Academic journal article Homeland Security Affairs

Building Resilient Communities: A Preliminary Framework for Assessment

Academic journal article Homeland Security Affairs

Building Resilient Communities: A Preliminary Framework for Assessment

Article excerpt


Governments, non-governmental orga­nizations, and community leaders in many countries face a daunting task: the design and implementation of policies, programs, and systems that help local communities cope with a panoply of threats ranging from terrorist attacks to natu­ral disasters. In highly developed societies, this task is often compounded by associated problems such as aged, overburdened, and complex critical infrastructure systems; 1 the catastrophic potential of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive (CBRNE) threats; and the increasing interconnectivity of many global systems of transportation and communication.

The idea of building resilience to natural and man-made disasters is now a dominant strategic theme and operational goal in the current U.S. national security policy discourse. 2 Yet, even with unlimited resources, it is highly unlikely that a community can prevent or protect itself from all the possible dangers it may face. In the United States for example, complex distribution systems are now the primary mechanism for supplying populations with food and water. Gasoline-powered vehicles remain the dominant mode of transportation. Individuals and organizations build their everyday activities around complex systems over which they have little control, such as electricity, computerized systems, and communication networks supported by distant satellites. Each of these modern conveniences allows com­munities to function more efficiently. Yet few people maintain a stockpile of food and water or possess alternative modes of transportation, power generation, or com­munication in the event of an emergency.

Meanwhile, governments, communities, and individuals have never been so devas­tatingly unprepared to cope with disturbances to infrastructure, vital resources, or public goods and services. Part of the problem is that the efficiencies inherent within these complex systems of modern life reduce resilience through a loss in redundancy and diversity. Another aspect is that few systems are designed with resilience as a specification. The ability of these systems to bounce back after a disaster will have a direct impact on the ability of a community to respond and recover. It is thus important to consider all the resources that a community must count on when assessing resilience.

Researchers in varied and distinct disciplines have struggled with the concept of resilience in their respective fields for decades. 3 Scholars and practitioners continue to wrestle with this concept in hope of developing useful prescriptive homeland security policy guidance, 4 and community-level assessment tools. 5 While there is still much to debate about how to draft precise definitions of resilience and its attributes, and how to operationalize and apply resilience concepts within each discipline, overlap in the research of each discipline is significant enough to be instructive as to what makes systems resilient.

The recent focus on resilience marks a shift from resistance strategies focused solely on the anticipation of risk and the mitigation of vulnerability to more inclusive strategies that integrate both resistance (prevent, protect) and resilience (respond, recover) in the face of disasters. In the past, some scholars have maintained that anticipation strategies should be used to focus on known problems, while those geared towards resilience are better suited for the unknown. It is important to point out that individually, both aspects have shortfalls. Just as planning based on anticipated threats can lead to resource investments to counter hazards that never materialize, planning from the broader resilience standpoint may call for the short-term diversion of resources in an effort to ensure long-term sustainability. 6

Compounding the challenge is the difficulty in developing a flexible planning process that responds to changing conditions. …

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