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The frequency and severity of disasters over the last few decades have presented unprecedented challenges for communities across the United States. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina exposed the complexity and breadth of a deadly combination of existing community stressors, aging infrastructure, and a powerful natural hazard. In many ways, the devastation of Hurricane Katrina was a turning point for understanding and managing disasters, and it brought the phrase “community resilience Community resilience is “community capabilities that buffer it from or support effective responses to disasters."” into the lexicon of disaster management.

Over the past several years, many cities have been or are creating resilience offices and programs, and many regions are organizing around resilience and leveraging resources and partnerships. Within the context of this broader landscape of activity, questions arise about how or whether resilience has increased, whether investments are providing adequate returns, and how decision makers can begin to understand the impact that hazard mitigation, climate adaptation, and other resilience actions are having across numerous areas of community wellbeing.

The National Research Council’s 2012 report Disaster Resilience: A National Imperative noted that measuring Measurement is the act of assessing an object, event, or place using a reasonable and accepted standard measure (or metric) in order to compare the object, event, or place to itself at another time or in another condition, or to another object, event, or place. progress toward resilience Resilience is “the ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from, and more successfully adapt to adverse events” (from Disaster Resilience: A National Imperative, 2012, p. 1). is important for building national resilience to disasters. Building resilience is a process that requires periodic measurement to assess progress toward resilience goals and ensure those goals are being met. However, many communities are not measuring their resilience.


The Committee on Measuring Community Resilience examined a sample of 33 resilience measurement efforts to better understand the current state of resilience measurement science and practice. The large number and variety of resilience measurement efforts underscores the fact that no single measurement tool fits the resilience measurement needs of all communities.

A defining characteristic of community resilience is multidimensionality; in other words, the resilience of a community encompasses all of the resources and assets available in the community.

The most common types of community dimensions—also known as “capitals”—include:

  1. Natural (or environmental): the natural resources base or environmental conditions within communities.
  2. Built (infrastructure): the buildings and infrastructure systems within communities.
  3. Financial (economic): the totality of economic assets and livelihoods in a community.
  4. Human and cultural: demographic characteristics, knowledge, skills, health, and physical abilities of community members.
  5. Social: the social networks and connectivity among groups and individuals within a community.
  6. Political (institutional or governance): access to resources and the ability/power to influence their distribution as well as the ability to engage external (to the community) entities in efforts to achieve community goals.

The committee found that few measurement efforts consider all of the six commonly used community dimensions or capitals. Gaps in coverage of all six community capitals limit a resilience measurement effort’s robustness in measuring the holistic nature of community resilience.

In addition, few measurement efforts have been applied more than once in the same community or in more than one community. Thus, resilience measurement science and practice are not mature enough to clearly articulate which resilience measurement approach is best or works best in practice.

Ground Truthing How Communities Measure Resilience

The committee conducted meetings and site visits in eight communities and met with leading experts, decision makers, community leaders, and practitioners in local government, the private sector, the nonprofit sector, research centers, and academic institutions. The purpose of these visits was to learn about resilience measurement activities taking place in communities.

FIGURE 3-1 Map of the United States marking the location of each community with whom the committee met.

The community visits revealed that despite the range of available resilience measurement frameworks and tools, many communities are not measuring their resilience. In addition, because communities differ with respect to their challenges, goals and priorities, risk profiles and hazards, where they focus their resilience-building efforts, and how they implement resilience activities, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to resilience practice and measurement given the diversity of communities.


The process of measuring resilience can provide community leaders and members information to help prioritize investments, allocate limited resources, and target the most effective programs and policies to mitigate the effects of shocks and stressors. It helps communities know how or whether their resilience has increased, whether their investments are providing adequate returns, and how their hazard mitigation, climate adaptation, and other resilience-related activities are impacting community wellbeing.

There are many frameworks and tools available to communities that purport to measure community resilience, though none of them are a silver bullet for resilience measurement. Despite this range of available tools, many communities lack the resources (e.g., time, staff, funds) to implement resilience measurement and do not devote resources to explicitly measure resilience. And, communities continue to express uncertainty about what they should measure, what measures to use, or even how to start the resilience-building process.

The large number of resilience measurement efforts available and the paucity of use of those tools reveal a gap between research on and the implementation of resilience measures. What can communities do to bridge this gap?



Communities should use community participation and engagement at the outset of their resilience building and measurement efforts.

The process of participation helps communities develop resilience goals and priorities and generate community buy-in for those goals. Setting goals and priorities is necessary before any measurement activities can take place, as they provide the basis against which a community can track its progress and gauge its success.


Communities should design and measure resilience around multiple dimensions of a community.

Community dimensions are captured by the six capitals (i.e., natural, built, social, financial, human, and political), which provide a structure for setting community resilience goals and a reference for measuring progress toward those goals.


Communities should ensure that the data collected, integrated, or synthesized for community resilience are relatable and usable for decision making.

The data collected should be used to make decisions about public sector budgets and public-private financing, to gauge the efficacy or progress of resilience goals, or to inform policy formulation and implementation.


Communities should incentivize the measurement of resilience.

Community resilience investments can include milestones and yield multiple benefits that are trackable along and across the relevant community capitals. Measurement needs to include a range of downstream or cascading impacts of investment choices in order to capture the broadest range of multiple benefits.


The committee’s task was to provide recommendations on “key issues for future programs to consider in measuring the resilience of a community,” which it interpreted as future programs the Gulf Research Program (GRP) would administer. In 2013, the National Academy of Sciences received $500 million in settlement funds from the Deepwater Horizon criminal cases and created the Gulf Research Program (GRP) to carry out the mission to improve understanding of the region’s interconnecting human, environmental, and energy systems and foster benefits for Gulf communities, ecosystems, and the nation.


The Gulf Research Program should develop a major, coordinated initiative around building or enhancing community resilience in communities across the Gulf region.

The basic structure of a GRP community resilience initiative should include multiple communities, capture and document community resilience strategies and measurements, foster interactions across and among GRP resilient communities through a resilience learning collaborative, and implement longitudinal research that includes systematic analysis and integration of data from various sources.

View Figure 5-1: A GRP resilience initiative should include multiple communities across the Gulf region’s five states and take a nested approach, operating at three levels: within a community, across communities, and over multiple years.


For each community in the Gulf Research Program community resilience initiative, the GRP should develop and employ a community resilience framework that includes:

  • community engagement to engender buy-in around resilience priorities, goals, and leadership;
  • resilience across multiple community capitals;
  • measures and ways to track progress that are useful to decision makers; and
  • investments in resilience that result in multiple benefits.

The Gulf Research Program should create, finance, and maintain a resilience learning collaborative for diverse stakeholders to exchange information about lessons learned, approaches, challenges, and successes in their respective and collective work to advance community resilience in the Gulf region.


The Gulf Research Program should implement longitudinal research associated with its community resilience program.

Long-term, periodic, comprehensive resilience assessment research is needed that can address the dynamic state of communities and their changes in risk and resilience over time; link information or data from disparate programs with each other and to community resilience priorities; and ultimately link research, data, and information with decision making.


Adm. Thad Allen (Co-Chair)
Senior Executive Advisor
Booz Allen Hamilton

Dr. Gerald E. Galloway, Jr. (Co-Chair)
Glenn L. Martin Institute Professor of Engineering
University of Maryland, College Park

Dr. Michael Beck
Research Professor, Institute of Marine Sciences
University of California, Santa Cruz

Dr. Anita Chandra
Vice President and Director, Social and Economic Well-Being
RAND Corporation

Ms. Erin Coryell
Program Officer
Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies

Dr. Susan Cutter
Carolina Distinguished Professor of Geography
University of South Carolina

Dr. Ann-Margaret Esnard
Associate Dean for Research and Strategic Initiatives, Office of the Dean, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies
Georgia State University

Dr. Howard Frumkin
Head of Our Planet, Our Health
Wellcome Trust

Dr. Melanie Gall
Research Professor, Emergency Management and Homeland Security Program
Arizona State University

Dr. Maureen Lichtveld
Professor and Chair, Freeport McMoRan Chair of Environmental Policy
Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine

Dr. Carlos Martín
Senior Fellow, Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center
Urban Institute

Mr. Chris Poland
Consulting Engineer
Chris D Poland Consulting Engineer

Dr. Liesel Ritchie
Associate Professor, Department of Sociology
Oklahoma State University

Dr. Kathryn Sullivan
Senior Fellow
Potomac Institute for Policy Studies