Thursday, December 10, 2009

Resilience? Does it Resonate?

The term "resilience" has been gaining some currency among emergency management professionals. I have a question for you: does it resonate? Is it a good way of thinking about what crisis and emergency management is all about?

I've been kicking this around ever since having some discussions about it with my friend Dr. Brad Smith, the head of the Resilience Institute at Western Washington University. As Dean of Huxley College, the highly respected college of environmental science at Western Washington University and author of one of the leading textbooks on environmental science, Dr. Smith also heads up the Resilience Institute. I kind of scratched my head when I heard this was the name of the new certificate program in Emergency Management. I wondered, is this just a way for the academic types to communicate that they are on a higher level than the rest of us?

I also read an article on the issue of resilience by Dr. Robert McCreight. In it he tries to address what the term really means and whether it adds anything to our discussion about crisis and emergency management.

The more I think about it the more I think it is significant. Resilience connotes an ability to withstand trauma. As such it includes in that simple connotation a number of key elements of disaster planning and emergency management. Most importantly, it leads one to the ultimate goal of what we do which is to return an organization or community to some form of normalcy. After a major event things will never really be the same, big events always change us and our communities, but what we want when we are in the midst of trauma is to return to normal, even if it is a new normal.

But resiliency above all starts with good planning. To manage an event well and recover quickly with minimal cost, the emphasis needs to be on planning. The Gulf region would have recovered far more quickly if resiliency in the face of a Katrina event had been the goal. You can't stop the hurricane, but you can do a lot of things to make certain that its almost inevitable arrival will disrupt people's lives less. Clear-headed risk assessment, effective infrastructure and resource planning, efficient response management, reasonable mitigation, fast and efficient public communication, well-managed recovery efforts--all lead to an organization or community re-establishing normal life as quickly, efficiently and with as little pain and effort as possible.

Resiliency. I'm starting to like that term. What do you think?

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