Dr. Richard Bissell, director of the Policy and Global Affairs division at the National Research Council of the National Academies, opened the November 30, 2012 event “Disaster Resilience in America: Launching a National Conversation” by highlighting one of several challenges to increasing the nation’s resilience to disasters. He suggested that difficulties exist in sustaining resilience as a key public policy issue once media attention from disasters such as Superstorm Sandy begins to fade. Bissell offered the November 30 National Resilience Conversation as a first step in helping to establish resilience as a lasting action item for policy makers and the public. The event also served as a way to launch a year-long effort to disseminate the findings and recommendations of the National Academies report, Disaster Resilience: A National Imperative (National Academies, 2012), upon which the November 30 event was based. Envisioning the event as an encouragement for starting many additional conversations around disaster resilience, Bissell also outlined some broader long-term goals, such as “inspiring people at all levels of society to envision and enact initiatives to develop a more resilient nation.”
Susan Cutter, chair of the Committee on Increasing National Resilience to Hazards and Disasters that wrote the National Academies (2012) report, continued to frame the conversation by providing the committee’s definition of resilience as “the ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from, and more successfully adapt to adverse events” (National Academies, 2012). It is a term increasingly used, she indicated, by local, state, and federal governments, community groups, businesses, and emergency responders to express the need for collective approaches to reduce the large human and economic losses that communities and the country face each year from disasters.
There are several reasons explaining why disaster events are occurring more often, Cutter suggested. More people are moving into areas that are prone to hurricanes, tornadoes, and drought. The U.S. population continues to expand and age, while the infrastructure to support the public is aging beyond its design
limits. Coastal wetlands and other habitats that typically act as natural defenses are shrinking. Extreme weather events are increasing in frequency and, with changing climate conditions, these events might become the “new normal.” As a consequence of these patterns and activities, costs are escalating so that disasters that cost billions of dollars are becoming more common. These developments are also occurring during a time when federal and state budgets are shrinking and resources are constrained from federal through to state, local, and individual levels.
Cutter noted that “disaster resilience is a shared responsibility by civic society, the private sector, government, and all citizens,” and therefore building resilience is also everybody’s business. The committee’s report represents a vision for a resilient nation and outlines the importance of long-term collective approaches, individual and community involvement (for example, individuals serving as first responders), national leadership, accessible risk information, and community action and commitment. Infrastructure investments and upgrades by public and private sectors can accelerate post-disaster recovery, and therefore the public and private sectors will each play a critical role in increasing the nation’s resilience. Cutter addressed several recommendations from the report that outline actions that could be taken at different levels to support greater resilience in the nation’s communities. For example, government support of community-based resilience coalitions, risk management strategies by the public and private sectors, and a national resilience scorecard were identified as actionable recommendations to enhance national resilience.1 Many of the report’s recommendations formed the basis of the discussions held later that afternoon in a workshop setting.
One goal of the November 30 event was to build upon the committee’s work by initiating a new, meaningful, and continuous conversation about resilience that could be translated into bold actions and long-term thinking for increasing the nation’s ability to quickly recover from disasters. The presentations and consequent dialogues provide a basis for such conversations, and Chapter 2 attempts to capture the salient issues raised by presenters and participants in the morning session.
National Academies. 2012. Disaster Resilience: A National Imperative. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press .
1 In the National Academies report Disaster Resilience: A National Imperative (2012), the committee provides six recommendations to help direct the nation in advancing resilience efforts.