Technology, policy, and resiliency: moving resiliency from concept to reality

Irene, Lee, and other tropical storms both here and in the western Pacific continue to wreak havoc through rain and flood. Some three dozen wildfires ravage Texas. The world reverberates to the upheaval of earthquakes here and abroad over the past few weeks.

In the face of such hazards, and with the memory of earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, New Zealand and Japan still very fresh, surely a conference on technology, policy, and resiliency is badly needed! And if that conference aims to move past understanding – to harness that understanding to building community resiliency, then maybe we’re on the right track.

In less than two weeks I get to play a small part in just such a conference – to be held at the Virginia Tech Research Center here in Arlington. I’ll be a panel member discussing challenges to risk and resiliency from incremental threats.

Just what does that mean? Well, here’s the verbatim guidance to our panel: “The threats from climate change, sea rise, drought and desertification, food security and many other slowly developing crises are not linked to dramatic events that focus media, public, and political attention. How well do we recognize and understand these threats? How can existing scientific approaches help our understanding? What can be done to increase our resilience to them? What strategies could be used to obtain the resources necessary to make significant changes?”

It might be interesting to blog readers, and certainly instructive to my own thought process in preparing for this discussion, to address some or all of these topics over the next several days as the conference nears. So that’s my plan of work. You’ll undoubtedly have your own thoughts. If you could share those observations as we go along, it would be a kindness.

First, some more background on the conference. It’s the second “Conference on Community Resiliency.” So when and where was the first? Turns out it was held in Zurich in 2010. Participants there apparently focused on the role of policymakers and leaders in reducing the disruption occasioned by major extremes and hazards. The organizers tell us that the discussion incubated four themes (supplied here verbatim):

  • The need to link global system changes to local security and resiliency issues.  While we acknowledge the importance of singular catastrophic events in creating major disruptions and loss of lives, it is important to understand how global incremental changes – climate change, rapid urbanization, economic instabilities, for example – are significant threats to community resiliency.
  • The need to increase knowledge exchange between scientists, policy makers, practitioners, and citizens.  Resiliency is more probable when the public are knowledgeable of the nature of threats and the role they can have in building more resilient communities.
  • Resiliency organizations and leadership.  Leadership is fundamental to ensuring that organizations responsible for securing communities are sufficiently robust to cope with the complexities of responding to events that are complex and interdependent by their very nature.  Yet, we know very little about what constitute the key attributes for good leaders in times of crisis.
  • “Living labs” can play important roles in the translation of science to practice.  Embedding scientists into organizations responsible for security and resiliency on a long-term basis can help increase the understanding of how technologies must be tailored to meet the needs of practitioners. 

The organizers note that events since Zurich continue to demonstrate the importance those themes as communities have faced major tests of their resiliency in light of social, environmental and technical disruptions.

In addition to my panel on challenges to risk and resiliency from incremental threats, the Arlington meeting will provide a plenary presentation and panels on: dimensions of resiliency; risk and resiliency for nature-techno (sic) catastrophic events; resiliency and citizen participation; resiliency and leadership; 21st century challenges to humanitarian aid provision; and scientist and practitioner dialog.


In the next post…a look at the first guidance for our panel. A hint as to where we’ll go? I question the premise: “The threats from climate change, sea rise, drought and desertification, food security and many other slowly developing crises are not linked to dramatic events that focus media, public, and political attention?” Actually, I think the threats from these so-called slow-onset disasters are indeed linked to dramatic events…

but more on that in due time.

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