding what is usual or natural: a redundant part. 3.having some unusual or extra part or feature. 4. characterized by superabundance or superfluity: lush, redundant vegetation. 5. Engineering .a. (of a structural member) not necessary for resisting statically determined stresses. b. (of a structure) having members designed to resist other than statically determined stresses; hyperstatic. c. noting a complete truss having additional members for resisting eccentric loads. Compare complete ( def. 8 ) , incomplete ( def. 3 ) . d. (of a device, circuit, computer system, etc.) having excess or duplicate parts that can continue to perform in the event of malfunction of some of the parts. (See Dictionary.com)

“Since the notions of redundancy and diversity are often confused, we will here define our usage: assume we have a group of units and that each unit is characterized by ten attributes. If all units have the same values for each attribute, we have “true” redundancy. If there are differences in values in one or another attribute we have diversity.” (From Diversity and Resilience in Social-Ecological Systems) This is a chapter in Complexity Theory for a Sustainable Future.  Elsewhere the text suggests that “too much” information sharing suppresses diversity and undermines resilience.  That’s worth a blog post or two.

(The Latin origin of redundant – redundare – means to overflow or flow back (undare referring to a wave, think undulate).  In a purely redundant system strength is derived from exact duplication.   Like the Borg, a redundant system can overflow non-systemic threats.  But any vulnerability built into the system (known or unknown) will also  propagate a wave-like system-wide threat.  Redundant systems are often strong but inflexible.  Redundant systems are highly resistant-to-change and therefore innately non-adaptive.)

Renew: 1. to begin or take up again, as an acquaintance, a conversation, etc.; resume. 2. to make effective for an additional period: to renew a lease. 3. to restore or replenish: to renew a stock of goods. 4. to make, say, or do again. 5. to revive; reestablish. (See Dictionary.com)

(I’m surprised by the retrospective character of renew. I expected it to mean new-again and imply starting over. But that pesky “re” insists on honoring the past.  In English renew and innovate are treated as synonyms, but the Latin for innovate is much better at escaping the past.)

RE-: “a prefix, occurring originally in loanwords from Latin, used with the meaning “again” or “again and again” to indicate repetition, or with the meaning “back” or “backward” to indicate withdrawal or backward motion: regenerate; refurbish; retype; retrace; revert.” (From Dictionary.com)

Recently a couple of colleagues have argued that resilience — despite the “re” — can empower innovation.  Trying to be collaborative:  The Latin origin of resilience means to jump or leap again.  I suppose the direction of the leap — backwards, sideways, or forward — is not prescribed.   Still… if innovation, adaptation, and moving in a truly new direction is the goal, resilience will probably restrain more than enable.

“The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names.” Confucius

(Or at least recognize the confusion of wrong names.)

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Comment by William R. Cumming

August 23, 2012 @ 2:40 am

Excellent post! Thanks Phil!

Answer to the week’s POP Quiz–RASCAL!

And relevant to this post also. Why? Because almost all of the posts so far on HLSWatch concerning RESILIENCE have been premised on CRISIS AND DISASTERS NOT INVOLVING WIDESPREAD CONTAMINATION!

Once contamination and environmental concerns are introduced into the event then before RECOVERY can even begin the area impacted must first be ascertained as to the level of contamination, the agent, access and egress controls, work arounds, continued monitoring and decontamination, and then restoration (if possible) of the impacted area.

One of the reasons FUKISHIMA is of such great interest to me is the above. And hoping it is the largest event of its kind worldwide this century.

The FIRE SERVICE rejected any broad role in response to RADIOLOGICAL EVENTS after 1949 because of course the human senses of taste, touch, sight, hearing cannot be made applicable to radiation.

The FEMA RADEF program under the old federal civil defense program that lasted from 1951-1994 was ended with that program over the objections of the National Security Council staff by FEMA.

Even today most of the 2.2 members of the FIRE SERVICE are essentially canaries when it comes to radiation and HAZMAAT ops. Few,very few, of the law enforcement community are trained and protected when involved with contaminated environments. In fact I would argue that despite numerous assignments to FEMA and others to document the level of training, capabiities, and readiness for full scale operations
in a contaminated environment nation wide this inventory does not exist. Nor does it exist with the entirety of the DoD for its assets. In fact DoD cannot even coherently describe its current systems as
documented in an article in the July 2012 Homeland Security Today magazine at pages 11-12!


Unfortunately, I would argue both lack of competence in policy making, oversight and implementation means that the bottom line is a less RESILIENT, less able to RECOVER American today than prior to 9/11/01!

A tough judgment perhaps but premised on the failure to create effective PREPAREDNESS, PROTECTION, MITIGATION, RESPONSE AND RECOVERY systems that could handle widespread large scale simultaneous events.

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 23, 2012 @ 2:43 am

Forgot to mention SMELL!

Comment by Philip J. Palin

August 23, 2012 @ 9:25 am

Bill, Whether the crisis is caused by destruction or contamination (is there another category?), I perceive resilience emerging from a (paradoxical?) blend of self-reliance and relationships. Which of these aspects is most important depends on specific, often random contingencies. It is not either/or but both, not necessarily in balance because sometimes you need more of one than the other, but which and when cannot be predicted, so it is both, both my boldest self and my most dependent self tethered to an indefinite “we” from here to some eternity.

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 23, 2012 @ 1:36 pm

My point is simply that some modern catastrophic events cannot involve the self-reliance and self-help that individuals and communities can develop on their own or with some assistance. Some involve real technical expertise that is in very short supply.

John Macy the first FEMA Director believed that the profession of EM was a generalist profession and experts need not apply. I respectfully disagreed then and disagree now. Nothing is more helpful in a crisis than someone with specialized expertise applicable to that incident and or event. The problem is integration of the expertise and that is a very difficult thing to do.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

August 23, 2012 @ 3:03 pm

Bill, I certainly agree that in a catastrophe individual or even community resilience will not be sufficient. Resilience is an important element in strategic preparedness, but only an element.

In terms of expertise, even before integration there is the problem of development. This is especially a challenge in dealing with complex/chaotic events.

Regarding generalists: perhaps it depends on whether the individual is a dilettante or an analyzer/synthesizer. There are some “generalists” who are mostly good at trivia games. There are others who are creative thinkers. Wouldn’t hurt to have a few of the latter around in the midst of a complex/chaotic event.

Comment by William R. Cumming

September 1, 2012 @ 9:16 pm

Potable water in NOLA post Issac! Who will tell the people of fecal and other contaminants in the NOLA water supply?

Comment by John Plodinec

September 7, 2012 @ 8:46 am


I am most interested in your “algorithm.” It could fit in well with something I’m working on re resilience. I’d appreciate a bit more detail about what you’re doing.

Sorry for late comment – I was out of the country and had limited email/internet capability.

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