Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 17, 2012

The National Academies on Resilience

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on September 17, 2012

The National Academies, in particular the Committee on Increasing National Resilience to Hazards and Disasters operating under the authority of the Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (Exactly?  It’s hard to tell…), has released an impressive new report on resilience.

It is bound to both to tug on the heartstrings of some and infuriate others.

I have to say, while I haven’t read the entire 200+ page report, it does seem to attempt to blend the expertise of a varied staff.  There were engineers, economists, medical professionals, sociologists, etc.

They chose a definition of resilience as a jumping off point:

“The ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from, or more successfully adapt to actual or potential adverse events.”

And came up with a vision for resilient nation in 2030:

  • Individuals and communities are their own first line of defense against disasters.
  • National leadership in resilience exists throughout federal agencies and Congress.
  • Community-led resilience efforts receive federal, state, and regional investment and support.
  • Site-specific risk information is readily available, transparent, and effectively communicated.
  • Zoning ordinances are enacted and enforced. Building codes and retrofit standards are widely adopted and enforced.
  • A significant proportion of post-disaster recovery is funded through private capital and insurance payouts.
  • Insurance premiums are risk based.
  • Community coalitions have contingency plans to provide service particularly to the most vulnerable populations during recovery.
  • Post-disaster recovery is accelerated by infrastructure redundancy and upgrades. A resilient nation in 2030 also has a vibrant and diverse economy and a safer, healthier, and better educated citizenry than in previous generations.

To get there they list six recommendations:

Recommendation 1: Federal government agencies should incorporate national resilience as a guiding principle to inform the mission and actions of the federal government and the programs it supports at all levels.

Recommendation 2: The public and private sectors in a community should work cooperatively to encourage commitment to and investment in a risk management strategy that includes complementary structural and nonstructural risk-reduction and risk-spreading measures or tools. Such tools might include an essential framework (codes, standards, and guidelines) that drives the critical structural functions of resilience and investment in risk-based pricing of insurance.

Recommendation 3: A national resource of disaster-related data should be established that documents injuries, loss of life, property loss, and impacts on economic activity. Such a database will support efforts to develop more quantitative risk models and better understand structural and social vulnerability to disasters.

Recommendation 4: The Department of Homeland Security in conjunction with other federal agencies, state and local partners, and professional groups should develop a National Resilience Scorecard.

Recommendation 5: Federal, state and local governments should support the creation and maintenance of broad-based community resilience coalitions at local and regional levels.

Recommendation 6: All federal agencies should ensure they are promoting and coordinating national resilience in their programs and policies. A resilience policy review and self-assessment within agencies and strong communication among agencies are keys to achieving this kind of coordination.

Perhaps most encouraging, this particular project apparently was completed under time and budget, allowing the Academies to spend a year spreading the resilience gospel.

So if the National Academy “resilience train” pulls up on your stop, think seriously about giving this group of serious and dedicated individuals a hand with their mission of furthering the discussion on resilience.

For more information, go to: http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=13457&page=R5

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Comment by William R. Cumming

September 18, 2012 @ 2:53 am

Thanks Arnold! A useful post and report! Noting for the record that “resilience” as a paradigm was developed in the NSC and its staff. A history of this term in USA policy might be of interest. In the Cold War of course the term was “survivability” but no metrics ever developed as to whether that meant as cave dwellers or as civilized humanity.

There is a resilience staff at the NSC but wondering if anywhere else?

Comment by Alan Wolfe

September 18, 2012 @ 6:59 am

That’s a horrible definition. It basically just repeates the preparedness bumper-sticker. Never send a scientist to do a public policy job. They don’t understand the big picture or how to address the public expectations of the government.

Comment by John F. Morton

September 18, 2012 @ 7:34 pm

In the British work Resilient Nation, Charlie Edwards wrote, “Resilience is the capacity of an individual, community or system to adapt in order to sustain an acceptable level of function, structure, and identity.”

U.S. industrial base expert Debbie van Opstal wrote that “resilience is about managing disruptions to critical systems—-physical, virtual, health, and economic….It is also about being poised to seize suddenly available opportunities to create value.

I think of resilience as the post-Cold War bottom-up equivalent of the Cold War top-down idea of continuity of government and continuity of operations.


Comment by John Plodinec

September 19, 2012 @ 7:54 am

Two other definitions of resilience – much more pithy, less “preparedness-oriented” (though anticipation is still valued), and more thought-provoking:

Positive adaptation to perceived adversity.

Controlling change.

Comment by Arnold Bogis

September 19, 2012 @ 2:00 pm

Another definition that is perhaps even more pithy: “shit happens.”

When I first read this, I appreciated it for the cheekiness value. But I’m beginning to think there is an underlying simplicity that is important when trying to apply the idea of resilience across a broad range of disciplines and subject areas.


“The notion that policies should focus almost exclusively on preventing the next attack has also masked an ideological battle within homeland-security policy circles between “never again” and its antithesis, commonly referred to as “shit happens” but in polite company known as “resiliency.””

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