Dr. John Plodinec Reports from New Zealand on Resilience

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I had the pleasure of participating in the 6th Building Resilience Conference in Auckland last month (and the even greater pleasure of spending another 2+ weeks tooling around NZ – what a gem!).  This is the third one I’ve attended – they are valuable to me because their non-US-centric nature provides a different perspective on resilience.  I’m going to try to give you a flavor of the meeting by looking at a few themes that struck me.


Measurement / assessment of resilience.  I presented two papers on this topic – one on CARRI’s experience (what worked, what didn’t) and one looking at the usefulness of four other approaches for making decisions about resilience.  Hanneke Duijnhoven of TNO had two excellent papers related to resilience measurement.  As part of an international collaboration, she reported on tests of the Pfefferbaum’s CART tools in eight Scottish The words Collaborative Reliancecommunities.  She found some interesting contrasts between rural and urban communities.  In her other paper her team developed a dashboard for emergency management personnel alerting them to both vulnerabilities and capabilities of communities.  She used a term I hadn’t heard before – collaborative reliance – reflecting a collaboration between emergency management personnel and “civilians” who are so often the actual first responders.

Melkunaite and Guay from Denmark asked “How Do We Measure Critical Infrastructure Resilience?” in a way that resonated with me (probably because they validated something some of us have been saying about NIST’s resilience program). They found that approaches for measuring CIR are mainly focused on the technical aspects of assets’ ability to resist change and seldom considered the  important socio-economic impacts, e.g., [dis]-continuity of service.

John Vargo (of Resilient Organisations – more about them later) working with others had a useful paper on resilience benchmarking.  The team developed a maturity model for measurement approaches.  Five aspects of an approach are considered (definitions, the framework and measurement tools themselves, operationalization, approach validation, and application).

Astrid Vachette

Astrid Vachette, James Cook University, Australia

Governance and decision-making.  There were several good talks about this.  As she always seems to, Astrid Vachette gave two excellent talks about her work in Vanuatu.  Vanuatu is a multi-cultural nation of islands in a multi-hazard environment.  It is both highly vulnerable and highly resilient.  There is a natural tension between systematized disaster management approaches and the networks and traditional knowledge in local communities (what Craig Colten calls formal vs inherent resilience).  She described how they make this all work in Vanuatu.

Resilient Organisations.  I have been aware of (and most impressed with) the work this New Zealand group has been doing for quite some time.  ResOrgs is an intriguing combination of a group of like-minded New Zealand researchers and a small private consulting company.  They gave several interesting and worthwhile talks at the conference.  I’ve mentioned John Vargo’s; Erica Seville talked about the use (and non-use) of insurance after the Christchurch earthquake by businesses – clear differences between the behavior of winners and losers.  Tracey Hatton talked about a business continuity app the group is developing for hospitals (and eventually others).  Carolyn Brown gave an excellent talk on the team’s work to develop and test a model of the economic aspects of disasters. I didn’t really get a chance to talk with her more about it but it seems to have real potential.  BTW – Erica has a book coming out about ways to make organizations more resilient – it will be a very useful “how-to” manual.

Relationship between systems science and resilience.  Several papers delved into various aspects of this. I liked Emlyn Witt’s observation that we should be looking at relationships and patterns rather than objects and snapshots.  Jo Brown from Australia had talked about the Australian Red Cross’s outreach efforts last year; this year she turned toward a program of social network analysis.  I didn’t note who said it but one speaker talked about a new Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, speaking of resilience and systems:

  • Complexity
  • Uncertainty
  • Turbulence
  • Discord

Hyogo to Sendai.  For much of the rest of the world, the UN disaster reduction frameworks really matter.  The relatively new Sendai Framework has four priorities:
•  Increasing awareness and understanding of risk;
•  Strengthening governance around each phase of disaster management;
•  Increasing investments in disaster risk reduction; and
•  Enhancing preparedness.
Among the many talks about various aspects of this, I found Richard Haigh’s focus on accountability important.  We hear a great deal about resilience planning, but implementation of plans requires accountability.  It’s a subject too often ignored.

A few other highlights…

Ten years ago, the Australian state of Queensland set up a “Betterment Fund” for local communities.  Since then communities have invested over $13B in themselves.  These investments have more than paid for themselves in terms of savings and costs avoided from subsequent disasters.

There was a nice talk about the UK’s natural risk register.

A paper compared / contrasted the response and recovery during and after the Japanese earthquake and during and after Katrina.  Neither came off looking very good, esp. their evacuation plans which did not include the most vulnerable.

Adriana Sanchez looked at information flows as an important factor in a sustained [long-term] urban resilience program.  Resilience as buzzword has spawned many efforts; this paper dared to ask how to make them sustainable.

Finally…have you ever dug into some work that really got your juices flowing?  Where you found much to agree – and disagree – with?  Emilio Garcia and Brenda Vale (of The Autonomous House and Time to Eat the Dog? fame) had two of those.  They come at things from an ecological/sustainable basis which I usually have profound problems with.  They called for examination of the built environment in terms of complex adaptive systems (Yes!) using the theory of ecological resilience (uh, maybe).  Well-written papers well worth reading.

The papers will soon be made public – I’ll include a link to them in a future post.

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