Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 11, 2012

Resilience: Virtue and Collective Action

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on October 11, 2012

Dane Egli at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory has authored an important new report: Beyond the Storms: Strengthening Security and Resilience in the 21st Century.  If it’s available online I don’t know where and cannot find it.  Out of respect for the author’s work, I will not make it downloadable here until certain I have a final version.  (I don’t know the author and did not receive my copy from him.)

The 216 page document is a product of Egli’s independent scholarship.  It was not commissioned by any public or private entity beyond the Applied Physics Laboratory.  It is not (directly) related to getting a grant or other such instrumental purpose.  When it is available online, I will let you know.  Or you let me know when you see it.

The report deserves to be read in its entirety.  It is expansive and comprehensive.  It aggregates a wide-array of elements that are usually treated separately. The pieces are important, but regular readers of HLSWatch are familiar with the pieces.  More valuable is Egli’s  weaving together of a whole picture that provokes a much more interesting conversation than obsessing over any particular piece.

Indeed Egli’s whole picture demonstrates that it is the interdependence of the pieces that really matter.

The report defines resilience as “the ability to bounce or spring back into shape or position after being pressed or stretched.”  But Egli goes on to argue that “resilience is not only the ability to recover from, or withstand, the impact of hazards, and flex — instead of snapping — but also includes the ability to get stronger as a result of adversity.”

In the illustration above, taken from page 2-9 of the report, resilience is identified as an active virtue integrated into all operations and systems.  I like that.  Not much more is specifically offered in terms of this virtuous character, but in context I take it to mean that resilience is a beneficial quality, an innate strength, and a capacity to act that is self-consciously developed.

I very much appreciate Egli’s multiple references to Elinor Ostrom’s work in Collective Action and his effort to integrate Ostrom’s findings into a disciplined cultivation of resilience.  (One of many examples of Dr. Ostrom’s contributions is the 2010 text: Working Together: Collective Action, the Common, and Multiple Methods in Practice, coauthored with Amy Poteete and Eric Janssen.)  Ostrom and her colleagues have looked at real communities dealing with real problems and gathered real data on what works and does not work in terms of resilience and related.

I like the document’s consistent recognition that many (most?) of the crucial issues are complex.  Egli writes, “The current threat environment presents an asymmetric and irregular flow of ‘black swan’ events — ones we don’t expect and cannot predict based on existing data, and ‘wicked problems’ — known challenges that are overwhelming to current emergency planners; and this trend appears to be growing in complexity and uncertainty.”

I am very glad the document situates resilience as a matter of national economic security.  For Egli resilience and the broader goals of national preparedness are key to “supporting the American economy and global markets that depend upon the free flow of commerce.”

Egli has his doctorate in public affairs and retired as a US Coast Guard Captain after a career that included assignments to the US Northern Command and the White House.  The pedigree shows.  His findings are well-organized, reasonably framed, and defensible while being written in brief, accessible, declarative chunks that build an argument.  He includes several short case studies to illustrate findings and ground recommendations.

I don’t agree with every finding.  In my opinion some of Egli’s judgments and recommendations reflect a career spent mostly in the public sector.   While he recognizes resilience is mostly a matter of private sector engagement,  I perceive he may not recognize the profound shift in government’s role and method that will be needed to systematically advance resilience.  But I will wait to argue these critiques after you have a chance to read his work.  It is very good work.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • Print
  • LinkedIn


Comment by William R. Cumming

October 11, 2012 @ 7:57 am

Interesting information! So thanks Phil!

I find troubling that so little is written about vulnerability, lack of interoperability, redundancy and other factors that seem logical subsets leading to the set of resiliency. Technology may or may not promote resiliency.

One example of almost total failure organizationally was the reassignment of the NCS [national communications structure] from DoD and DISA [formerly DCA] to DHS and its administration over the last decade. Now under EO 13618 of July 6, 2012 “Assignment of National Security and Emergency Preparedness Communications Functions [this replaced E.O. 12472 in its entirety] there is almost total lack of comprehension in the communications community as to how the new EO will be administered. So the old structure substantially destroyed and the replacement’s effectiveness almost a total unknown.

So my question is in what other areas is resilience less today than on 9/11/01? I suggest many areas largely indicating the failures of the lawyers who led DHS and had little or no understanding of what resilience consisted of in fact.

I argue that Fukishima [Sendai] may will be a good recent example of what happens when the Black Swan impacts a developed technologically advanced culture and society.

A series of World Bank sessions this week appear to be stressing interdependencies and interrelationships.

Does a Just-In-Time supply system represent improved resiliency?

Comment by John Plodinec

October 11, 2012 @ 8:12 am


You’re right – an excellent report (I got my own bootlegged copy.)! I have to agree with much of it because I’ve written similar words (e.g., resilience – the virtue with big shoulders) on the CARRI blog site. In a blog I’m going to be posting on the CARRI website this week I’ll talk about our economy’s diminished resilience, for any who are interested.

Comment by Claire B. Rubin

October 11, 2012 @ 12:15 pm

Please let us know when you find a legit copy so the rest of us can benefit.

Comment by Tom Ritchey

October 11, 2012 @ 6:40 pm

Re: Wicked Problems, you might like to know about this recent publication:

“Wicked Problems – Social Messes: Decision support Modelling with Morphological Analysis”. Springer, 2011.

You can see a description at:



Tom Ritchey

Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » Resilience: Cultivating the virtue

August 29, 2013 @ 12:10 am

[…] Last October I posted a bit on a then draft document making the rounds of the Beltway, Colorado Springs, New London and places in-between.  I had seen a boot-leg copy of Dane Egli’s Beyond the Storms: Strengthening Security & Resilience in the 21st Century.  The work has continued to resonate and exert influence. […]

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>