Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 21, 2012

Resilience: Social Networks + Civil Society

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on September 21, 2012

Previous posts have referenced the work of Daniel Aldrich, specifically his new book:  Building Resilience: Social Capital in Post-Disaster Recovery.   Thursday afternoon Dr. Aldrich was interviewed on Talk of the Nation.

In the 17 minute interview and in his book Dr. Aldrich tells great stories.  For an example of his more scholarly work check out The Crucial Role of Civil Society in Disaster Recovery and Japan’s Preparedness for Emergencies (2008)

In an August 29 Op-Ed in the New York Times, Dr. Aldrich explains:

In August 2005, my wife and our small children and I evacuated to Houston just before the storm destroyed the New Orleans home we had moved into six weeks earlier. We took with us just a bag of toys and a suitcase. We applied for federal aid, but especially in the immediate aftermath, it was family, friends and friends-of-friends who came through for us.

As a political scientist (I taught at Tulane at the time), I decided to study how communities respond to natural disasters. I’ve concluded that the density and strength of social networks are the most important variables — not wealth, education or culture — in determining their resilience in the face of catastrophe.

Aldrich gives attention to both informal networks and more formal civil society.  His evidence suggests both are needed to maximize resilience.

In a June 2011 paper on the outcomes of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami Dr. Aldrich argues, “Neighborhoods and communities where individuals can overcome collective-action problems, promote “voice,”not “exit,” and provide each other with informal insurance and mutual assistance are the ones that recover the most quickly.”

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Comment by William R. Cumming

September 21, 2012 @ 7:48 am

DUH! Yet the corrupt leadership of the USA since about 1981 has promoted the destruction of community in this country. Yes, I am the son of a Social Worker but one who ran the VA Social Work program in the department of Medicine and Surger in VA for several decades. But he ran that program to prevent the isolation of veterans injured and uninjured to prevent their social isolation from the greater society.
So why is not the understandings developed in this research report and others like it–the researc of Dr. Susan Cutter, PhD.–the basis of our recovery and even response process. Why is simple–controlled largely by a public works mentality due to its key oversight Committees–FEMA does not view itself in any way as a Social Service agency, and perhaps it should not. But leadership by the FIRE SERVICE or LAW ENFORCEMENT types means trying to pretend that social cohesion and vulnerabilities don’t matter in disasters.

And yes my blunt conclusion is that FEMA is largely governed by the principle that the greasy wheel gets greased even as evidenced mounts that disaster relief largely rewards those, including flood insureds, that have made terrible locational decisions and also rewards STATES and their local governments fraud, waste, abuse, mismanagement, and actual negligence including gross neglignece.

FEMA’s assumption that all STATES and their local governments are high performing organizations just does not reflect the realities. Yet charged by STATUTE and Presidential order with reviewing the state of preparedness and protection in the USA FEMA continues to let STATES and their 90,000 units of local governments self identify as HPO. Ridiculous.

And FEMA’s policy shop has no idea how FEMA collects statistics, what statistics, or why they are collected and has no statistical group that would help management change direction and adopt policies that

Comment by William R. Cumming

September 21, 2012 @ 8:09 am


reduce disaster outlays, promote resilience, and provide knowledge on disasters not just money and information [often wrong IMO]!

When I entered FEMA in 1979 it included over 300 PhDs inherited from its predecessor agencies. When I departed into retirement on October 1st 1999 [almost 13 years ago] it had less than 40 and now less than 20!

FEMA’s program officials and appointees are openly hostile to knowledge and few decisions are made on the basis of the best science or engineering or that of other applicable disciplines.

Even its endorsement of WEB 2.0 pretends a veneer of adaptability that does not really exist.

There is no “new” FEMA just a large FEMA! And Congress helps keep FEMA an agency that largely has not kept abreast of the last 5 decades of research in disciplines that might have greatly assisted its insights.

If you wish a specific example, analysis of FEMA’s position in all its programs of the TRANSPORTATION DEPENDENT and the efficacy of the PAR [protective action recommendation] of sheltering vis a vis evacuation would be a good place to start.

My guess is that senior management in FEMA could not articulate FEMA’s exact role in the decisions to evacuate or shelter yet we have a WH practically issuing PARs in its vision as universal EOC!

Nor could FEMA explain any of the over 30 atmospheric models used by various federal agencies to model plumes in emergencies or how they differ and their efficacy.

No in fact and design FEMA stands in the way of modern EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT and has continued to do so on a bi-partisan basis, again IMO!

Comment by Philip J. Palin

September 21, 2012 @ 9:37 am

Bill, In terms of FEMA’s receptiveness to new knowledge, my experience differs from yours. I have found plenty of both political and civil service staff intrigued and engaged when they are given the opportunity to access and assess new knowledge. I have found many to be proactive in seeking out new knowledge. (I have also admittedly found a few intellectual dead-zones within FEMA. But these have stood out as exceptions.)

Not surprisingly or inappropriately, there is a strong practical bias within FEMA. I do not often use poetry or many of my etymological arguments there. But as long as new knowledge is practically packaged, there are many enthusiastic consumers.

In terms of PhDs, I wonder how much this might also be related to packaging? There is an early work of Emergency Management science written by Anthony F.C. Wallace, PhD called Tornado in Worcester (1953). It is a wonderful piece of writing: descriptive, detailed, well-organized, insightful, with all sorts of practical implications. It contrasts very favorably with most contemporary academic writing, including my own.

There is clearly a strong preference at FEMA (and most other places) for short readings and short presentations. But I think this reflects painful experience with the limited value of most longer readings and longer presentations rather than anti-intellectual impatience.

I agree with you that many of Aldrich’s findings are almost common-sensical. But Aldrich tells a good story AND he supports his findings with good science.

There is a great deal of intellectual “noise” out there. One study after another study declaim on some new priority, some new answer, some redefinition. On resilience in particular I think there is now emerging a collection of resources that, taken together, present those at FEMA and all of us a body of knowledge worth close-reading, shared discussion, and some careful argument:

A seminar comparing and contrasting the following three works would, I think, produce new knowledge in any active participant:

Resilience: Why things bounce back (Zolli and Healy)

Disaster Resilience: A National Imperative (National Academy of Sciences)

Building Resilience: Social Capital in Post-Disaster Recovery (Aldrich)

I don’t think it would be hard to find interested seminar participants at FEMA. Finding the time to actually be together would be a bit more difficult. Finding a seminar leader who would add-value and keep the discussion focused and helpful would probably be the toughest challenge.

Comment by William R. Cumming

September 21, 2012 @ 11:30 am

I don’t doubt that FEMA personnel are clever in being courteous and act interested when presented with new knowledge or information. Where the wheel meets the road few major policy changes from the days of FDAA in HUD unless forced upon FEMA. Even MITIGATION which was a concept introduced in Public Law 93-288–the Disaster Relief Act of 197$–remains a stepchild.

FEMA policies largely encourage disaster relief and rarely discourage it.

So Phil be interested in offline knowledge of where your recommendations had a specific impact on on-line if acceptable?

Always remember even protection and resilience imposed concepts on FEMA! One might ask what specific definitions and guidance on these two items FEMA has issued and adopted and trained on?

Comment by William R. Cumming

September 21, 2012 @ 11:33 am

And Phil! You and readers of HLSWatch.com might find of interest some of the underlying debates revealed at


Comment by Claire B. Rubin

September 21, 2012 @ 1:48 pm

I am working on a paper dealing with neglected issues in emergency management — not too different from my recent effort on “What Keeps Me Up at Night?” I welcome a brief cogent list of issues that remain unaddressed or inadequately dealt with.

Send them to me at claire@disasterbookstore.com

Comment by Philip J. Palin

September 21, 2012 @ 3:54 pm

Bill, The issue of “specific impact” is cause for much uncertainty, some gnashing of teeth, and occasional sleepless nights, but — while I am only one of many influencers — I think a significant and potentially sustainable increased attention to private-public relationships, resilient communities, and supply chain/life-line resilience can be observed. This does not mean any of these impacts are complete, optimized, or where they need to be. But I have seen progress and the emergence of internal champions and processes that suggest institutionalization is happening.

Comment by William R. Cumming

September 21, 2012 @ 4:11 pm

Hope springs eternal?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

September 21, 2012 @ 4:52 pm

Some linguists suggest that “hope” is closely related to “hop”. I can be a very demonstrative speaker on all of these concepts, and have been accused of “leaping in expectation” both physically and intellectually.

Comment by Fiscal Hawk

September 21, 2012 @ 5:12 pm

”Nor could FEMA explain any of the over 30 atmospheric models used by various federal agencies to model plumes in emergencies or how they differ and their efficacy.”


64 models are listed.

Comment by William R. Cumming

September 22, 2012 @ 12:00 am

Thanks for the link Fiscal Hawk!

Comment by FEMA: Failed Emergency Management Agency! "Treason I Shout and Shame on You I say"

September 22, 2012 @ 7:09 am

FEMA: “Failed Emergency Management Agency” just like much of Washington these days now being watched on Pakastani television with another apology to AQ with no condemnation right from the first words uttered of an attack where a US Ambassador was sodomized and tortured being dragged on the street and a US Embassy attacked and We lied to in telling us and the world that crowd attacked the embassy when in fact a small group of AQ thugs on video attacked a US lock and key guarded Embassy and We expect FEMA or anyone of these agencies to truly give a damn other than in their self-serving – pension – concerns who will probably unfurl this “Chicago City Street slicker” Obama flag just released – I am not kidding – what a shambles FEMA and so many other agencies are in with such lack of leadership where in this web site, discussion only should be focused on the 38% in attendance of this “WH Goldman Sachs” leadership who ha ssought in every way to divide this country in betrayal of trust and beach of faith to oath taken in elected office and is treason and those who do give a damn should be calling along with me for an immediate Congressional Hearing which I demand as a US citizen for this ouright lie by the WH and Ms. Hillary and even Rice at the UN and the WH spokesperson who clamored about some flick which they promoted globally and few knew anything about and video clearly sees a small group of AQ at 9:30p with guns in hand attacking the Embassy and We see the WH and Ms. Hillary on pakistani television –

Trason I shout! Treason I shout! Christopher Tingus

Forget about FEMA: Failed Emergency Management Agency” and all its political hacks as well as so many at DHS who make all those dedicated Americans who work for these agencies and truly care about America, look like fools…

We are foolhearty people allowing the WH to interfere in a Cambridge Police 911 call even if it had any facts concerning the local police department, this time a Cambridge Police Department who is very much Respected by the community and we see a beer fest in such despicable and condescending manner towards police officer and first responders and now we see the WH and State led by the likes of Harry Reid, a US Senator who stands before the People and blatently makes any comment he wishes and lies without any retribution by bi-partisan peers and you expect someone to “fix” this Failed Emergency Management Agency – w/Germany on the march into Syria shortly and 600-800 Leopard tanks being delivered along with small arms and ammunition to Qatar and Saudi Arabia and a new “Confederation of Middle East States” ally with Germany, listen, to those truly dedicated to ‘ol Glory, not this new Obama flag just unfurled, FEMA is not what should be on your mind to such extent for there is no one to fix it – however, with Winston Churchill’s bust removed at the WH and replaced Martin Luther King by a half white man who never mind conveniently forgets on Letterman what the $10.6 trillion budget deficit was in ’08 and now more than $16 trillion, but this Rev Wrtight-Obama pulpit which has left Black America and especially its youth with soaring unempliyment!

Enough is enough folks and you who are at DHS, not the political appointees who are there for the pension, but the dedicated Americans in every agency and espcially those at NSA who know that AQ attacked the Embassy and must be as irate as I am in shouting treason! I mean it for We as a nation allow the WH and Ms. Hillary to go on Pakistani Television making apology to AQ who shred our flag and hoisted their Black AQ flag and We allow these folks, “entrusted” by “We the People” to lie so blatently and spur on the Middle east youth blaming some flick which few knew about and you are not calling with me for an immediate Congressional Hearing on such demanor presented by the highest office representatives, this “Chicago city street slicker” and Ms. Hillary who even dresses withi her jewelry around her neck to fit into the cuture she is apologizing to — I don’t care what supposed party affiliation one has for as a proud Independent Voter you can bet I will be standing in one-man protest in the lion’s den as I did for 1,491 hours in snow and rain to reopen a fire station (www.bigdiglifvest.com) which was politicized by local pols willingly comproming public safety and you can bet I will be standing shortly on the street with sign stating:

“Treason I shout and Shame on You I say” – Christopher Tingus, US Citizen “quote of the week” –

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