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  • Faramarz Maghsoodlou (faramarz@ieee.org)

Community Resilience

Updated: Nov 10, 2020


Looking at the global community as a hierarchical system, we see multiple layers in the hierarchy, where each layer is an aggregation of the elements from one layer lower in the hierarchy. For example, the global community is made up of countries. Countries are made up of states or provinces. Provinces are made up of cities. Cities are made up of towns and villages. Towns are made up of neighborhoods. Neighborhoods have homes and buildings with families and individual that live there.


Within each layer in this hierarchy, there are subsystems that act with certain degree of autonomy. We mentioned in the blog on "Systems Thinking" that a hierarchical system works best when each subsystem takes care of itself (local optimization) with the higher level systems managing and coordinating the interactions and information exchange within and between layers.


To find the right layer and subsystem (community) to focus on, we need to start with the disruptions and uncertainties that impact the system. For example, climate change is an event that impacts the entire global community and requires mobilization of resources at that level. By comparison, countering the effects of pollution from large fossil fuel powered generation sources and adoption of clean local energy resources is something that can be taken up at a more local level, a town, a village, or even a city block. In general, to address systemic disruptions we need to decompose the system down to the smallest subsystem that is capable of exercising autonomy with its own resources to counter the event. We then aggregate up, layer by layer, to figure out the role and responsibility of the higher level subsystems and the necessary information flows that can guide the system through a disruptive event.


In this blog we propose a working definition for community, community resilience, community resources, and finally stressors and uncertainties that impact a community.


Community - A Working Definition

  • A human settlement and the natural environment in a geographically bounded space

  • With resources that support its existence and evolution

  • With a network of social relationships and shared cultural and historical patterns

  • Bound together by a core set of values guiding a balanced and sustainable way of life for humans and all living things

  • With sufficient and diverse resources capable of regenerating the essential services that are needed to support, sustain, and evolve the structure, functions, and identity of the community


Community Resilience, of what, to what, and for whom?


Resilience is the capacity of the community to absorb a disturbance and regenerate the essential services that are needed to sustain and evolve the community’s functions, structure, and identity. An alternative definition of resilience, offered by the National Academies in "Disaster Resilience," is the ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from, and more successfully adapt to adverse events. To be more specific, we need to answer three questions:

  • Resilience of what? - Resilience of the community’s functions, structure, and identity in response to stressors and disturbances

  • Resilience to what? - To internal and external perturbations and events, natural or man-made, that threaten the robustness of the essential services that preserve the community’s functions, structure, and identity

  • Resilience for whom? - For humans and all living things in the community and for the larger ecosystem that support the community’s existence and evolution


Community Resources


A community utilizes a variety of internal and external resources to create the essential services that support the community's functions, structure, and identity. For resiliency, we are primarily interested in the community's internal resources and its ability to regenerate the essential services that help the community anticipate, respond to, and overcome adversities.


These resources can be categorized as follows:

  • Natural resources - air, water, land, forests, rivers, shoreline, etc.

  • Human resources - people, labor, creativity, collaboration, etc.

  • Technological resources - technology infrastructure, technical know how

  • Social resources - individual relationships, social groups, organizations, etc.

  • Cultural resources

  • Financial resources

  • Production resources

  • The built environment


Stressors & Uncertainties


A community is subject to a variety of stressors and disruptions. Here is a partial list:

  • Natural events - earthquakes, severe weather, floods, fire, etc.

  • Man-made disruptions - war, economic crisis, pollution, ecosystem destruction, unchecked consumption, failures in industrial, technological, and engineering systems, unbalanced exploitation of non-renewable natural resources, etc.

  • Scarcity of essential resources - clean water, clean air, food, energy, etc.

  • Scarcity of essential services - services for health and wellness

  • Inequality and disparity in access to resources

  • Discrimination and prejudice towards people


And then there are natural events that become disasters due to man-made decisions, such as building homes in a flood zone, or building cities below sea level next to the ocean.


Response to these events can be through better planning and anticipation of recurring events.


And finally, there are black swan events. These are unforeseen events that have extremely low likelihood but have extremely large impact. A successful response to a black swan event will depend on the system's ability to leverage multiple information pathways and redundancy in core services to be able to maintain its essential functions during the event and regenerate the lost or damaged functions and linkages after the event.


Community Resilience Roadmap


In future blogs we will look at individual services that enable a community to survive and thrive in a changing environment subject to random events. Some of these services are provided and consumed entirely within the community itself while others are acquired through interactions with other communities or higher level entities. Our primary focus will be on internal resource and services.


Here is a partial list of such resources and services:

  • Energy production, storage, delivery, and consumption

  • Food production, distribution, consumption, and recycling

  • Water treatment, distribution, consumption, and recycling

  • The built environment - houses, buildings, roads, parks, etc.

  • Decarbonization

  • Social connections and relationships

  • Commerce and community enterprises

  • Health and medical services

  • Transportation

  • Learning & Education

  • Engineering and technological infrastructure

  • Labor and knowhow

  • Sustainable consumption & recycling

  • Equity & compensation

  • Fairness, equality, and tolerance for diversity

  • Informed and responsible governance

  • Social justice

  • Culture, art, and values for creative expression

  • Public safety

  • Criminal justice


Community Resilience Topics


Finally, a community's resilience is inseparable from the resilience and wellbeing of the larger system within which it resides. As such, we assume that the community's relationship with other subsystems is governed by the principles of accepting diversity, respecting the autonomy of individual subsystems, and adopting a balanced and sustainable way of life for the entire system.

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