Thursday, June 12, 2008

Defining Resilience Isn't Enough; It Must Also Be Facilitated

Rich Cooper at Security Debrief points out that the flooding in the Midwest provides a good example of resilience:

If you are looking for real-life resiliency happening today, pay close attention to what is happening right now in the heartland of America. Over the past several days, the citizens of Cedar Falls, Iowa, have filled hundreds of thousands of sandbags to save their City from the rising waters of the Cedar River. Thousands of volunteers of every age and walk of life have stepped forward to fill bag after bag and put them in place to save their ‘homeland’ and preserve the ‘security’ that it brings to them.

Cedar Falls and others like her in the Midwest that are fighting the ‘battle’ for survival represent the personification of resilience. They are offering us all a teachable moment and we all have a lot to learn.

There was no legislative mandate that made the citizens of Cedar Falls step forward to fill sandbags and stack them atop one another. Nor were there FEMA checks handed out to make them come downtown to save the City streets from more ruin. They just showed up and did it. They were business owners, employees, parents, students, etc. – all citizens committed to the survival of what is important to them. That is what resilience is: action that enables survival. Before we allow the word to become so overused that it loses its meaning (e.g. interoperability), we need to remember that people focused on a mission are at the center of resilience.
True enough, but it leaves out a crucial point: It's not enough to rely on the willingness of citizens to step forward, pitch in, and try to save their own communities. Citizens have always done so, and will continue to do so. And this sort of activity has always been more organized and effective in localized disasters such as the Midwest flooding than in widespread, catastrophic disasters.

The key to resilience, especially for catastrophic disasters, is to create systems that facilitate those efforts - by citizens, by businesses, by public agencies - so that they are as effective as possible. I'm talking about communications systems, logistical systems, healthcare systems, etc.

In a catastrophe, these systems will spontaneously organize themselves through whatever means are available, even if no planning is done. But it's the job of homeland security professionals to ensure that the planning is done, and that when the disaster happens, the systems that support citizen action are as robust as possible.

So while the activity of "people on a mission" is at the heart of resilience, it's only a necessary but not sufficient condition. The engine that makes resilience go is the creation of reliable systems that facilitate the actions of those responders.

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