What is Resilience?

“The term ‘resilience’ refers to the ability to adapt to changing conditions and withstand and rapidly recover from disruption due to emergencies.  Whether it is resilience towards acts of terrorism, cyber attacks, pandemics, and catastrophic natural disasters, our national preparedness is the shared responsibility of all levels of government, the private and nonprofit sectors, and individual citizens.”

Department of Homeland Security

During the past two decades, as the US has confronted increasingly extreme weather, there has been growing awareness of the need for resilience in the built environment. Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, provided a tragic case study on the fragility of seemingly stable structures, as the storm brought a small, poor southern city to the brink of chaos and devastated entire neighborhoods. Seven years later, Hurricane Sandy intensified the sense of urgency surrounding the need for resilience, when parts of lower Manhattan, a driver of worldwide financial stability, were thrown into darkness for up to four days.  Patients in some of the New York’s most prestigious hospitals were carried down stairways to safety, with medical personnel guided only by flashlights. And flood waters, rather than thousands of commuters, filled New York’s subway system. While these two devastating hurricanes drew national and international attention, communities throughout the country were also dealing with frequent, erratic and intense weather events that disrupted daily life, resulting in economic losses and, all too often, the loss of human life.

The growing interest in resilience has resulted in a broad variety of planning initiatives, designed to enhance the strength of individual buildings as well as the strength of communities as a whole. However, at this point, despite a decade of discussion, there is still no consensus on the precise definition of resilience.

The Department of Homeland Security, which has been a leader in preparing for both natural and man-made threats, specifies that, “The term ‘resilience’ refers to the ability to adapt to changing conditions and withstand and rapidly recover from disruption due to emergencies.”  In other words, it is not enough to repair buildings after a cataclysmic event. The building community must adapt its methods and its products to withstand potentially devastating weather, so that recovery is both possible and rapid. For the purposes of this website, ERA will be utilizing this definition provided in the DHS website as we use the term “resilience.”