Want to learn more about community resilience?

Readers of the previous post and related posts on the Weather-Ready Nation may be well aware of the work pioneered by the Community and Regional Resilience Institute (CARRI) over the past few years. If not, the CARRI February newsletter which just came out today provides a way to get caught up to date on their interesting and pioneering efforts to build community resilience across the United States. The newsletter is entered in its entirety here. Some of you may recognize John Plodinec for his frequent and sage comments to posts on this blog.


February, 2012

Pilot Communities and the Community Resilience System (CRS)

We had our first pilot communities roundtable recently.  It provided an excellent opportunity for each community to share its progress, and for all to discuss the good, the bad and the ugly of the CRS.  Briefly, Anaheim completed its initial round of assessments, and Mt. Juliet was not far behind.  As I’ll discuss below, they provided very useful suggestions to improve this part of the CRS.  Charleston is pulling together its earlier resilience assessment work to determine their priorities for the CRS assessment phase. The survey of those priorities should be finished by the end of this month.  Gadsden had a rousing kickoff meeting; they brought in a speaker from Tuscaloosa who described the impacts of the tornadoes in north Alabama. The Mississippi Gulf Coast is re-orienting itself to the lower three counties in Mississippi. 

I had the pleasure of sitting in on a meeting of the executive board for the St. Louis county effort, as well as introducing the CRS as part of their PandemicPrep.org forum.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with PandemicPrep, go over to http://www.pandemicprep.org.  Recently, they have worked with the St. Louis area’s private sector and public health organizations to develop a program that in case of a bioterrorism incident will inoculate over 70% of the workforce and their families at their places of work.  As a result, the public health sector will only have to deal with about 125,000 people, rather than all of the nearly one million who live there.  A “win” for the public health sector, sure – but also a “win” for the companies involved:  they have seen a jump in employee morale.

Greenwich is still organizing; they are looking for the resilience message that will resonate particularly with the business community.  This sparked a great deal of discussion – several of the communities see this as a major issue.  Anaheim had an immediate need, so we have prepared some material intended to speak more directly to the private sector.  We’d appreciate any ideas that you might have about effective messages for the private sector.

The Community Resilience System – Assessment

This month, I’ll start what is likely to be a multi-issue review of our approach to community assessment.  I’ll begin by presenting the foundations for the assessment module, and then provide a brief overview of the module.  Next month, I’ll focus on our Community Snapshot and our Community Identity worksheet, and in following months our detailed assessments of community service areas.

The assessment module rests on a foundation of both research and practice – most particularly the guidance given us by our Community Leaders Working Group.

The CRS must be outcome-oriented.  We have taken this to mean that the assessment must lead to action.  It is not enough to provide a number and then leave it to the community to figure out what it means.  As we will discuss, we use the assessment to suggest potential actions the community may want to take based on successes achieved by other communities.  As a result, the assessment is intended to elicit the community’s answers to each of the following:

  • What is our community now?
  • What threatens us?
  • How prepared and functional are we?
  • What’s at risk?
  • If disaster strikes, what resources will we have to respond and recover?

A community is made up of many different parts, each of which has its own resilience.  This has some very important implications for us.  First, it means we need to be able “parse” the community in a way that ensures that the entire community is considered in a consistent manner.  We could have chosen any of a variety of ways to do this – the Seven Capitals, a simple breakdown a la the Triple Bottom Line, Bruneau et al’s T-O-S-E framework, as examples.  We chose instead to break down the community into 18 “community services.”  We did this because they mapped well onto the National Recovery Framework and other disaster-related ways of looking at a community, and because they are more intuitive than the others cited above.  I’ve appended a detailed description of the current service areas for your comment.

Second, because each service area has its own resilience, that implies that we should be assessing each service area, and using that to drive action.


Third, this appeared to render single-valued indices somewhat irrelevant, in our context of an assessment to drive action.  However, we looked at approaches such as SoVI (and the excellent follow-on work, by Susan Cutter and co-workers), and the outstanding work by Fran Norris and Kathy Sherrieb in detail (The RCI developed by Kate Foster as the University of Buffalo is a more recent example of a single valued index.  If you haven’t read her explication of her approach it is worth doing so.), to determine what their individual components might tell a community leader about the resilience of each service area.  Not surprisingly, what we found was that there were important pieces of information that weren’t included in these “statistical” approaches.  As a result, non-statistical means of assessing various aspects of resilience are included.

Resilience is not merely a number, but rather a function of the particularly peril faced.  In other words, it’s not simply resilience, but resilience to what.  This meant that, as part of the assessment, the community leaders needed to identify the significant threats facing the community.  As a result, the community assesses service areas only in terms of the threats they actually face.

For a given threat, the resilience of a service area can be evaluated in terms of a general loss-recovery curve.  For an actual disaster, a tremendous amount of work has tended to show that in general the loss-recovery curve is a good approximation of what happens for a given sector of a community (The work of Wallace and Wallace on low income housing in New York provides a very interesting example in terms of social capital.).  This curve can be deconvoluted in a number of ways; we have chosen to describe it as a combination of the service area’s baseline capacity, the loss if a threat occurred, the resources available for response and recovery, and the ability to use the resources.  While the curve can be broken up in many ways, this one is useful because it rather naturally leads to four ways that a community could increase its resilience in terms of a particular service area:

  • Increase baseline capacity, including building in redundancy.
  • Reduce potential losses, through prevention or mitigation.
  • Increase the resources available for response and recovery, both internal and external to the community.
  • Increase the community’s ability to access and use available resources.  An important part of this is community connectedness.

The CRS assessment module thus has the following parts:

  • A Community Snapshot, containing statistical data about various aspects of the community.  For each parameter, we compare the community’s value to a state and national average.
  • A Community Identity worksheet, containing subjective data about the community.  For example, where do people gather or shop.  Indications of the relative satisfaction with the level of service provided.
  • A Community Profile template the community leaders can use to integrate the Snapshot and the Identity into a report to the community.
  • A Community Threat Assessment.  In this, the community considers a wide spectrum of possible threats (natural and technological disasters, pandemics, economic shocks, and terrorist activities) to determine which are relevant to them.
  • For each of the 18 service areas, there is a detailed assessment focusing on baseline capacity, critical (to the community) assets at risk, and recovery and redevelopment resources.  Coming from these are lists of potential actions that could be taken, and shortfalls identified.
  • A Whole Community Resilience Analysis template for combining all of the assessment information into a report to the community.  This is intended to help community leaders to focus the public’s attention on those areas needing action.

I’m sorry for the length of this, but you need to understand our drivers if you are to make useful comments – and these are certainly desired!  Next month, I’ll discuss the Community Snapshot and the Community Identity worksheet in more detail (but less length).

Information You May Not Have Seen

Most of us are probably not familiar with the UK’s Overseas Development Institute.  Tom Mitchell and Katie Harris of ODI recently wrote a very nice piece entitled Resilience:  A risk management approach. They make a useful point about resilience being all about managing change.  I also liked the way they graphically showed the impacts of both chronic stresses and sudden shocks.

Recent CARRI blogs:

Whence the Resources – Warren Edwards

Community Resilience and the Three American Tribes – John Plodinec

Adversity:  The Primer for Resilience – John Plodinec

Notes of the International Disaster Conference and Expo – John Plodinec

An Ideal Federal Program – Warren Edwards

Risk, Utility and Probability — Ian Moore

 Description of Community Services

 Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation – Arts, Entertainment and Recreation services involve providing venues and opportunities for community members to develop and share non-academic skills such as artistic or athletic ability. Important assets for this service include theatres, cultural centers, places of worship, and parks, as well as events (performances, games, gatherings) where members of the community with non-academic skills can share their talents. Such venues and events help create meaningful and enduring memories that foster a sense of place among community members. Providers may include local government, non-profit groups (such as arts councils, community theatre groups, youth sports organizations), faith-based organizations, private foundations, and educational institutions.

Communications – Communications services involve the media and messaging that provide accurate and persuasive information to a community’s members so that all other community services can be carried out as effectively as possible, especially when the community is in crisis. Communication media include television, radio, print media, telephone, cell phone (including satellite), and the Internet. Providers include telephone and Internet service companies, print media, and local television and radio stations. Local government usually plays a key role in times of crisis by ensuring that messages delivered to the community are timely, accurate, and consistent. Those responsible for other community services such as energy or water are also responsible for delivering timely and accurate messages.

Community Records – Community Records services involve maintaining the resources and facilities to house, store, and protect important community records. Ideally, important institutions in a community will maintain duplicate copies (paper or electronic) of critical community records in remote locations unlikely to be affected by a community crisis. Providers include local government; hospitals and local health care providers; businesses; and facilities where back-up records are maintained.

Economy – Economic services involve the creation of conditions in a community that allow economic institutions to thrive and ensure a stable or improving quality of life for community members. The business sector is the primary provider of this service with the public sector, school system, technical colleges, institutions of higher education, and support organizations such as Chambers of Commerce and Business Development Councils also playing important roles.

Education – Educational services include providing the academic opportunities and experiences that prepare community members to enter the workforce or to adapt to changes in the economy through retraining. Providers include public and private K-12 school systems; colleges and universities; and institutions that provide job training or adult retraining and/or other professional development services.

Energy -Energy services involve ensuring all community members have access to consistent and reliable energy supplies needed to live comfortably in their homes, commute to and from work, and carry out the economic and civic activities of the community. Providers include electric utilities; gasoline distributors and gas station owners; natural gas, propane and other fuel facility owners.

Financial – Financial services involve institutions and mechanisms that maintain vital ties to a community’s financial resources. This service ensures that the community has access to a variety of sources of funding when needed, especially when trying to rebuild after a crisis. Providers include local government, economic institutions, insurance companies, and public and private sources of funds external to the community; as well as the savings of individuals and families.

Food Supply and Distribution – Food Supply and Distribution services involve ensuring an adequate food supply and distribution system (transportation and infrastructure) for the community so that food is readily available to community members. Providers include food retailers and their supply chains.

Housing – Housing services involve ensuring there is adequate and affordable housing for all community members, especially the local workforce. Providers include local government departments, private and public employers, private developers, and housing-focused non-profit organizations.

Individuals and Families – Individuals and Families constitute a unique community service. It involves all systems, activities, and information that help all community members – including those with special needs and at-risk populations – prepare for disasters and become as self-reliant as possible, especially in times of crisis. This service encompasses the work of organizations and citizens’ groups – formal and informal – that actively help ensure the well-being of community members. Providers include local government, social workers and counselors, non-profit and faith-based organizations, employers (private and public), foundations, and other civic institutions.

Local government – Local Government services encompass the range of administrative authorities provided to a community. Providers include a community’s elected and appointed officials, personnel working for local-level public departments and agencies, and the local court system.

Natural Environment – Natural Environment services involve ensuring the natural environment is healthy, protected where necessary, expanded where possible, and accessible to community members. This service includes meeting air and water quality standards and maintaining outdoor recreation areas for activities such as fishing, boating, and hiking. Providers include local government environmental and planning departments, water utilities, local non-profit environmental organizations, and citizens’ groups.

Public Health – Public Health services involve actions and systems designed to protect and promote the physical and mental health of community members, including pets and livestock. Providers include public health departments; healthcare facilities (hospitals, clinics, clinical laboratories); trained health professionals (physicians, nurses, veterinarians, psychologists, psychiatrists) and organizations with which they are affiliated; medical supply chains; pharmacies, hospices, nursing homes and emergency medical transportation services.

Public Safety & Security – Public Safety and Security services include protecting the lives and property of community members through routine surveillance, training and deploying first responders for emergencies that put lives or property at risk, and planning for future crises. Providers include law enforcement, firefighters, emergency management personnel, emergency medical technicians, private security firms, and neighborhood associations.

Solid Waste Management – Solid Waste Management services involve maintaining the necessary infrastructure and systems to make sure the solid waste generated within the community is disposed of appropriately. This service protects community members from disease and helps ensure a safe, clean, and healthy living environment. Generally, local government is the provider of solid waste disposal, but the service is often subcontracted to private waste removal and recycling companies.

Transportation – Transportation services involve providing means for community members to travel to various destinations and for the movement of goods. Transportation services include systems and assets that facilitate travel by air, rail, road, or water. Providers include public and private transit companies; seaport and airport authorities; and local and state departments of transportation.

Water Services – Water Services involve providing all community members access to ample and healthy potable water and treating wastewater so it is suitable for free release. The community’s water infrastructure includes a range of assets necessary to provide these services, including storage tanks, pipelines, drinking water and wastewater treatment systems, reservoirs, canals, and other water sources. Providers include local water utilities and state and local authorities that regulate water supply and wastewater discharges.

Workforce – Workforce services involve ensuring there is a match between the capacity and skills of a community’s workforce capacity and the available employment opportunities. Providers include local government, local businesses and business associations, educational institutions, and unions.


M. John Plodinec, Ph.D.

Associate Director for Resilience Technologies

Community and Regional Resilience Institute

Email:     john.plodinec@resilientus.com

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *