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National Academy of Sciences Studies Community Resilience

SONY DSCBy Marc Kodack

Dozens of systems, indicators, indices, measures, or frameworks, exist to assess community resilience, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s community resilience indicator. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, released a report  late last year in which it evaluated many of these existing efforts to understand how resilience was being measured. The goal was to use this research to help communities evaluate their resilience efforts and how progress can be determined. Four recommendations are made to assist communities in their resilience efforts including (1) engage all community members and organizations in resilience goals, priorities, leadership, and measurement; (2) Measure resilience across multiple dimensions, e.g., usefulness to decision making, natural/built environment; (3) Track progress using the community selected measures; and (4) convince participants to support resilience because investments they decide to make have multiple, community benefits. The Gulf of Mexico region is used as a specific example with its own recommended actions that should be implemented.

A total of 33 existing resilience measures were reviewed to determine their similarities and differences. These measures were supposedly focused on communities. In general, these measures focused on one or more of six community dimensions including “natural, built, financial, human, social, and political.” However, most measures do not include all six dimensions. The researcher’s concluded after their review that “the science of resilience measurement has not been put to the test of practice of implementing strategies to enhance resilience at the community level.” For example, “the majority of existing efforts are single-use applications and have not been applied repeatedly in the same place at different points in time, thus making it difficult to gauge a measurement’s ability to track changes over time.” Communities would then find it difficult to assess their resilience efforts from a set of baseline conditions to some point in the future. To complement the measurement review, the researchers conducted site visits, video-conferences, and had other interactions with communities across the U.S. to talk to people about their resilience efforts and identify knowledge/research gaps. The communities “represented a range of community types (e.g., rural/urban, differing demographic profiles, populations size) [and] local and state, perspectives…” as well as different hazards and risks.

Several topics applicable to multiple communities emerged from these conversations including (1) although multiple tools are available to measure resilience, no community was actually measuring resilience because determining which tool to use was confusing because it was unclear which tool was a best fit for their resilience efforts; (2) while communities collect data that had relevance to resilience, these data were not obtained with the specific intent to measure resilience; (3) communities understood that resilience encompasses multiple community assets and that resilience is not restricted to disaster management; and (4) comprehensive community engagement is critical for resilience efforts to succeed and be sustained.

In addition to focusing on resilience measures and community resilience measurement efforts, the research used the Gulf of Mexico region as a case study because of the regional effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that occurred in April 2010. As part of the settlement of the disaster, a $500 million fund was created in 2013 to be spent over 25 years to “improve understanding of the region’s interconnecting human, environmental, and energy systems and foster the application of these insights to benefit Gulf communities, ecosystems, and the nation.” The funds are administered by the National Academy of Sciences who then created the Gulf Research Program (GRP). Although recommendations for the GRP focus on “advance[ing] resilience measurement and community resilience in communities on or near the Gulf of Mexico,” its’ research and output can be applied to other communities elsewhere in the U.S. or even outside the U.S. Recommendations include that community resilience and its measurement should be significant parts of the GRP given that it has the resources and time to do so. Methods need to be created, e.g., a learning collaborative, to share information across communities despite their unique circumstances. Longitudinal research is needed to complement the community resilience work.

Overall, the report provides a framework for communities and the GRP to be undertake and maintain resiliency. It emphasizes the importance of measuring resilience so that the data and the associated measures can be used to support community decision making. However, the current state of resilience measurement needs to be improved so that abstract proposed measures are directly linked what communities want to know and accomplish. Recommendations urge communities to create a consensus on why and how to address multi-dimensional resilience. Progress needs to be measured over time so that benefits and investments can be continually assessed by the community.


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