Academic journal article Homeland Security Affairs

Resilience Redux: Buzzword or Basis for Homeland Security

Academic journal article Homeland Security Affairs

Resilience Redux: Buzzword or Basis for Homeland Security

Article excerpt


For many decades, resilience has been a relevant concept in variety of fields, including psychology, sociology, physics, civil engineering, supply chains, economics, business, energy, and ecology.[1] While resilience had for years been applied to aspects of disaster relief such as the impact of earthquakes, the concept of resilience can be said to have officially entered the world of homeland security in response to the tragic 9/11 event.[2] In the years following, a veritable cottage industry on resilience related to homeland security appeared in the academic and research community throughout the nation and across the globe. There have been innumerable workshops, conferences, books, articles, and courses of study dealing with this subject, as well as entire organizations devoted to this topic.[3]

Interest in resilience did not go unnoticed in U.S. government circles. In part responding to a recommendation of the 9/11 Commission to make our nation "stronger, safer, and more resilient," this concept also gained prominence in U.S. homeland security policy formulation.[4] As the years passed, the White House and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have incorporated resilience into homeland security planning processes, implementation programs, and operational activities. Employed both conceptually and on limited operational levels, resilience can be found in such significant homeland security documents such as the first and second Quadrennial Homeland Security Reviews (QHSR) and the National Preparedness Goal (NPG) .[5]

Wide use of resilience in connection with homeland security does not mean there has been agreement on the definition of this term. President Obama offered a generalized meaning of resilience expressed broadly as "the ability to adapt to changing conditions and withstand and rapidly recover from disruption due to emergencies."[6] However, the governmental and academic homeland security communities have not adopted this or any other single definition as the agreed meaning of the term. Innumerable variations of definitions abound, depending upon the needs and perspectives of the definer.[7]

This article seeks to investigate whether resilience should not only continue to serve as a broad concept in U.S. homeland security strategy, but, more importantly, whether it can become a realistic basis for operationally-oriented policies and programs as the nation faces increasingly challenging threats and hazards. Among the issues addressed are:

The nature and scope of resilience definitions.

Challenges in operationalizing resilience.

Resilience in U.S. homeland security policy.

The future of resilience in homeland security.

Meaning of Resilience

Considerable attention has been paid to finding a definitive meaning of resilience to apply to various aspects of homeland security.[8] Relatively standard sets of meanings for resilience can be found in more mature fields such as physics, psychology, sociology, and even environmental science. As illustrated below, there is little if any agreement in government or academic circles on the meaning of resilience as applied to homeland security.

Spectrum of Definitions

In its broadest sense, resilience in the world of homeland security has to do with people, communities, institutions, and infrastructure experiencing an adverse incident or series of incidents, withstanding such blows, and returning to functionality. The following paragraphs present a series of terse statements about resilience. Taken together, they tell a relatively complete story of resilience as related to homeland security--its purpose, principles, and parameters.[9]

Resilient systems are flexible and adaptable, unlike brittle systems that can break when undergoing natural and man-made hazards. Such systems can absorb disturbance, degrade gracefully, and bounce back to resume functioning. …

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