Resilient Communities are the Foundations of a Resilient America.

ANCR’ing resilience

It’s impossible to map out a route to your destination if you don’t know where you’re starting from.

— Suze Orman

Communities across America – around the world – are being told that they need to become “more resilient.”  Great mantra, but what does that really mean?  There are some very useful roadmaps – for example, the one described in NIST’s Community Resilience Planning Guide, or our (the Community and Regional Resilience Institute, CARRI) Community Resilience System – but where should communities start?

Over the past year or so, CARRI and the International Code Council have formed a coalition of like-minded organizations – the Alliance for National and Community Resilience, or ANCR – aimed at helping communities answer these questions (to see who are members, click here).  In the following I’m going to talk about what ANCR is doing, and ask for your help going forward.

Early in ACR’s gestation, we recognized that, as in Suze Orman’s quote above, communities can’t use a roadmap if they don’t know where they are.  That focused us on developing something communities could use to assess themselves, what we’re calling ANCR’s Community Resilience Benchmark System.  In doing this, we developed some principles that guided our efforts.

  • A community’s resilience depends on every segment of the community; each segment has its own resilience.  This implies that we have to take a “Whole Community approach, and that communities who want to become more resilient need to understand the resilience of each of their parts.  ANCR has parsed communities into 18 essential “community functions” as a way to ensure that the resilience of every part of a community is considered.


 Community Functions

  • A community’s resilience only has meaning in terms of its risk profile, which should include all of the significant risks the community faces.  As I’ve said many times before “Disasters have direction.”  A community’s resilience to an economic disaster is not the same as to a natural disaster or a health crisis.  Thus a community has to be aware of all the risks it faces, and their possible consequences.  Some of these risks are community-wide (e.g., a hurricane or widespread flooding); the entire community needs to take action to reduce the consequences.  Other risks are focused on just one function, e.g., a SCADA attack at a power plant; in this case, only the electric utility can mitigate the risk.
  • The Benchmarks should be useful for any American community.  Some programs are focused on urban communities (e.g., the Rockefeller 100 Cities) with lots of resources and a complex web of interdependencies.  Rural communities may be less complex (and almost always resource-poorer) but often have a greater need for resilience – a disaster could literally wipe a rural community off the map.  This has led us toward Benchmarks for each functional area that require little or no interpretation, i.e., few numbers and a focus on “Yes-No” questions, so that even resource-poor communities can figure out where they are.

Moving forward, ANCR intends to form working groups of subject matter experts (SMEs) for each functional area.  These working groups will be tasked to

  • Identify function-specific risks.  For example, the water-wastewater functional area might identify contamination as a risk.
  • Identify credible strategies for dealing with both community-wide and function-specific risks.  For example, it is often impossible to ensure that food distributors and retailers will not experience interruption of electric power.  In this case, purchased generators can reduce the risk to a community’s food system.
  • Produce Benchmarks for each functional area.  The SMEs will ensure that existing codes and standards are used to the maximum possible extent, and that the Benchmarks are consistent with resilience-building processes such as that laid out in the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Community Resilience Planning Guide.
  • Determine what is acceptable evidence that the requirements have been met, and identify tools communities can use to meet them.

Once each panel’s work is completed, the Benchmark for that functional area will be submitted to ANCR’s membership for approval.

To help the SMEs produce Benchmarks for each area, ANCR has developed a starting point – a Strawman – for them.  The Strawman is based on a combination of the “10 Essentials” developed to assist implementation of the UNISDR’s Sendai Framework and CARRI’s experience working with communities.  The requirements for each Benchmark are grouped into three categories.

Essential.  These requirements, if met, should ensure that the community function can be restored after a disruption.

Enhanced.  Many communities have enhanced the resilience of one or more of the community functions in some way, thus increasing confidence that the community can recover more rapidly.  Some communities have strengthened building and fire codes and their enforcement, or have hardened their infrastructure, or have set up reserve funds.  The requirements in this category, therefore, go beyond the “essential.”

Exceptional.  A few communities have taken actions to bolster their resilience that are highly innovative or that are very rare.  The success, the novelty, and/or rarity of these actions boost them above the well-recognized and common approaches to enhance resilience, and make communities that employ them exceptional.  The “catastrophe bonds” sold by New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority focused on storm surge are a good example.

Now, the “ask.” ANCR would like you to work with us to turn the Strawman into gold.  Some of you are interested in many aspects of communities; some of you are experts in one or more of the community functions (see the graphic).  Whatever your interests, we need your help to turn the Strawman into something communities will value and use.

We believe that our product – the Benchmarks – can start the resilience conversation and the resilience-building process – in every community in the country, no matter the size, or the type, or how rich or poor the community is.  But if the effort is to reach its potential, we need your help to get there.  ANCR’s goal is to produce a system of Benchmarks that communities will find useful; that they will find usable, and – most importantly – that they will use to become more resilient.  With your help we can reach that goal.

If you want more information, please click here and enter DuaNkrQ5 as the password.  And if you want to help, please email me at and tell me what working group you’d like to join or if you want to work on several of the Benchmarks.  We’ll send you the Strawman to get you started and follow up with more information.  I hope to hear from you.