Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 29, 2013

Resilience: Cultivating the virtue

Filed under: Resilience — by Philip J. Palin on August 29, 2013

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 influence.

You will soon be able to own your own copy of Beyond the Storms: Strengthening Homeland Security and Disaster Management to Achieve Resilience.  Interesting shift in the title.   The link will take you to Amazon.  What started as a PhD dissertation will soon be published by M.E. Sharpe.

My favorite element of the book is Dane’s characterization of Resilience as an “active virtue integrated into all operations and systems.”Resilience-Continuum-Model

Virtue is derived from the Latin virtu meaning man. Roman virtue was to behave as a true man ought: courageous, generous, thankful, faithful, dutiful, deserving of public praise and honor.  To be virtuous was to serve the community and to win its accolades.  Restraint was honored, but humility was not a Roman virtue.

The Roman philosopher Seneca argued that virtue is the capacity to take appropriate and correct action that benefits both the actor and others.

The last two days I have been with Dr. Egli (a former USCG Captain) and about fifty others trying to think through how to cultivate this kind of virtue using what Dane and his colleagues are calling the Resilience Implementation Process.

This is, in the main, a three-part process consisting of a Risk Map, a Functional Resilience Framework, and an Action Plan.  In my mind it is very similar to John Boyd’s OODA Loop (see below).  I really like the OODA Loop so I am similarly inclined to the Resilience Implementation Process.  There are also analogies to the Enterprise Risk Management model and a dozen Change Management models and many Strategic Decisionmaking models.


The benefit of all these processes is to make explicit what has been implicit.  In creating a Risk Map we are encouraged to observe more carefully.  In working through the Functional Resilience Framework we are encouraged to be reality-informed and self-critical in making conscious decisions.  Action is a purposeful experiment to test our observations and hypotheses regarding reality and especially cause-and-effect.  We are predisposed to learn from our experiences and engage in step-by-step improvement.

Most of the time we are not so mindful.  Most of the time we operate by the seat-of-our-pants.  Too often we have been left with no seat or lost our pants entirely.  (Seneca wrote, “Every man prefers belief to the exercise of judgment.”)  We need the help of disciplined processes.  Certainly I do.

But not just processes.  Somehow — especially thanks to systems engineering — processes (from an Old French term for journey) have become rather sterile.  Where we once processed over the hills of medieval Burgundy, we now process “Big Data”. We are tempted to believe that with the proper process a specific solution exists for every conceivable problem.  There is good hope in this faith, there is also potential hubris.

To harvest resilience cultivating virtue seems a more accurate and meaningful description of the important task before us.  In contrast to our precision-aspiring processes, to call resilience a virtue suggests something very human: emerging from relationships, messy, inconsistent, self-subverting and self-sacrificing, often beautiful, too often undone by pride, aspiring to the Good, unveiling profound even contradictory truths.


Editorial Note:  It is my practice to avoid posting at HLSWatch on meetings and projects in which I am an active participant.  Readers deserve a bit more objectivity.  My hosts deserve reasonable discretion.  I appreciate Dane Egli’s permission to break with this practice here.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

August 29, 2013 @ 8:17 am

Thanks Phil and Laurel Wreath to DANE!

In 2010 RAND published an excellent short report concern detection of failure points in preparedness. Paid for by FEMA and sunk out of sight after delivery.

I will send it [and have in the past] to the usual suspects.

Comment by Wayne Tripp

August 29, 2013 @ 8:38 am

Thanks for the update! The original document along with some supplemental powerpoint files is available via the Journal of Strategic Security website on the USF Scholar Commons here http://scholarcommons.usf.edu/jss/vol6/iss2/3/

Comment by Dan O'Connor

August 29, 2013 @ 12:48 pm

Thanks for sharing Phil. I would like to add my 2 cents here. If we are going to compare Boyd’s OODA loop and the resilience continuum model (RCM) graphic presented one could make the case that what is implied in one (OODA) is not stated in the other (RCM).

In Boyd’s “loop” orientation is critical…it is the amalgam of genetic heritage, cultural disposition and previous experiences. And orientation is the most important part of the O-O-D-A loop since it shapes the way we observe, the way we decide, and the way we act. It is also shaped by the physical, mental, and moral aspects of conflict. In Boyd’s case he is talking about imposing activity on the adversaries physical, mental, and moral capabilities, isolating them in their own decision cycle and thwarting their efforts to understand.

This is the essence of exploitation and accelerating ambiguity. This “package” shapes the constraints of framework for orientation and that orientation has a relationship with observation… We can only see what we have been taught, educated, and capable of seeing…I have listened to several Boyd lectures from years past and believe he was much more concerned with synthesis than analysis…he had to make something out of the observable, not merely tell one what it was.

One could also sprinkle a little Mintzberg here. Mintzberg would say that strategic planning is about analysis and strategic thinking is about synthesis. Strategic planning fails because it analyzes and favors predeterminism as opposed to adaptive synthetic observation and thinking. Perhaps over simplistic on my part.

I think resilience has a lot of these factors as part of the dialectic. Being resilient is more than a systems approach, which the graphic initially illustrated, to me anyway. There is an intangible aspect and I believe it’s the relationship between observation and orientation. Resilience is more than a systems continuum.

I’d make the case that resilience is an adaptive cycle or decision loop based on ones experiences, culture, and heritage and combines the moral, mental, and physical aspects of conflict awareness, in this case the perturbation or crisis with the previous mentioned dispositions.

These dispositions capture the nuances, the intangibles, and integrated attitude(s) that are offered when crisis or perturbation takes place. It is not necessarily system surge capacity or a system(s) approach. In the systems approach there is a planning fallacy that one can predetermine outcomes. When the incident does not match up to those pre-determined outcomes due to a high degree of novelty a resilience gap is created and planners, responders, and others play “catch up” with a gap that morphs and changes before it has been observed, oriented towards, and identified. Hence, it’s better to be nimble and adaptive than pre deterministic.

Processes that are repeatable and adaptive are more likely to make progress than ones that are levied with bureaucracy and risk averse decision gateways.
Perhaps the nuance of the RCM is the “active virtue”. That strikes me as the intangible I discussed previously. It looks to be an interesting read and I look forward to checking it out.
Unfortunately, resilience now appears as an overused aphorism and is misunderstood in my estimation.

Your combining these two ideas may move along the discussion and add dimension to the discussion as opposed to leaving it on the lexicon cutting room floor. It is as important a concept as security, but I believe all too often misunderstood as capability instead of attitude. Just my 2 cents!

Comment by Philip J. Palin

August 29, 2013 @ 3:13 pm

Dan, My apologies to you, Dane, and other readers. I was not meaning to compare the two graphics in today’s post. The first graphic, from Dane’s work, is definitional, not prescriptive. It is trying to describe this virtue’s (attitude’s) domain. Dane and his colleagues are working on a Resilience Implementation Process (not shown) that reminds me of the functions and flow of Boyd’s OODA loop. Your interpretation of my intent is very reasonable given what I wrote and, especially, the lay-out of the post. But my actual intent was to 1) summarize Dane’s original approach to resilience, 2) communicate an implementation process is under development, 3) report that the implementation process reminds me of OODA, and 4) implicitly reinforce that most processes, including OODA, seem to have the most sustained influence when the intellectual foundations of the process are not lost in procedural design. I was clearly trying to do too much in one post.

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 29, 2013 @ 4:10 pm

In my view both Boyd and Dane may be trying to overcome the notion that instinct and intuition can lead to survival because technology teaches us that what we think we know but don’t know can kill us!

Many thanks for this post and thread!

Comment by Dan O'Connor

August 30, 2013 @ 12:22 pm


No worries! It could have very well been my disposition as well. Nonetheless, it is an interesting perspective that Dane has contributed.

Comment by Terry Donat

September 2, 2013 @ 2:35 pm

in you mind is coorect in that…Boyd’s OODA loop is primarily a simplified diagram of the major interactive traits (features and benefits) of the human(or advanced animal) brain. Perception (observation being a special case); orientation (of self and circumstances in relation to the surrounding world); collaboration of present comprehension/knowledge/memory/prediction for decision-making; coordinated actions(including no action)to accomplish a task. This in no way mimimizes the value of the diagram; rather it reveals it’s emergent, time-proven, biological, ubiquitous and persistent validation that recognizes the common traits underlying the process of security on both the procuring and defending sides of the coin. I think this is the key to encompassing all of the possible homeland security issues – past, present, and future – as it is not about how the threats are related, but how we relate to the array of threats.

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