Practice 2: Resilient America Roundtable
Floods, hurricanes, wildfires, windstorms and other natural hazards kill or injure thousands of people worldwide and cost billions of dollars in the United States each year. The factors that make a community resilient against these threats – able to protect against, absorb, mitigate, respond to or recover from them – differ greatly according to local circumstances. But many communities have not even begun to think about how to assess their resilience, let alone
Started in January 2014, the Resilient America Roundtable initiative by the National Academy of Sciences aims to work with communities in a bottom-up way. Over a three-year time horizon, the purpose of the initiative is to initiate, nurture and learn from local efforts to measure and improve resilience. It emerged from interest in testing ideas included in the 2012 US National Research Council report entitled Disaster Resilience: A National Imperative on reducing vulnerability to extreme events, decreasing their costs and mitigating their impacts. The Resilient America Roundtable has a strong multistakeholder component: initiated by nine federal agencies, it convenes experts from the academic, public and private sectors. The science community is represented by the National Academy of Sciences.
The Resilient America Roundtable has designed and is currently catalysing pilot projects in communities in South Carolina, Seattle/Tacoma and Iowa, thus offering a geographic representation by ranging from the west (Seattle/Tacoma) to the middle (Iowa) to the east (South Carolina). The communities were selected based on criteria including their size, ethnic and economic diversity, the range and type of natural hazard risks they face and the presence of motivated community leadership to own and maintain the resulting community resilience strategy in the long term. The pilot projects are structured around four pillars: (i) understanding and communicating risk; (ii) identifying measures or metrics of resilience, including baseline conditions, milestones and definitions of the acceptable or unacceptable consequences of the identified risks; (iii) building or strengthening coalitions or partnerships in building community resilience; and (iv) sharing information or data related to better decision-making for building resilient communities.
The pilot project initially involves five steps, the first two of which have been implemented. First, a Roundtable subcommittee makes visits to engage different community groups including the business community – local corner stores as well as multinational chains; local government agencies; emergency managers and first responders; and the local chapters of community-based non-governmental organizations such as the American Red Cross, the United Way, Points of Light and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Separate discussions are held with each about their views on resilience and what elements of quality of life must be maintained during emergency. Around 70-100 people have participated in these conversations so far in Iowa and South Carolina.
Second, 70 people are invited to play a specially-developed “Extreme Events” game, in which everyone chooses a role (first responder, individual, elected official, etc.) in a fictional Coastal City and makes decisions as a scripted scenario unfolds that involves a hurricane and other surprises. The game takes the players through the efforts of finding, sharing and distributing resources. Its purpose is to break the ice and build trust among the members of each community. The game will also be made available online.
Third, a set of interactive table top exercises will be developed to understand and map the specific interdependencies in each community. The pilots have identified certain “community priorities” as a basis for this exercise: in Charleston and Iowa, economic drivers have emerged as community priorities; in Charleston, priorities include cultural identity and tourism and, in Iowa, the thrust is on grain production and export.
Fourth, the community participants will be helped to work through a scenario of a disrupting event in which critical infrastructure fails. The goal is to highlight critical nodes, networks and functions that act as amplifiers or dampeners as the effects of a disrupting event cascade through the system. Finally, the resulting disruption map will identify the nodes that require hardening or redundancy and that will be used as a basis to design the community’s resilience strategy.
In terms of barriers, the initiative relates to two overarching objectives: to build resilience at the community level; and, at a higher level, to gain insights into common themes and local variations on those themes to knit into a national or a larger-scale picture. Concerning the latter, the main challenge has, therefore, been to structure the pilot projects in such a way as to be able to glean common elements or themes from disparate communities. By using the same basic approach (the four pillars) in each community and seeing which elements of the framework play out, it is possible to understand the similarities and differences in how to build resilience and whether there are enough common issues that could be used as a basis to transfer the project to other communities. The big barrier for transferability would be if one were to find through the small sample that each community builds resilience in its own ways and that few or weak ties bind communities together.
Project-wise, the experience has shown so far that one of the main enabling factors for building community resilience to all kinds of risks is for the community to be functional and for the different pieces of that community to work together in a productive way. While a collegial and cooperative approach prevails in some communities from the outset, in others more time needs to be spent to build trust among different sectors and stakeholders. In addition, the key to maintaining momentum is local leadership: having somebody – whether an individual, an agency or an organization – take ownership of the community resilience strategy in a way that allows it to be resourced and maintained over time.
The Resilient America website (http://resilientamerica.nas.edu) facilitates connections among the three pilot and other communities and will share the resulting information and lessons learned. It is hoped that the Resilient America Roundtable’s emphasis on risk communication and inclusive understanding of resilience will ultimately spark ideas for similar initiatives in other communities or countries.