Resilience. No simple subject. It’s something I (the founder here) could go on and on about – and have – seemingly for years.
The counterfear idea is pretty deeply rooted in building resilience, so this page may be one of the longest of the 25 focus area pages.
Resilience is basically the ability of a thing, system, business, person, capacity, or whatever to bounce back. It is flexibility, grit, adaptability, elasticity, and strength all wrapped in to one concept. Resilience can be in or be a part of so many things… we can have health resilience, infrastructure resilience, family resilience, business resilience, disaster resilience, financial resilience, economic resilience, community resilience, organizational resilience, and the list goes on.
You don’t buy resilience. It doesn’t just materialize, either.
You have to build it. You have to grow it.
It’s a lot like character, in that it comes in part from experience; from getting through tough stuff. That’s not the only way you build resilience, though. You can grow it in part by taking action or putting things in place to address some of the risk for the thing you are trying to have be resilient. The particular things that would be needed to build resilience vary for the kind of resilience you are building.
You can erode resilience by taking away aspects, elements, or provisions that were put in place to build resilience, or which contribute to its existence. You can also reduce resilience by using some of the things that make up the resilience to get through something tough in which some of those things were required.
U.S. Disaster Resilience As An Example
For example, in the US, we had a certain level of disaster resilience before the Trump administration. It wasn’t great, but we had at least some disaster resilience. We had some long-term work that’s been evolving since the country was founded, we had public health work that was put in place and built upon after the 1918-1919 pandemic, we had civil defense era stuff, we had FEMA-era stuff since 1980, and we had lessons and mistakes that we learned from (theoretically) and built upon after every major disaster – the last two massive ones being 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. The Trump administration came into office and actively eroded a whole lot of that disaster resilience – and public health resilience too. They eroded and impacted some of that disaster resilience as a number of hurricanes struck the US, and they did not respond well. Rather than making improvements after those responses, the administration let our disaster resilience further decrease – rather than taking aggressive, proactive action to change things that didn’t work well.
The real impact of this administration on disaster resilience, though, has been the damage they’ve done to it since the pandemic amped up in the US – starting with not actually using (or actively obstructing the use of) an enormous range of plans, tools, policies, capacities, authorities, laws, capabilities, and resources which were put in place over our country’s entire existence for just such a massive crisis. And that’s just the disaster resilience stuff – all of that doesn’t even touch on the public health things. System dynamics with feedback loops and exponential spread rates as a result of the disease mean that the terrible federal response will and is overloading systems everywhere… thus further decreasing our disaster resilience as well. It’s not just decreasing, reducing, and eroding our disaster resilience – it’s diminishing the resilience of countless other systems in the US.
We Need To Keep At It
The point is this: resilience can build and grow as much as it can decrease and be eroded.
When it’s diminished, it needs to be built back up; grown again. We’re there. We need to be building resilience in ALL KINDS of areas in the US, as our resilience across the board has gone down significantly – and as it will continue to be used, pushed, and tested. So we need to keep at building it even as we use it.
Resilience is one of the four core concepts we recommend using to help get through this pandemic, and to help us on the other side. The four key things are community, connection, resilience, and problem-solving.
Resilience is one of the 25 focus areas for this website, but it’s really behind everything we do here. Countering fear is all about navigating disruption by seeing risk, and by finding and using tools to address it in some way. Many if not all of the tools and measures that work to help address risk also build resilience in some way.
Security vs. Resilience – Deeper Dive Into The US Situation
In the post-9/11 world, the US set about building a new US Department of Homeland Security. We created a whole new homeland security industrial complex, and huge vast systems to build security. A lot of it ends up being security theatre, however – security that looks good but doesn’t do much in reality.
True security is hard to come by; some would argue impossible. You can’t ever get to 100% security. Trying to get there is expensive. One of the goals of terrorism is to freak out the targets so much that they spend themselves into oblivion trying to counter the threat. They want economic damage, and a hyperactive security response to terrorism can help. It’s a tricky balance – because you need some security.
Take the case of critical infrastructure. A security posture alone doesn’t help you truly ensure infrastructure functionality, continuity, and resilience, especially when a whole lot of critical infrastructure is systems-oriented and complex. A guns, guards, and gates approach doesn’t help you protect the health and medical sector, or emergency services, or food and agriculture, or postal and shipping. The lists go on.
A resilience approach can help a country be stronger and more truly secure. The US has taken some action to build resilience, but not enough. Resilience is tricky to metricize. Security is easier to measure, and the defense industrial complex was easy to shift into the homeland security space after 9/11; all ready to scale up and expand. Since the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) brought in an extensive number of Defense Department types, that ramp-up was made even easier. The military – and most law enforcement – aren’t trained to build resilient countries, cities, or states. The military especially is usually trained to tear it apart. Had DHS been staffed with more of the state and local and also private sector folks it was meant to serve, a more balanced security vs. resilience approach might have occurred.
That was all before the Trump administration. One of the other problems with DHS is that it is a very new department, and it was not very stable prior to the administration change. DHS is also stacked very heavily with political appointees; making it much easier to bend the department to an administration’s will than in some other departments. And so we have watched that happen, as DHS has taken action throughout this administration that has made the country as a whole less secure, and also less resilient.
And that was before the pandemic.
All indications are that DHS actions during the pandemic have so far been uncoordinated, shortsighted, obstructive, counterproductive, highly political, in bad form, demonstrating poor science, and possibly corrupt – none of which build security or resilience. DHS is not contributing to election security and safety in light of Russian interference and now a pandemic, although it is its job to do so. Some of this is hampered by Congress’s refusal to provide additional funding; some of it is a deliberate choice by the administration. DHS has continued to make poor decisions across its mission space in light of the pandemic. For example, they continued to do immigration raids even as cities issued stay-at-home orders. At least some DHS detention facilities have not taken steps to mitigate disease spread, or to release detained individuals due to the increased threat of disease spread in such tight spaces. DHS has continued deportation actions. DHS has leveraged its position in customs to re-appropriate, steal, or redirect critical emergency supplies and equipment, often purchased by hospitals or state and local government. DHS has made questionable moves in terms of airport security. DHS has apparently not shifted resources and staff to supporting state and local government in responding to the pandemic; and has instead continued with immigration detention and removal actions. DHS (FEMA) has had issues getting mission-taskings approved for federal Stafford Act capabilities and response resources requested by the state.
None of these actions make this country more secure. None of these actions make us more resilient.
When we get to the other side of this pandemic and build a more functional government, we will need to take steps that build a more resilient government and country; capable of truly serving the people it was built to serve.
In a world with an increasing population living largely in high-hazard zones, an increasing number of failed nation-states, increasing competition for food and water, and climate change – resilience should be one of our top priorities (see Why post for more). Resilience provides the flexibility to help us deal with a range of challenges; more are coming.
That's a lot of information, but this is a broad subject area. Tons more material where that came from; each area of resilience has so much to it.
Two of the 25 focus areas get further into two types of resilience. They are the focus area pages on increasing economic resilience and on facilitating infrastructure functionality, continuity, and resilience.