The Resilient America Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine convened the Committee on Applied Research Topics for Hazard Mitigation and Resilience to assist the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in reducing the immense human and financial toll of disasters caused by natural hazards and other large-scale emergencies. FEMA asked the committee to identify applied research topics, information, and expertise that can inform action and collaborative priorities within the natural hazard mitigation and resilience fields. The committee, in consultation with the Resilient America Program, selected two large-scale themes within which to identify applied research topics: Social Capital and Social Connectedness for Resilience, and Motivating Local Action to Address Climate Impacts and Build Resilience. It then planned workshops for these two themes to gather information for identifying priority applied research topics.
On the theme of Social Capital and Social Connectedness for Resilience, the committee identified three topics as being particularly important for natural hazard mitigation and resilience: (1) inspiring communities to create and sustain social capital and connectedness, (2) bolstering community-created digital and public spaces, and (3) building social capital through financial investment strategies.
On the first topic, more research is needed on how social capital and connectedness not only enhance resilience but how communities create and sustain them. Multiple stakeholders need to better understand these processes, from micro-communities to national governments and international organizations, as well as communities of varying sizes and geographic locations. Efforts to build social capital and connectedness often result in co-benefits, which is also a current research gap.
On the second topic, digital and public spaces have become increasingly powerful tools in creating and sustaining social capital and connectedness. By enabling people to connect and self-organize before, during, and after disasters, these spaces serve as a means of communication, motivation, and organization, with consequences for trust, relationships, and action. Studying how different groups use different spaces and platforms for connecting, communicating, and motivating can inform decisions and policies that build capacity for resilience. Applied research on these spaces is significant because investments in these tools can produce substantially greater returns, relative to their cost, than money spent on big ticket, nonsocial physical infrastructure.
Finally, on the third topic, despite the importance of social capital and connectedness and in evaluating risks and resilience, financial organizations that use such evaluations to invest in mitigation and resilience rarely consider these factors. Metrics are needed to account for the impacts of social capital and connectedness in ways that are compatible with the other tools used to make these decisions. By adopting a more inclusive and quantitative way of looking at the risks of loss, investment organizations can build resilience using a broader range of information.
In addition to these three applied research topics, the committee identified four themes that cut across all three topics: (1) equity, (2) trust, (3) community co-development and ownership, and (4) community-level feasibility.
Equity recognizes the importance of the social connections and interdependencies in relationships between people and between people and institutions. The need for equity also implies that the freedom and flourishing of one group cannot come at the expense of others.
Declining trust in government and civic landscapes threatens community engagement and resilience to disasters from natural hazards and other significant threats. In contrast, efforts to improve disaster risk reduction and response must recognize the capacity of digital media and online communities to build trust and cohesion. These new means of communication and organization exert both positive and negative influences.
By engaging community members as partners, researchers can best determine which types of questions community members find most compelling rather than imposing their own ideas on a population. In this way, researchers can collect better information and produce more worthwhile products while also cultivating community ownership of a worthwhile cause.
Finally, the feasibility of efforts to build and sustain social capital and connectedness involves many related concepts, including applicability, affordability, practicality, portability, scalability, and justifiability. The successful design of tools, programs, and interventions to reduce risks and strengthen capacities for resilience must consider these factors.