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5 Barriers to Disaster Resilience

Disaster resilience is not a naturally occurring event.

I recently attended a Wildland Fire and Infrastructure Workshop, hosted near Boston by Northeastern University's Global Resilience Institute. It was actually held at the National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) facility.

I'll blog more in the future on wildland fires, but for this posting I want to concentrate on a slide that Steve Flynn opened the event with. I may not have captured all the words on the slide, but I'll expand on each number item — myself.

Five barriers to resilience:


1. Risk perception is a problem and people understanding it well enough to act on it.

Risk perception being the problem may be my words — but, this is the issue. People don't sense the risks that they are taking either personally or organizationally, as a government, business or nonprofit. If they have not personally experienced a disaster of the type that threatens them ... they choose to ignore it.

2. We don’t design for resilience. How can we fail gracefully and allow for adaptation?

"Disaster resilience" and "adaptation" are new terms to our discipline of emergency management. Many people are still sorting through what they mean in relationship to what they understood previously. As I've written about before, where does mitigation end or begin and adaptation start or end? Is it only climate change that differentiates the two? And, "resilience" is a popular word today like "grit," which used to be spelled "persistence." Is this a fad that will be replaced with a new administration? [personally, I think resilience is going to be around for a long time.]

3. Lack of incentives to invest in resilience.

In the pursuit of the almighty dollar, we are willing to sacrifice many things. Thus resilience that sometimes comes in the form of redundancy for systems and processes, is only viewed as a drag on profits and considered duplication.

4. We are not organized to do the above. We are too compartmentalized. It is a problem of not thinking in a systems manner.

We live in a systems world, but act as though we function as independent entities. It is only when there are system interruptions outside of our control that the vulnerability of our modern manner of function is exposed. 

5. We don’t train and educate people in resilience.

One good thing is that our education system is coming up to speed, ever so slowly, in understanding risks better. Supply chain vulnerability is one area where businesses, that are paying attention, are beginning to think and act more broadly. Governments still, in general, have not gotten the word.

Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.