Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 11, 2014

Resilience by Design

On Monday the Mayor of Los Angeles released a report entitled Resilience by Design.  It gives particular attention to how Los Angeles can take steps now to mitigate the consequences of major risks, especially an earthquake.

This is the kind of document that — too often — only appears after a major event.  It is significant that one of the first steps Mayor Garcetti took upon his election was appointment of a Science Advisor for Seismic Safety and tasking her to undertake this analysis.

The report gives particular attention to:

  • Resilience of building stock — It is interesting that this is treated as a matter of economic resilience as well as public safety.
  • Resilience of the water system — This is what worries me most regarding the vulnerability of the Los Angeles basin.
  • Resilience of the telecommunications systems — This is a key interdependency that can divide or multiply every other response and recovery capability.

There are, obviously, other crucial problems.  But too many of these kind of studies try to take-on too much.  If everything is a priority, really nothing is a priority.

These are three strategic elements within the ability of city government to seriously engage.  Enhancing the resilience of these three elements will improve the ability of the city and the whole community to address other challenges.

See the full report here.

April 7, 2014

Nostalgia – a key component of resilience?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Dan OConnor on April 7, 2014

My oldest daughter and I were having a conversation which led to talk about my grandfather.  We were discussing the toughness and ruggedness of him and his era.  Born at the turn of the 20th century “Gramps” was everything I thought a man should be.  He was a boxer, slept in jails during the depression, worked in the Brooklyn Navy yard during World War II and did whatever he needed to do in order to provide.  I have yet to meet the man who I respected as much as my grandfather. He embodied what I thought all men of his age and Americans were: strong, smart, capable, dutiful, and unafraid.

I reminisced about one day sitting on a school bus with a bunch of cub scouts going to a New York Mets game for a father and son night.  My grandfather, then in his mid-70s, and another “grandpa” began to talk.  I listened agape as he described how he played against Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig during barnstorming games.

In the conversation I realized that this reminiscence, this idea of nostalgia has a powerful effect on expectations, performance and point of view.  In my maturation I recognize what I saw in him was probably not completely accurate, but was my interpretation of him. His characteristics, in my nostalgic point of view, are tantamount to what I need to return to when things and life are not ideal.  His actions in my nostalgic recollections are tantamount to resilience.

Resilience — as has often been mentioned in this blog — has many formulas and definitions.  It’s an overused aphorism in many instances and somewhat nebulous in others.  Resilience is part of a broader definition of panarchy and biodiversity.  Resilience is many things to many people and I think very easy and at the same time very difficult for some to define.

From the metaphorical point of view, I see resilience as the owed narrative of our nostalgic past.  We often speak about the Greatest Generation, the Depression, the Right Stuff, the American way.  All those phrases are versed in nostalgic virtue and have a theme of returning to something.  The return is part of the resilience definition.

In many of my postings over the years I notice I have an “I owe” theme.  I believe in my heritage and to a large extent the nationalist themes of exceptionalism and my time in the Marine Corps.  That said, it’s a bit abstract to shape ones actions on a subjective past.  Marines don’t want to let down marines of the past, those that came before them. It is certainly a bit weird, but then again not.

Our history, our expectations, and our belief system are shaped by a narrative of nostalgia.   To channel Phil Palin for a moment, the word nostalgia is a formation of a Greek compound, consisting of nóstos, meaning “homecoming”, a Homeric word, and álgos, meaning “pain, ache”; the word was coined by a 17th-century medical student.    Nostalgia can also be seen in that aching for home and the past as a purported ideal. That idea, the longing for a return, has a resilience theme in it.   Nostalgia may reflect an ambivalence of sorts, but it is a positive emotion.

Nostalgia, whether captured in history books or propagated in Frank Capra pictures, is part of the American experience. Maybe America has always been nostalgic, whether from our multiple immigrant pasts or simply the fringe of the empire creating a culture that embraced such reminiscence.  We often read and hear today that our online, nearly virtual lives and cultural shifts have eroded the sense of community and togetherness that we once experienced. Maybe more nostalgia at work!

In some psychological circles it is believed that nostalgia is necessary for people to be resilient.  Nostalgia may have a restorative function amongst resilient people and also bolster mental health.  Several studies indicate that it is a key attribute in returning to some type of mental symbiosis.   If the key to resilience in social-ecological systems is diversity, as some researchers present, than perhaps our national resilience and personal resilience would benefit from a diverse and rich nostalgic discovery .

The homeland security aspect of resilience is spoken of regularly and often in this blog.  Perhaps that’s an ingredient that we have overlooked: the narrative, with its distorted warts and all is a decidedly important aspect of building a resilient nation.

I was never unsafe, unprotected, or fearful in the presence or company of my grandfather.  He was easily the toughest, bravest, and most fearless man I have ever met.  He’s been gone now a good while, but his legacy and my remembrance of him lives on by what he would expect of me and how he lived his life.  If that is not nostalgia, than I do not know what it is.

Nostalgia is an important and often overlooked aspect of a personal and national resilience. It is based not in myth but in narrative shaped by two perspectives kluged together.  Maybe it’s time to reinforce who we are and where we come from as a key component of resilience.

October 17, 2013

Polycentric Resilience

Filed under: Resilience,State and Local HLS,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on October 17, 2013

Reflections on resilience emerging from the shutdown:

You probably saw the story where the State of Arizona did a deal to reopen the Grand Canyon to tourists.  New York and South Dakota made similar arrangements for the Statue of Liberty and Mt. Rushmore.

In Utah and Wyoming visits to state parks exploded after nearby national parks were closed.

Over the last two weeks I have been busy working with state and local homeland security officials preparing for a big regional exercise in late October.  (Admittedly important federal funds had already been transferred.)

According to the Global Post, some Chinese envy the resilience of American society in the midst of the federal government shutdown:

Since the shutdown began nine days ago, Chinese social media have been full of wistful, almost admiring remarks about how the shutdown could only happen in a democratic country with a resilient economy and responsive political representation… 

Many posts discussed how such a shutdown could never happen in China, because the country would immediately be plunged into chaos. The fact that many state and local government functions have continued despite the shutdown was a particular object of marvel. One Chinese author who resides in the US expressed wonder that “in the days since the government closed, everybody is unconcerned.” 

“The reason is simple,” he continued. “Just because the federal government shut down, that doesn’t mean the local government is shut down. The various levels of government do not depend on each other.” Alluding to Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” he concluded that “by understanding local autonomy, you understand America.” 

Some see federalism as an inefficient way to govern a modern nation.  But as seen during the shutdown,  diversity of jurisdictions can be a source of resilience.  Moreover, several studies have found that “polycentric” political structures are often more efficient than most centralized systems.

In her 2009 Nobel Lecture, the late Elinor Ostrom reported:

The most efficient producers supply more output for given inputs in high multiplicity metropolitan areas than do the efficient producers in metropolitan areas with fewer producers… Metropolitan areas with large numbers of autonomous direct service producers achieved higher levels of technical efficiency… We demonstrated that complexity is not the same as chaos in regard to metropolitan governance.  That lesson has carried forth as we have undertaken further empirical studies of polycentric governance of resource and infrastructure systems across the world. (Beyond Markets and States: Polycentric Governance of Complex Economic Systems)

Part of what’s happening here, it seems to me (but I have never read Dr. Ostrom suggesting anything similar), is an echo of the Jeffersonian notion that government closest to the governed is the most  efficacious government.  What has surely been found is that governance does not always involve government.

Elinor Ostrom and colleagues have found — and confirmed again and again — that communications, trust, and mutual monitoring are crucial in sustaining any resilient system. From the same Nobel Lecture:

Where individuals do not know one another, cannot communicate effectively, and thus cannot develop agreements, norms and sanctions, aggregate predictions derived from models of rational individuals in a  non-cooperative game receive substantial support… On the other hand, the capacity to overcome dilemmas and create effective governance occurred far more frequently than expected.

In particular cooperation and shared compliance with self-generated boundaries and rules increase when six specific conditions are achieved.  (See page 433 of the lecture text and my final paragraph below.)  Having observed these outcomes in a wide-range of different contexts and cultures, Dr. Ostrom concludes her lecture with:

A core goal of public policy should be to facilitate the development of institutions that bring out the best in humans.  We need to ask how diverse polycentric  institutions help or hinder the innovativeness, learning, adapting, trustworthiness, levels of cooperation of participants, and the achievement of more effective, equitable, and sustainable outcomes at multiple scales.

More resilience emerges from more communication — especially face-to-face communications — with people who know each other or are at least familiar with each other’s backgrounds, where each person’s contribution can be significant and each can come and go without much risk, yet where long-term engagement has a reasonable opportunity for generating greater value than disengagement (regardless of how value is defined), and those involved can largely self-sustain a sanctioning system for boundaries and norms mutually accepted.

What does the evidence of the last three weeks tell us regarding the state of polycentric resilience in the United States?

October 14, 2013

Ballplayers Building Resilience: Does the Whole of Community Include the Red Sox?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on October 14, 2013

Embedded image permalink

— Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe) October 14, 2013

The man, Stan Grossfeld, with the #RedSox shot of the night: pic.twitter.com/KoOOsFGYJ4

After last night’s Red Sox come from behind victory Pete Abraham, a Boston Globe reporter, tweeted the above image of Boston police officer Steve Horgan celebrating David Ortiz’s game tying grand slam (along with the legs of Detroit Tiger outfielder Torii Hunter).

While Officer Horgan certainly captured the mood of Red Sox Nation, what struck me more (in terms of this blog) were remarks by Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s (“Salty”), who hit the walk off single in the bottom of the ninth.  In particular, his remarks on resilience: “this city has been so resilient all year long.”

I know it’s easy for any sports team to describe themselves as “resilient.”  Usually the words used are “tough” or “never surrender or quit” or even “relentless.”  This is certainly also not the first instance where sport teams has provided an emotional lift to a city or even nation after a traumatic event – see President Bush throwing out the first pitch during the World Series at Yankee Stadium following 9/11 (even as a Red Sox fan I loved this: “Derek Jeter, however, was less awed than amused. “Don’t bounce it,” the shortstop told Bush. “Or else they’ll boo you.””)

But to my thought/idea/suspicion(?), this is also not the first time since the Marathon Bombings that local sport teams in Boston have been explicitly connected not with just the strength, emotional, or psychological well being of the area’s residents, but to resilience. “Boston Strong” was quickly adopted as a motto for the city in general and for all the sport teams.

Here is the Obnoxious Boston Fan to explain:

A city that was blasted to pieces on Patriots’ Day has roared back on so many levels in the almost six months to the day since. None of us would trivialize what happened to those whose lives where shattered by the Brothers Grim that day, or in the ensuing craziness. But Boston’s pro sports teams have been a spearhead in everyone’s recovery. And even those who lost loved ones, or limbs, or peace of mind, have found solace, comfort and support by throwing out the first pitch, standing on the Gillette sidelines or waving the Boston Strong flag before a Bruins game.

Grit and balls?

More like molecular iron and testicular grandeur.


The meaning of #BostonStrong has been watered down in the eyes of many.

But it’s just that mentality that makes being a sports fan in or of Boston, or one who has kept his Boston roots firmly planted across three time zones as a journalist, so special.

Tough, Resilient. Loyal to a fault. Caustic, profane and sarcastic, yet not afraid to cry once everyone else has left the room. Blue-collar even when we’re white collar. Always trying to make things better, even when they keep getting worse.

It’s that “never-say-die” mentality we all grew up with that Brady and Ortiz exhibited Sunday.

As kids, we were never allowed to quit. Anything. Ever. As adults, we’re able to make rational decisions on the best time to cut our losses. Leaving Fenway Park or Gillette Stadium early on Sunday was one of those adult mistakes that those who made it may never live down in their minds.

Whether or not there have been truly observable, measurable, and/or quantifiable aspects of whatever one wishes to define as “resilience” I’ll leave up to others.  However, I will throw out for consideration that “Boston Strong” and the statements of Salty and David Ortiz and the Boston Bruins have done so much more to advance resilience in New England than anything yet accomplished by any programs implemented by the Federal government – FEMA, ASPR, etc. – or the Commonwealth of Massachusetts or the City of Boston.

This is not to take a thing away from all of their efforts.  In particular FEMA Deputy Director Richard Serino, a lifelong resident and public servant in Boston, or anyone at the State or Boston area levels of government.

Maybe I’m just becoming a bit disenchanted with efforts labeled as “resilience” in the bureaucracies I’ve seen up close (e.g. can we not include resilience in strategic documents without first determining what it means?!?).

But if there happens to be another terrorist attack in the Boston area, or this winter a blizzard strikes, I would bet that the residents of the area will have closer connections (that’s the idea of “social capital” folks are pushing) and even more willingness to help their neighbors and listen to authorities’ instructions than ever before.

Is it time for homeland security professionals to begin casting even a wider net in search of resilience building partnerships?  For every innovative idea there must be ten legacy programs re-labeled “resiliency” because it is the buzz word of the moment.  For every Red Sox or Boston Bruins team bringing a community closer together, there are ten programs aimed at convincing residents to build kits, make plans, and stay informed.

At the very least, can someone bridge the difference?

[Apologies for the rambling nature of the above post – I was moved both as a Sox and resilience fan by yesterday’s win.  I’m still working out the actual meaning for what traditional actors in homeland security consider non-traditional actors in promoting resilience…and even what means “traditional” and non-traditional” actors in homeland security…]

[Update: I should clarify/confuse my argument a little bit further: what I did not set out to do was speak poorly about those existing efforts at every level of government that aim to further preparedness.  For example, while Chief of Boston EMS Rich Serino put into place a number of innovative public-private partnerships that furthered what is now considered the “resilience” of the community.  When he developed them, however, he was improving something called “preparedness” or “preparedness and response.”  It is this continuing confusion about what resilience means at the programmatic level, and the readiness for bureaucracies at all levels to claim that legacy programs build “resilience” that is leading me to believe that the quantum jumps in this field are occurring at the Red Sox level and not in the local FEMA or ASPR Rec office.]

October 7, 2013

Obamacare and Resilience, Ctd.

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on October 7, 2013

Via Andrew Sullivan of The Dish, here is a Vanity Fair piece by Kurt Eichenwald on how Obamacare benefits those who already have insurance. In a nutshell:

In fact—if you have insurance—the more uninsured who live in your community, the lower the quality of care you receive. Again—if more people in your community are uninsured, your care will be worse. In other words, if you want to go to the places with the worst medical care, hightail it to states like Texas that are fighting Obamacare, making it difficult for their residents to figure out how to use the Obamacare insurance exchanges, and refusing to expand Medicaid. The insured folks in that state will get worse care than one with more people insured.

Before quoting anyone on that, follow the logic. Hospitals don’t have poverty wards; if a patient comes in the door in bad shape, they don’t do a wallet biopsy before deciding what care that person should receive—everyone at a hospital receives the same quality. But if a community has a higher number of uninsured, that means the latest and greatest technology and treatments will drive up the amounts of unreimbursed care. In essence, hospitals that provide the best, most modern, and most expensive treatments in an area with lots of uninsured will be forced to pass unsustainable amounts of cost to their prices. Insurance companies won’t pay it, local governments won’t finance it, and the hospitals will go out of business.

The only option then? Don’t provide the top-quality care to anyone—insured or not. That keeps the cost of uncompensated care down and lets the hospital stay in business.

I’ll be honest.  I have no problem with Obamacare.  I lived for many years in Massachusetts under “RomneyCare,” upon which it was based on.  I never felt my healthcare coverage was unduly affected, nor felt my personal rights were under attack (likely because I always maintained my employer-provided insurance and the only added burden was filling in one line of my Massachusetts tax return with the number of my health insurance plan).

However, the case I’m building for resilience is not based on the particulars of Obamacare.  Instead, it is the community benefit provided by expanded insurance coverage.  For this, I don’t care if aliens come down from Mars, win Powerball, and then buy everyone insurance.  The end result will remain the same: increased insurance coverage = decreased stress on the health care system = increased community health resiliency.

Resiliency is such a big, overarching issue.  It involves everything from critical infrastructure to supply chains to social capital to ______ (fill in the blank).  In one particular area of this issue, increasing the number of medically insured members of our communities will only add to the common good.  Getting more people to not take their health for granted, to learn about their own and their loved ones’ medical vulnerabilities, and potentially care for themselves and others during an emergency can only INCREASE our overall resiliency.

The road taken in this journey matters less then the taking the journey itself.  If responsible policymakers do not like the road Obamacare takes us down, I sincerely hope they provide a plausible alternate route.

October 2, 2013

Obamacare and Resilience

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on October 2, 2013

Obviously, the federal government shutdown is garnering a lot of media attention.  Running a close second is Obamacare – both as the point of contention in Congressional deliberations and the opening of the health care insurance exchanges that occurred yesterday.

What has been largely, if not completely, ignored is the impact on the resilience that comes with the implementation of this new health care law. You can agree or disagree with the policy levers utilized by the Affordable Care Act (ACA – though both sides of the debate resort to using the term “Obamacare”), regardless it aims to achieve the goal of providing millions with affordable medical insurance.   This is not only good for individuals’ health and economic outcomes, but it improves our overall resilience.

Kevin Horahan, an analyst with the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response (ASPR), described this outcome in an ASPR blog post:

People who are healthy before a disaster strikes are more likely to remain healthy during and after a disaster, and they are less likely to need the kinds of care that you can only get in an emergency room. When people are healthier to begin with, they are most likely going to be more resilient during a disaster situation.

Community resilience – the sustained ability of a community to withstand and recover from adversity – is improved when its members are better able to withstand and recover from adversity. Health is a key part of community resilience. By increasing access to coverage and affordable care for millions of people, we also help our communities become more resilient.

Having actual insurance is a very positive end unto itself.  However, what could potentially be even better is an increased awareness of one’s (or loved one’s or friends or neighbors) potential medical vulnerabilities and the ability to possibly address them without professional assistance in an emergency.  I touched on this concept in an earlier paper:

In order to begin the process of developing community medical resiliency it must first be recognized that it is a specific subset of this concept. It is about having the knowledge to not be a demand on the health care system. The medical care of citizens has been the exclusive domain of the health care community with no expectation by the general public that they can provide for themselves after an incident. This limited perspective has led to the unreasonable expectation that during large scale medical events citizens must seek medical care via their traditional avenues such as Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and emergency departments. There has been little or no effort to provide the citizens with the basic education, expertise, or knowledge which could sustain themselves, their families and neighbors for even a short period of time during an emerging crisis.

Reducing the demand side of the equation will require a shift beyond the conventional concepts of community preparedness. Individuals will need to be educated to develop personal responsibility for their own healthcare and those within their family.

The very debate on the merits of health insurance likely increases resiliency.  Purchasing needed insurance from an exchange definitely does.  And learning about what impact, if any, that Obamacare will have on an individual’s life should be viewed as another potential lever by officials concerned about this issue at all levels of government.

September 25, 2013

Clinton Global Initiative Supports Resilience

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on September 25, 2013

Yesterday, the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) announced it’s support of the “100 Resilient Cities Centennial Challenge” first put forth by the Rockefeller Foundation.  As a reminder:

Rockefeller is inviting cities to apply to be one of these 100 resilient cities – to be named in three rounds over the next three years – by arguing for how they’re working to become “resilient.” Rockefeller wants to then help them create a resilience plan, preemptively sketching out how they would address any number of catastrophes including but beyond climate change.

“We see it as broader than that,” Coleman says. “It’s really about how cities are able to deal with shocks and stresses. Those could be climate-related, or more general weather-related. But they could be other natural disasters like earthquakes. They could also be things like financial shocks and stresses – something we’ve seen a lot of over the last few years. Or health crises. Really anything that is going to test the city and its response.”

The Clinton Global Initiative is supporting this vision:

 “It is our deep conviction that we should be preparing for disasters before they happen, rather than responding after the fact. This not only saves lives, reduces human suffering and protects property: it also helps to speed up recovery and lessen the impact on public and private budgets, which is the essence of resilience. Frankly this is an exciting moment to be supporting the 100 Resilient Cities Centennial Challenge. Our contribution to the commitment will consist of practical risk management insight and tools, including CatNet, a state-of-the-art risk assessment tool, which will be offered to the cities free of charge. We also look forward to bringing our expertise to bear in helping to define the role of the Chief Resilience Officer, and supporting the development of the CRO network,” said Martyn Parker, Chairman Global Partnerships, Swiss Re.

This expansion is supported by a range of organizations beyond the Rockefeller Foundation and Clinton Global Iniative:

 The Commitment to Action, led by The Rockefeller Foundation and shared by Swiss Re, the American Institute of Architects (AIA), Architecture for Humanity, and Palantir, will support at least 100 cities to hire a Chief Resilience Officer (CRO), create a resilience strategy, and provide access to tools, technical support, and resources for implementation including access to innovative finance for infrastructure development. 100 Resilient Cities will also create a network for CROs to share information and best practice.

This isn’t the first foray into resilience by the CGI:

The Response & Resilience Track provides a space for CGI members to explore a range of topics, including natural disaster preparedness and response, support for humanitarian crises, and post-conflict reconstruction. CGI members in this Track share lessons learned in an effort to identify how corporations, NGOs, governments, and civil society can effectively coordinate efforts to prepare for and reduce the impact of conflict and disaster. While there are some areas of regional focus—such as Haiti and the Democratic Republic of the Congo—this Track collaborates closely with the other Tracks to explore cross-cutting issues such as resilient cities and cultural resiliency through the arts

This can be an incredibly influential program.  Participation by the CGI will lend the weight of influential and resource rich individuals and organizations.  Resilience is often discussed in terms of grassroots or bottom-up development, and that will not and should not change.  Yet I get the sense that it’s an area that advances in fits and spurts, often treated less as a unique concept than a term to describe existing efforts in prevention, preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery.

Attention from new classes of stakeholders – whether they be politicians or other financial/political elites – can be a good thing.

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.

August 22, 2013

Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy: The government’s role in fostering resilience

Filed under: Recovery,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on August 22, 2013


Here’s the lead paragraph from Monday’s Department of Housing and Urban Development news release:

President Obama’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, chaired by Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan, today released a rebuilding strategy to serve as a model for communities across the nation facing greater risks from extreme weather and to continue helping the Sandy-affected region rebuild.  The Rebuilding Strategy contains 69 policy recommendations, many of which have already been adopted, that will help homeowners stay in and repair their homes, strengthen small businesses and revitalize local economies and ensure entire communities are better able to withstand and recover from future storms. 

Here’s a link to the full report.

Excellent overview of impact and consequences.  The sixty-nine recommendations are all reasonable and, if even partially implemented, will advance resilience and readiness.

As my once teen-aged son commented, “When you open with praise is when I really get nervous.”

This is very much a government-to-government document.  How do various federal agencies coordinate? How do federal, state, and local jurisdictions coordinate or at least avoid conflict? The interagency and intergovernmental challenges are real.  This document should help with these issues.  Every recommendation is doable and assigned out for doing.

But if a broader mandate was intended, it has certainly gotten lost.

One example from a section giving priority to “restore and strengthen homes, providing families with safe, affordable housing options.”

34. RECOMMENDATION: Bring together the Housing RSF and Emergency Support Function six partner agencies to review and integrate existing housing plans, as well as existing statutes, regulations, and policies for potential changes (statutory, regulatory or policy) to improve the delivery of housing solutions for future disasters.

Might it also be a good idea to bring together major builders and managers of housing?

Someone reading the Task Force Report might be excused for thinking the private sector had been totally obliterated by Hurricane Sandy and has not returned.  Housing is not the only place where the absence of private players is remarkable.

Toward the end of the report I thought, aha here we go most of the reach-out to the private sector has been consolidated under a single title.  There is a section called, “Facilitate Opportunities for Community and Non-Profit Engagement in Capacity Building and Actively Engage Philanthropy to Fill Capacity Gaps.”  This tees-up precisely one recommendation:

61. RECOMMENDATION: Facilitate and expand opportunities for philanthropic and non-profit engagement in recovery, including opportunities for organizations that work with vulnerable populations. The CPCB RSFs in New York and New Jersey should actively support funder collaboratives that provide grants to nonprofits working in coordination with government. This should include encouragement of sub-grants to NGOs that would assist in accomplishing the Federal outreach requirements, including those specific to vulnerable populations to ensure they are included in the recovery planning process.

To be fair there are a couple of recommendations that seem to involve elements of the community beyond the government. Further, there is evidence the Task Force actively reached out to consult with a broader cross-section… though contact with the commercial sector is not explicit.  There are other initiatives that have featured robust private-public engagement in conceiving post-Sandy priorities.

Still, a Stalinist apparatchik awaking from a seventy year nap might read the Task Force report and find good cause to believe central planning had also been adopted by the United States.

Precisely because centralized planning is not our reality, some greater attention to the private — individual, family, neighborhood, not-for-profit, and commercial — domain would have strengthened what is a helpful report.

August 21, 2013

Juliette Kayyem: the first resilience political candidate?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on August 21, 2013

“I am not a career politician. I don’t believe in luck, I believe in preparedness. I will make sure that Massachusetts is ready for whatever comes our way.”

— Juliette Kayyem, Massachusetts governor’s race campaign video.

Juliette Kayyem (regularly quoted by myself on this blog to be clear about my biases) has held the posts of homeland security adviser in Massachusetts and Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs in DHS (as well as civil rights lawyer in DOJ and terrorism scholar at Harvard).  Earlier today she officially announced that she was joining the race to succeed Deval Patrick as governor of Massachusetts.

The political horse race and bipartisan-type politics aside, what might be relevant to this blog is the fact she could be very well be the first “resilience” candidate for major office, and certainly one of the few with such a homeland security-heavy resume earned before running.

There have been two governors selected as DHS Secretary.  Countless lawyers, and certainly a host of district attorney/prosecutor types in the mold of former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani and current New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, have been elected to various offices.  Yet these have been either candidates experienced in law enforcement before winning office or gained homeland security positions afterwards.

Sitting officials often strongly and intelligently respond to events.  Current NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor Christie both made smart decisions during and following Superstorm Sandy.  The cluster*** that was Katrina aside, at all levels of government and both sides of the political divide, I would wager that many of the Gulf Coast governors and mayors understand the issues well, as do their counterparts in Tornado Alley and California.  Former Florida Jeb Bush, for example, is very likely able to delve deeply into a host of homeland security and resilience-related issues.

Juliette, however, brings a breadth and depth of homeland security experience earned before running for elected office I haven’t noticed in previous political candidates.  Though I would be happy to hear that I’m wrong.  And she has apparently also been writing a book on resilience.

That work sounds like it’s surfacing in her soundbites:

“Whether the challenge comes from economic hardship, violence, illness, global climate change or the increasingly complex world our children will inherit, the measure of us as a people comes down to how well we prepare and protect each other.”

Washington Post


“It’s really about not wishing for the past, not thinking about what might have been, but how Massachusetts should be — and preparing for that. And that’s what I’ve done all my career.”

In a half-hour telephone interview with the Globe, she said that her campaign will focus on integrating technology into education; developing the state’s infrastructure, from ports to broadband to clean energy; and focusing on how to make the state adaptable to the consequences of climate change.

“Any governor who is going to lead in the next four, eight years has to take climate adaptation exceptionally seriously: we are a coastal state,” she said.

Boston Globe

I think it will be interesting to see if this type of frame helps get her message across.  It will be even more interesting if she wins to observe what type of resilience-related policies get enacted.  Whether or not she ends up being successful in her quest, I hope she inspires other aspiring politicians of both parties to embrace this approach.

Postscript (warning – political video in the hole): If my argument hasn’t been persuasive, you can watch Juliette’s inaugural video spot below and on her website.  The homeland security/resilience message and imagery seems sprinkled throughout – or maybe I’m just hoping?

June 13, 2013

NYC recovery — and resilience — plan

Filed under: Recovery — by Philip J. Palin on June 13, 2013

Tuesday afternoon Mayor Bloomberg unveiled New York’s multi-year strategy and plan to recover from Hurricane Sandy and be better prepared for the next — potentially worse — climate-related event.

You can read the complete document here:  A Stronger More Resilient New York.

I found the press release from the Mayor’s office an informative quick read.  You can see the press release here:  Mayor Proposes How to Protect City from Climate Change.

It strikes me as an entirely reasonable mainstream effort.  It is a mix of several different strategies customized to particular sectors, specific geographies, and — I’m guessing — what it is perceived most citizens are willing to accept.

It is “just” a plan.  Funding, sequencing, and execution of individual pieces will determine what is really achieved.  If you’re a resilience nerd (like me) you’ll probably find it lacking imagination.  But if you’re in favor of “git’ur done” recovery, you’ll probably see it as a whole series of non-market-based complications.   There are surely some New York property developers who see a whole host of new opportunities, and maybe that’s the implicit answer to my critiques below.

The report is organized (mostly) by threat, sector, and geography.  There is a section on community preparedness, but it is probably the weakest in the entire document.  The report is further evidence that governments are willing to build stuff and regulate more stuff.  But there is very little attention to politics: the purposeful practice of living together in a city.

(I can just hear my NY buddies laughing that there is not enough politics in something Mayor Bloomberg is pushing.  But this report — and the news conference at which it was released — sounds/reads more like a systems engineering study than anything involving people.)

This political anemia may contribute to my second impression: Significant elements of the plan depend on working with private sector owners and operators of critical infrastructure, but I don’t see anything outlined to suggest how this shared public-private responsibility will be effectively advanced.

I recommend reading the Utilities section.  This is especially well written systems engineering.  When you come to the “Initiatives for Increasing Resiliency in Utilities”, notice the how involves private-public collaboration and creativity.  But there is no rhetorical or systemic case made for why tomorrow will be different than the day before Sandy hit in regards to these crucial relationships.   I have been involved in private-public dialogue related to electric power.  It can be tough even when everyone is operating in good faith.

I assume it’s just a digital glitch.  But on Wednesday when I was reviewing the plan the Telecommunications section was missing… just as wireless was “missing” across large areas during much of Sandy.  The wireless communications industry is currently expending significant resources to resist new efforts at government regulation.  This has seriously complicated private-public collaboration on emergency preparedness involving the wireless sector. I would love to read that Mayor Bloomberg — with his personal background in the private sector working in an area closely related to telecommunications — has cracked the code for engaging the telecom companies.  For the moment, I find the report’s missing piece richly ironic.

In any case, at least read the news release.

May 23, 2013

Resilience: Stop the virus now?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 23, 2013

A resilient person, enterprise, or region anticipates failure – even fundamental failure.

This is not necessarily a fatalistic or cynical disposition (though it can be). At best it is a kind of proactive realism, even a healthy paranoia (ala Only the Paranoid Survive).

The resilience paradox involves enhanced influence through less control.  The tensions between orthodox and paradox can be very real. (Unpack those two sentences and you have a chapter, if not a book, on the future of homeland security.)

As a strategic priority resilience mitigates hubris and promotes humility. It is one way of recognizing and saying-aloud, “Ultimately I am not in control, but I can be prepared to respond and adapt.”

A science of resilience is coalescing around principles derived from physics, biology, and human behavior. These natural principles are increasingly being tested and amended to be purposefully grafted into social systems.

Last week Arnold Bogis pointed us to the Rockefeller Foundation’s new multimillion dollar effort to build urban resilience. A thoughtful, clearly experienced, and apparently innovative emergency manager responded with at least some annoyance.

A.J. Phelps commented (in part, please see full comment):

I see a lot of potential duplication of effort with a CRO (Chief Resilience Officer) position, as opposed to consolidation of effort. Concepts that I associate with resiliency (like recovery and mitigation) fit squarely on my plate as an emergency manager provided the focus is on the manager side of the title, are addressed through a collaborative planning process with SMEs, and should be included in existing planning programs.

I hope many top emergency managers have already begun bringing together the team that will enable their city, region or whatever to apply to the Rockefeller Foundation.  Especially if Mr. Phelps’ critique is correct, emergency managers should be in the vanguard of this effort.

Resilience is a buzzword which is a kind of meme which is a kind of emergence that may or may not find its own resilience.  Such beginnings are precisely when the opportunity for influence is most profound.  Do you want to kill the resilience movement? This is your best chance.  Do you want to refine and nourish the resilience movement?  Now is the right time.  In either case, this is the moment to reflect on your motivations and take action.

Great foundations — like great teachers, executives, and prophets — invite us to work with  them to create new realities.  This is what the Rockefeller Foundation is doing with their 100 Resilient Cities Centennial Challenge.  They do not presume to have defined resilience as some sort of universal constant. They have observed that “vulnerability in one area shakes the stability of others, rippling across borders and continents.”  They are inviting creativity and commitment to ensure “cities are prepared for and can withstand the crises they are certain to face – mitigating local impact and minimizing worldwide reverberations.”

You can learn more and apply at: 100 Resilient Cities

Synergistically Shifting the Resilience Paradigm

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on May 23, 2013

The following post is by Andrew J. Phelps. I invited Mr. Phelps to “respond” to my post above which was a reaction to his comment last week. His response is considerably more than a response-to-a-response and deserves this separate posting. (Philip J. Palin)


I have no idea what the title of this post means. I don’t know if I could accurately define or describe “synergy”, “resilience”, or “paradigm”. I have ideas of what they may mean and I have used them all, probably incorrectly, in talks, presentations, and my writing. I have a problem, however, with the word resilience. So much so that I jumped at the opportunity to dig a little deeper into my derision for that word when asked by the folks at Homeland Security Watch.

The Rockefeller Foundation’s recently announced 100 Resilient Cities Centennial Challenge is aimed at creating 100 local CROs (Chief Resilience Officers) “to oversee the development of a resilience strategy for (their) city”. Reading about this well-intentioned initiative made me wonder if the concept of “resilience” is truly understood by the policy-makers asking communities to become more resilient. I do not believe it is. My two-part understanding of resilience in the context of disasters and catastrophes in a community is this:

  • One, the ability of a community to quickly begin recovering from a disaster and continue the provision of services;
  • and two, a community’s capacity to return to its pre-disaster “shape” (a rubber-band is resilient, in that as it is pulled and stretched, it always returns back to its original size and shape. Unless it breaks.  In which case, it is beyond repair and perhaps lacked sufficient “resiliency”).

My first understanding of resiliency speaks to two critical components of emergency planning: Recovery (both short and long-term) and Continuity of Operations/Government. My second understanding just sounds like a bad idea to me and one I would not be comfortable explaining it as an optional path following a disaster to my elected officials:

Governor: Our state has been devastated by XYZ disaster. We need to show we are resilient.

Emergency Manager: How would you like us to demonstrate that?

Governor: By returning everything to how it was before the disaster.

Emergency Manager: Okay. But doesn’t that mean we will remain vulnerable to this same disaster in the future? Apparently “normal” wasn’t doing the trick and we had this horrible disaster. Maybe “normal” isn’t where we want to be…

Governor: Good point. So… we need to show we are beyond resilient; that we are forward-thinking and vow to re-build stronger than before so we won’t have to go through this again. I shall convene a blue-ribbon panel of experts to devise a strategy that will allow-

Emergency Manager: Governor, if I may, we have already done that. It’s our Hazard Mitigation Plan, full of project ideas designed specifically for that purpose. Why don’t we look at some of those projects that will allow us to be “beyond resilient” and rebuild our community so there is less of an impact next time and we don’t need to do as much “bouncing back”?

I think the idea of a resilience officer duplicates the current efforts of emergency managers to build a collaborative space in which subject matter experts from government agencies across all levels of government, the private sector, non-profit organizations, and the community served by the emergency manager develop plans, strategies, training and exercise initiatives, and resource acquisitions to address what it sounds like the Rockefeller Foundation envisions being addressed by a Resilience Officer.

Here is what I believe:

Communities are inherently resilient.

Since Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans has been recovering, even in light of a national economic down turn and a second disaster, the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil leak. I understand New Orleans has not fully recovered, however a study released in February, 2013 showed that between 2010 and 2011 it was the fastest growing city in the US and as of July, 2011 (5 years after the disaster) had 90% of its 2000 population. That same study showed the New Orleans metro area had a 0.6% increase in jobs while the rest of the country had a 3% decrease between 2007 and 2012. The referenced study does show some areas where New Orleans is not doing so well, especially in terms of violent crime and affordable housing, but it certainly is not allowing itself to wash away into the Mississippi delta. I imagine that New Orleans is not seeking to resiliently return to its pre-Katrina condition, but to recover to a state better than its pre-Katrina condition.

There is no community in the US that I can think of that has been impacted by a disaster in the last 100 years that has not recovered. After a disaster, our communities are not abandoned. They come back. Some quickly, some slowly, but they come back. West, Texas will come back. Moore, Oklahoma will come back. Who will be leading those comebacks? It won’t be a Chief Resilience Officer. It will be planners, SMEs from all corners of government, the private sector, non-profit organizations, and members of the community.

Resilience is the new All Hazards

Most every profession has a short-hand (even the NIMS-indoctrinated, plain-text homeland security crowd). As I began my pursuit of a career in Emergency Management everyone was talking about an All Hazards approach. Of course, it didn’t mean we were planning for every hazard under the sun; it is shorthand meaning that we were planning for all of the hazards that could impact our community. I recently mentioned the all-hazards planning approach while giving a talk to a community organization where I live and work in New Mexico. A puzzled audience member asked why we would be preparing for all hazards when things like tsunamis and hurricanes wouldn’t really impact us. It occurred to me that the words we use and concepts we understand are not necessarily understood by people outside of our field, though that does not prevent elected officials, policy makers, or philanthropists from using them, regardless of their own lack of understanding. The further we get from the meaning of our own shorthand, the more cloudy our mission becomes, both to us and our communities. Instead of throwing around a term like “resilience” or “all-hazards” and assuming people know what we are talking about, let us break those concepts down into its individual parts and really explain the role of hazard and risk identification and assessment, mitigation, recovery and operational continuity planning and its importance. People are smart and don’t need us to “Reader’s Digest” everything into small words. These are big and important ideas. Let’s not throw them away.

I do not know that a CRO is sustainable, but believe sustainability is critical to resiliency.

The Rockefeller Foundation wants to distribute $100 million among 100 cities with the goal of making communities more “resilient”. My math can be shaky, but since I have time to use a calculator I have figured out that this comes to $1 million per community. The idea is that this money will be used to fund a Chief Resilience Officer charged with overseeing resiliency initiatives like a resilience plan and improvements to infrastructure to increase their resilience. If the recent FEMA Community Resilience Innovation Challenge is any indication of what some of those projects may be, we will see the creation of mobile communication vehicles and the purchase of emergency generators, but likely with even less accountability than current homeland security grant programs that have already given hundreds of millions of dollars to projects just like those. And in the blink of an eye, the community has blown through their million dollars, has a new position they either need to pay for or get rid of, and another plan tucked onto its already-too-full shelf; a plan that is in all likelihood a mash-up of existing continuity of operations, hazard mitigation, recovery and emergency response plans. And Harold Hill has moved on to the next town.

I also question how a community could assess the return on investment of a CRO, but I suspect that it could be measured in much the same way the return on investment can be measured for emergency managers (grant funds brought in to a community, contact with citizens during preparedness presentations, more efficient response times, etc.), in which case, what would be done by a CRO that is not already being done by someone. We also need to be adaptable to a changing world and maintain our ability to improvise to dynamic situations like disasters, but I don’t think we need a Director of Adaptability or Improviser in Chief.

Blog posts are the new psychotherapy, a chance to work through demons. The difference is the opportunity for strangers to comment on how well, or how poorly, you’ve done. I am grateful to Philip Palin and the HLS Watch for providing me an opportunity to have worked through my deep-seated hatred for the word resilience. I look forward to a continued exchange of ideas. We emergency managers, mayors, governors, fire and police chiefs, urban planners, corporate executives, community organizers and concerned citizens need to incorporate the concepts that are commonly understood as contributing to a community’s resilience into our planning. This means looking at climate change as a hazard to be mitigated and above all else, ensuring our communities can continue to progress, not regress or remain static, following a devastating tornado, wildfire, or pandemic. Many communities already do this formally, I believe all do informally.

Resilience is not a bad word, and the Rockefeller’s Resilience Challenge is not a bad idea. It has perhaps given emergency management a hair cut, so now people will look at emergency management in another way and say “you look… different. Good, but different.” And emergency managers should say “thank you” and keep doing what we are doing, but perhaps with a little more money in our budgets and, even better from the perspective of my office chair, more understanding and support of what we are trying to accomplish.

May 15, 2013

A Chief Resilience Officer for Every City?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on May 15, 2013

Here’s an interesting idea: “Does Every City Need a Chief Resilience Officer?” The Atlantic Cities staff writer Emily Badger explains the concept:

The Rockefeller Foundation, this year celebrating its 100th anniversary, is throwing its weight (and its money) behind this mandate. Today, it’s announcing a 100 Resilient Cities Centennial Challenge, a three-year, $100 million prize with one particularly interesting component: The foundation plans to put up the money to hire a Chief Resilience Officer position in 100 cities around the world. Ultimately, though, these cities will have to scrounge up their own funds to keep the job alive.

Had anyone heard of this initiative? I hadn’t, and I’m impressed that a foundation as prestigious as Rockefeller is embracing the resilience concept.  Until recently, in my view at least, “resilience” was an idea more or less regulated to homeland security, health, and other related fields.  It would emerge immediately following a large event, whether natural or man-made, but just as quickly disappear from the public eye.

Rockefeller Foundation money does not equal widespread acceptance nor understanding, but I would argue that it is a sign that the concept is firmly entrenched in the public discourse and will not quietly pass into that good night if the next federal administration/round  of homeland security “experts” decides to go in another direction.

It appears that this came about partly because of the threat of climate change:

Rockefeller is inviting cities to apply to be one of these 100 resilient cities – to be named in three rounds over the next three years – by arguing for how they’re working to become “resilient.” Rockefeller wants to then help them create a resilience plan, preemptively sketching out how they would address any number of catastrophes including but beyond climate change.

“We see it as broader than that,” Coleman says. “It’s really about how cities are able to deal with shocks and stresses. Those could be climate-related, or more general weather-related. But they could be other natural disasters like earthquakes. They could also be things like financial shocks and stresses – something we’ve seen a lot of over the last few years. Or health crises. Really anything that is going to test the city and its response.”

The foundation is thinking about the long term:

“We feel that having someone specifically tasked with thinking about and acting on and planning for resilience will mean that other people within the city government will need to pay – and will be required to pay – attention to the issue,” he says. “They won’t be able to ignore it. Or, what tends to happen more often is not that it’s ignored, but it’s put on the back burner because it’s not seen as a priority until something happens.”

Maybe this will be one of those jobs that becomes obsolete through its own success: When “resiliency” is baked into everything a city does, we won’t need resilience officers any more.

I have to admit, I’d love one of these positions.  I also have to admit, that the best individuals for the job would be both well versed in the concept of resilience while also being among the movers and shakers in their local governments.  This will not be an easy position — inherently tough choices will be faced, no matter the local conditions.  It will, or at least should, require some level of political acumen that can best provide an opportunity for resilience-related initiatives to blossom.

For now, Rockefeller is unaware of any city already hosting a job quite like this one, so it’s hard to say exactly how the role will work (or what a qualified candidate might look like). Perhaps some mix of urban/transportation planner and sustainability officer and emergency manager? All of those jobs already exist, so it will be interesting to see how the people who hold them view the arrival of this new official tasked with reporting directly to the mayor.

(h/t to Dawn Scarola for sharing this concept and article.)

March 12, 2013

Resilience is the act of coming to the aid of those in need.

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on March 12, 2013

Three weeks ago a fire destroyed a lot of things my family and I used to own.

Life goes on, fortunately.

We are now in the recovery phase of managing our personal disaster.

When I’ve talked with colleagues about work related issues during the past three weeks the conversation frequently turns to the fire — usually at the end of whatever we’re talking about.

“How are you doing?” I’m asked.

I am unable to express how engulfingly supportive people have been to me and my family. But when I am asked how I’m doing, I really don’t know the answer.

My unthinking analytical default is to parse the sentence and ask, “How am I doing what?”

But that would be a jerk response. I know the question is meant in a socially sincere context. It deserves an equally sincere response.

“I’m fine, thanks,” doesn’t cut it because it is untrue.

“I’m devestated,” also doesn’t work, for the same reason.

I’m left with selecting something from the broad middle between stiff upper lip and what my son calls a pity party response.

I’ve discovered, however, that at least with homeland security folks, I can say, “Thanks for asking. I’m being resilient.”

I’m not sure what I mean when I say that, but it feels like an authentic response.


I think I first came across the word resilient (as I’m latching on to it) in Steve Flynn’s 2007 book The Edge of Disaster: Rebuilding a Resilient Nation. Since then, oceans of words have been poured into explaining what resilience is, how to do it, how to be it, and how to measure it.  Individuals can be resilient, and so can communities and nations and economies.   There are very simple definitions of resilience in the literature and tortuously complicated definitions. But I am increasingly aware of the chasm between the language of resilience and the experience of it.

I’ve started asking first responders I know what their experience of resilience has been. Not their experience of the concept, but their experience of the experience of resilience.

I had a work-related conversation a few days ago with a police official I know, Pat Walsh. After the work part was finished, we started talking about resilience.

Here’s a note Pat sent me on Monday. I like what he wrote.  I had not seen it expressed quite like this in the resilience literature.   It resonated with my current experience.  I have his permission to share it.


I thought about the resiliency question after I hung up and I still had a mile or so to go [on my walk] so I started to think. My out of breath thoughts are sometimes the best, or so I think.

I have seen people lose everything in fires, accidents or to violence. I am always amazed at how calm the women in the situation are once they have their head wrapped around the situation. But then the things that make or break those affected is always interesting to me.

Some can handle the actual incident, but the aftermath, insurance claim, rebuilding, restarting is the last straw and is what actually breaks them.

Other people are a wreck with the event, but healing for them is the process of rebuilding.

I do not have the answer to why this is, but I have a hypothesis.

I think the people who handle trauma are the ones who are surrounded by family and friends (or kind strangers). We are all self reliant and stubbornly hang on to the idea that we can do it without the help of others (or we think we need too).

I wish I had a dime for every time someone said, “Why did this happen? What is the point?”

Well if you believe in God I would say the point is so you learn this is a fleeting life, and so that others can be tested to step up and help their fellow man.

If you are not a believer, I would say, the point is so others may learn what it is like to stop thinking about themselves and help another in need. It is in helping others that we are most fulfilled.

We can teach resilience all day long, but at the end of the day it is how one reacts to the incident and how others come to the aid. Both benefit, some more than others.

[A firefighter friend] did a video for [a course]…. It is worth watching. In his video he expresses disgust with himself for turning away a homeless man who wanted water. It haunts him to this day. I have those demons as well, and I would say we all do.

So in short, resilience is the act of coming to the aid of those in need.


Pat wrote about individual resilience. I want to believe the idea can be expanded to communities and to a nation.

Maybe it already is.

January 17, 2013

Post-Sandy: Investing in resilience

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on January 17, 2013

Last Friday the NYS 2100 Commission released its report: Recommendations to Improve the Strength and Resilience of the Empire State’s Infrastructure.   It is a helpful contribution and provides a very constructive level of detail.

The report also offers a meaningful framing for investing in resilience in New York and well beyond. The following long quote is from the c0-chairs’ foreword:

While the response to Sandy continues, work needs to begin now on how we build back better – in a way that increases New York’s agility when responding to future storms and other shocks. Building back better demands a focus on increased resilience: the ability of individuals, organizations, systems, and communities to bounce back more strongly from stresses and shocks. Resilience means creating diversity and redundancy in our systems and rewiring their interconnections, which enables their functioning even when individual parts fail.

There is no doubt that building resilience will require investment, but it will also reduce the economic damage and costs of responding to future storms and events, while improving the everyday operations of our critical systems. In a time of fiscal constraints, the positive sign is that inexpensive policy changes will be as critical as the financial investments we make. Hard infrastructure improvements must be complemented by soft infrastructure and other resilience measures, for example, improving our institutional coordination, public communication, and rapid decision making abilities will make us better able to recover from the catastrophic effects of natural disasters. In many respects, New York is ahead of the game in this regard. In recent storms, including Irene and Sandy, we have successfully embraced the notion of “failing safely,” accepting the inevitability of widespread disruptions and tucking in to protect our assets to the extent possible.

We cannot prevent all future disasters from occurring, but we can prevent failing catastrophically by embracing, practicing, and improving a comprehensive resilience strategy. As New York and our neighboring states continue to recover from the devastating impacts of Superstorm Sandy, we have a narrow but distinct window of opportunity to leverage the groundswell of consciousness.

I have delayed and hesitated to post on this report because, with all its strengths, it fails to sufficiently address a fundamental aspect of resilience.   The co-chairs foreshadow this issue in writing, “Hard infrastructure improvements must be complemented by soft infrastructure…”

Achieving resilience involves a different way of thinking, choosing, and behaving. There are a whole host of trade-offs. I agree with the report’s authors that the trade-off’s are worthwhile. But this will not be obvious to everyone. Resilience emerges — or not — from families, neighborhoods, and communities. It unfolds from dialogue and relationships, or not at all.

The NYS 2100 Commission report does a great job identifying and seeding the hard infrastructure topics that need to be discussed and engaged. But how will the dialogue be started and sustained? How will a soft infrastructure be cultivated that is sufficient to enable hard infrastructure decisions?

The current report reads as a set of recommendations to be implemented by the widely-respected and honored philosopher-kings of a latter day Kallipolis (Plato’s “Beautiful City” in The Republic).  New York is, for me, a beautiful place, but last time I looked its politics were more complicated than this.

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