What does it mean to be resilient? Can a person or a family be resilient? What about a community? The 1900 storm that struck Galveston, Texas, killed more than 6,000 people. The next day, reports say, survivors began to plan how they would reconstruct the city, which indeed they did. Is this resilience? After Hurricane Katrina, a Vietnamese American community fared far better than surrounding communities in similar situations, despite receiving little or no assistance. Is this resilience? What makes a community resilient, and how do we get there?
Community resilience is the ability of a community or its constituent parts to bounce back from the harmful impacts of disasters. Recent years have seen a proliferation of work using the word resilience
in conjunction with natural hazards and disasters. Knowing that keeping development completely out of hazardous areas is not realistic, researchers have suggested building a disaster-resilient community as a more effective approach to dealing with natural disasters.1
The concept of resilience has been borrowed and adapted by disaster researchers from the field of ecology, linking resilience to hazard vulnerability and defining resilience as the measure of a system’s or subsystem’s capacity to absorb and recover from a hazardous event.2
Many common elements are shared between ecological and hazard or disaster perspectives. Primary among them are notions of the ability of a system to absolve, deflect, or resist potential disaster impacts and the ability to bounce back after being affected. For some, the system is explicitly human or social.3
For others, although social systems might be the primary focus, they also implicitly include the built environments
(e.g., buildings, infrastructure) created by social systems4
and the ecological systems they depend on or operate in.5
Hurricane Katrina, and later hurricanes Ike and Sandy, made visible what many in the broader social science and planning communities have long argued: Natural disasters are far from natural phenomena. Disasters result from the interaction of biophysical systems, human systems, and the built environment. Furthermore, they are largely a function of human action or, more often, inaction. Despite increasing knowledge on natural hazard agents and their potential impacts, disaster losses increase in part because of where and how we design and construct our communities. Many communities continue to develop and expand into high-hazard areas, contributing to increased hazard exposure and often resulting in the destruction of environmental resources such as wetlands that can reduce losses. Short-term technological fixes such as levees, seawalls, and beach renourishment programs may also have detrimental environmental consequences and promote increased development. When major disasters occur, recovery requires massive infusions of external public and private resources, is highly uneven, and is likely to reproduce many preexisting inequities in exposure and vulnerabilities. Who can forget the images of the Superdome and people on rooftops and overpasses after Hurricane Katrina? In Katrina, there were early failures to ensure evacuation of highly vulnerable neighborhoods. We then saw large-scale evacuation of the Houston area for Hurricane Rita, which caused traffic gridlock for more than 24 hours, leaving those who needed to evacuate trapped along miles of concrete. The devastation of New Orleans is a case in point; the vulnerability was well known before the disaster, and therefore the resulting scale of damage from the hurricane was not a surprise—or, rather, should not have been a surprise. These natural disasters have focused attention on the need for forethought and planning in mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. Most importantly, they have focused attention on the interaction between biophysical systems, human social systems, and their built environment. The period between disasters presents an opportunity to increase resilience by mitigating against future threats and undertaking recovery that results in a stronger community.
The number and severity of natural disasters are expected to increase over the next hundred years because of a changing climate. At the same time, our world’s population continues to expand, and development in high-hazard areas increases. Responding to these changes that are both happening and expected requires communities to become more resilient—better able to anticipate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from the impacts of such disasters. To do so, community stakeholders and leaders must understand the interactions between hazard exposure, physical vulnerability, and social vulnerability occurring in their own communities. In short, many of our communities are becoming ever more vulnerable to natural hazards while simultaneously becoming less disaster resilient.
introduces readers to the concept of resilience and its increasing importance as a standard by which communities can measure their progress toward preparing themselves for the coming environmental changes. Real-life communities that have experience with recent disasters form the basis of our illustrations and explanations of the actions communities can take to improve their resilience. These three chapters make an argument for why communities must act now to ready themselves for the changes to come.
1. The New Era of Catastrophes1
In recent years, we have seen the terrifying impacts of natural disasters, including Hurricane Katrina, the Wenchuan and Kobe earthquakes, the Fukushima tsunami and nuclear disaster, and, most recently, 2012’s Hurricane Sandy. Globally, the average annual number of natural disasters reported has more than doubled since 1980.2
These catastrophes are increasing in the number of meteorological events
(tropical storms, severe weather, winter storms, hail, tornadoes, and local storms), hydrological events
(flash floods, river floods, storm surge, and landslides), and climatological events
(heatwaves, freezes, wildfires, and drought).3
Although geophysical events
, such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, have remained more stable, there has been catastrophic damage to structures and lives, most notably seen in the Kobe earthquake, Wenchuan earthquake, and, more recently, earthquakes in Haiti in 2010 and Japan in 2011. We are experiencing not only an increased number of events but also an increase in their magnitude or severity. The number of “devastating” catastrophes (those with more than 500 fatalities or more than US$650 million in overall losses) and “great” catastrophes (those with more than 2,000 fatalities, 200,000 homeless, severe hits to the gross domestic product (GDP), or the country being dependent on international support) continues to climb globally (figure 1.1
With the anticipated changes in the global climatic system, continued disregard for vulnerability is likely to worsen the future impacts of hazard events. Recent scientific assessments from climate change researchers suggest that irreversible changes are already under way and will probably result in more frequent extreme weather events. Climate change
models also reveal that intensity of a number of weather-related hazards is also likely to worsen in the coming decades.5
As a result, coastal cities will face higher levels of flood erosion, and riverine communities will probably face more frequent and severe floods. These communities will be overwhelmed more frequently as the impacts of global climate change become increasingly evident in the coming decades. Such catastrophic hazard losses can be avoided only through integrated planning at the local level that focuses on mitigating vulnerability from natural hazards across all sectors of local planning.
Figure 1.1. Global trends indicate that the frequency and intensity of disaster events are increasing. In 2010, the number of devastating and great catastrophes was more than US$2,500 billion. Devastating catastrophes are those with more than 500 fatalities or US$650 million in overall losses. Great catastrophes are those with more than 2,000 fatalities, more than 200,000 homeless, the GDP severely hit, or the country dependent on international support and aid. (Adapted from Munich Reinsurance Company, Topics Geo, 2010.)
Disasters are still considered a part of weather systems and as such are treated as singular events (“acts of God”) rather than symptoms of a larger trend. Because disasters are treated as extraordinary, the focus of many efforts has been on the response to such crises and the ways in which citizens and communities should prepare for disasters, rather than the ways in which disaster impacts can be mitigated and recovery can be shortened or made easier. It is important to recognize that hazards such as droughts, fires, hurricanes, and earthquakes are natural occurrences; they become disasters only when they interact with human systems. In other words, if a forest fire consumes only forest, it is not a disaster. On...