Resilient Communities are the Foundations of a Resilient America.

Is It Resilience, or Resilience To ___?

The surprise answer is “Yes.” This may seem like a silly question and a really silly answer, but they’re not. Really. Let me try to prove it to you.

Recently I published a post titled “Disasters Have Direction.” I used the example of a community ecosystem to make a point – that disasters attack a community from a specific direction. I went on to say that

“If community resilience is measured by how fast – and effectively – resources are deployed to achieve community restoration and recovery, then the social capital within the community plays a crucial role. Suppose Threat X above actually materializes. The vulnerable part of the community has few available resources. It is the community’s social capital – its connectedness – that provides the pathways for resources to be shifted within the community. It is the community’s social capital that determines whether resources from outside the community are effectively brought to bear. In a very real sense, it is the community’s social capital that determines whether the community actually recovers from disaster.”

However, earlier in the same post, I wrote that the idea that disasters have a direction

“means that the vulnerability of a community to a specific threat will depend on both the direction and magnitude of the attack (the nature of the threat), and the relative strength of the community at the point of attack.”

If we want to assess the resilience of a community, these two quotes seem to point in two different directions. The first states that social capital determines community resilience and is what we need to evaluate, i.e., a community has an inherent attribute – resilience – that we need to assess. The second says we have to measure strengths and weaknesses of each part of the community in terms of the threats the community faces, i.e., we need to assess “resilience to” each threat. To rephrase the question in the title “Which is it, wise guy?”

To answer that, let me go back to the idea of a community ecosystem, but let me redraw the graphic. I’ve colored the intersections – the connections – between the parts of the community red: this is the community’s social capital that allows the community to use resources to make recovery happen. The figure suggests – and it makes intuitive sense – that the greater the overlap, the more likely it is that the community can make recovery happen. This implies that there is some inherent attribute that we need to assess to determine a community’s resilience.

Disasters-have-Direction-300x168

However, the figure also shows that one part of the community, (for example, the natural environment), is not connected to the rest of the community. If Threat X were to occur, that part of the community would be largely on its own – its recovery would depend to the largest extent on its own strengths and weaknesses. Thus, we also need to assess the strengths and weaknesses of each part of the community – especially those isolated from the rest – in terms of the threats facing the community.

That means that if we want to get an idea of the resilience of a community, we need to look at two things – the strengths and weaknesses of each part to the threats facing the community, and the connections among those parts. In other words, the answer to the title’s question is “Yes.”