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Posted by Marko Bourne on September 16, 2014
“Resiliency” has become the buzzword of the day, but what does it really signify? I took a hard look at this topic recently for DomPrep, an outlet for first responders and others whose work centers on preparedness and response.
It’s a fitting topic for September, which happens to be National Preparedness Month. There’s no shortage of conversations around the importance of resiliency and how to foster it, especially in the wake of disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, but precious little consensus about what it means in practice.
That’s partly because the term “resiliency” functions as a bit of a grab bag. It’s invoked to mean the ability to rebuild and recover from a disaster, the ability to mitigate against risk and hazard, the ability to restore economic development and growth – and sometimes all of those factors combined.
In my past life at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other parts of the federal government, as well as my current role leading Booz Allen’s emergency management practice, I’ve come to understand first-hand that true resiliency is a mix of recovery, risk mitigation and economic growth -- and that achieving it is far easier said than done. Disaster managers need to know that it takes two key ingredients to convert “resiliency” from a laudable but amorphous concept into action that gets measurable results: breaking out of operational and program silos at all levels of government, and harnessing the power of social media and community groups in our digital era.
The way to escape silos is to link disparate programs and funding sources so that they address resiliency in a holistic rather than piecemeal way. Take the scenario of a bridge destroyed by a hurricane: there are several potential avenues to fund its rebuilding, including FEMA and the Department of Transportation, but those agencies shouldn’t be the only consideration. If a community thinks about not just how to rebuild that bridge to withstand the next storm, but also how to do it in a way that will enhance community growth and development, preparedness, and public safety, that could open the doors to other federal, state and local resources.
On the social media front, local governments and communities are used to working with familiar organizations such as the Red Cross and Salvation Army to help with disaster response, but we shouldn’t overlook that other ad hoc community groups can have an even bigger impact given the power and reach of social media.
It’s vital to understand where the social capital of a community lies, and to be able to recognize new influencers and centers of gravity as they emerge. This means thinking less about how to “control” social media and more about how to harness and work with it, learn from it and make use of its power. For example, it’s the role of the power company to restore power quickly – but the state can lift permitting requirements to allow out-of-state line workers in to help, and community groups activated by social media could help clear the right of way to let trucks in.
Resiliency in practice may start with rebuilding and planning, but it doesn’t end there.