There are so many articles about the Katrina anniversary, it is hard to know which to pay attention to. Two articles dealing with long-term aspects and resilience in particular are as follows: We’re still not ready for another Hurricane Katrina; by Stephen Flynn, Washington Post, August 29.
With local communities having exhausted their ability to bounce back, the problems with our country’s approach to managing disasters loom especially large. Three are most serious: continued uncertainty in the gulf region about how the federal government would organize to support it after a storm; confusion about how or whether insurance companies would pay claims; and signs that stepped-up evacuation preparedness has not been matched with planning to quickly return people to their communities.
We tend to think of resilience as something achieved or not, but this article indicates that various degrees of resilience may exist just in one block of one neighborhood. That suggests to me that measuring resilience for a community is going to be a hard job. On One Block, Resilience and Despair, Jourdan Avenue’s Uneven Recovery Reflects New Orleans as a Work in Progress; Finally Back at Home—but No Hot Water August 28, WSJ.
It’s really sort of a meta-characteristic, isn’t it? By itself it’s empty; it’s only meaningful as an attribute of some other metric. Which maybe explains why it’s simultaneously so attractive and so elusive.
We all want to be resilient, but in different ways and as regards different things.
And we tend to apply it community-wide, when in fact there are successes and failures within blocks, neighborhoods, and communities.
On the way to metrics for resilience, do we have a a working definition for the word itself? It seems to have two distinct senses. The engineering definition refers to a systems’ ability to return to its previous shape, whereas the psychological definition talks about maintenance, or at least restoration, of homeostasis; the dynamic capacity for maintaining a stable or consistent condition in a varying environment.
So we’re back to the basic problem of recovery management. What constitutes success and, even more fundamentally, who gets to define it? If the status-quo-ante were satisfactory to everyone, and if the disastrous event left no lasting marks on the operating environment, simply putting things back “like it never even happened” would be uncontroversial. We’d be in the insurance business, merely laying off risk. But that’s hardly ever the case.
We use the term resilience broadly to suggest a flexible, community-oriented melding of mitigation, response and recovery. That feels right to me. But as with any deity, the challenge lies not so much in appreciating its virtues as in agreeing on its nature.