Conversation on Resiliency with Kevin Desouza

Kevin C. Desouza, Director of the Metropolitan Institute, is the principal investigator on the project and Margaret Cowell, an Assistant Professor in the School of Public and International Affairs, is the co-principal investigator on the project. Maggie Cowell interviewed Kevin Desouza on the topic of the resiliency for the  2012 Ridenour Faculty Fellowship Conference.

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4 thoughts on “Conversation on Resiliency with Kevin Desouza

  1. Is it possible to “quickly” define a new normal? If we think of community resilience, on a basic level, as adaptability to change and change is defined in the context of a “new normal” for those properties or components of a system which are targeted for reconstitution after stress, to what degree can a human or social system preidentify and preplan a new normal? If our human and social systems are socially constructed, then a new normal for most complex systems would be emergent, crafted over time, and deliberated in the context of available resources, constraints, and community needs. It is for this reason that Norris et al.’s (2008) sense of “wellness” seems an appropriate guide for steering the course to a new normal. Whether thinking of the immediate needs of the community (ie: health, safety, food, water, shelter, etc.) or the longer term needs (ie: housing, employment, business, supply chains, public infrastructures, etc.) maintaining awareness of the community’s wellness will ultimately drive short term decisions as well as longer term recovery actions. Therefore, the goal for community resilience should be identifying indicators and measures of wellness, capacities for resilience, and time-scaled triggers for action. These are areas that can be preidentified and preplanned as a guide to community resiliency, and in the case of capacities for resilience*, strengthened over time and in advance of adversity. Desouza indicated that human and social systems hold a very low probability of being able to restore the overall environment to its prior state. Quickly defining a new normal may not be feasible nor desirable if it were.

    *See: Norris, F.H., Stevens, S.P., Pfefferbaum, B., Wyche, K.F., and Pfefferbaum, R.L. (2008). Community Resilience as a Metaphor, Theory, Set of Capacities, and Strategy for Disaster Readiness. American Journal of Community Psychology. 41.

  2. Community Resilience… against what?

    In defining the term “resilience” from the standpoint of an engineer, Dr. Desouza makes an excellent point that resilience may only be applicable towards certain properties such as resilient against heat, stress, or direct impact. Just as engineers must make trade-offs in design properties, a community, if it even exists in a given area, makes trade-offs in what to prepare and be resilient against.

    Applying this concept could also be thought of in terms of how community resilience may only be for certain types of disasters. Some efforts may be broadly applicable in various scenarios, while others may only be useful in a particular set of scenarios. This can lead to the seemingly logical effort to prepare for known risks in a given area, whether they are earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, or floods. In these cases, a community would likely focus its efforts based on past events that have affected them or nearby communities.

    Maximizing “resilience” then becomes a question of whether to focus efforts on those expected events/scenarios, or how a community would be resilient against unexpected or less frequent events. In some cases, not only would a community face the trade-off of prioritizing resources, but it may also find that optimizing towards the reduction of one risk may even increase the risk from another scenario. This question of design focus can be further complicated when used as a template, best practice, or even a requirement set by other communities, companies, or governments.

    For example, in the article “Fukushima’s Emergency Power Failure Traced to U.S. Design”, (http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/analysis/AJ201106161216), it mentions that:

    “The accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant following the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami of March 11 quickly worsened and spun out of control because the U.S.-styled design for its emergency power sources had been adopted without modification 40 years ago… In the U.S. design, emergency power generators are installed underground to guard against tornadoes and hurricanes. The Fukushima plant was, however, swamped when the tsunami rose more than 10 meters above the normal sea level along the coast and knocked out its power supply in the blink of an eye.”

    As we can see, trying to “localize” and focus community resilience, even assuming a collaborative “community” exists, would mean addressing the unique conditions/risks of a given area, as well as performing the trade-offs in what to be most resilient against.

    -Nathan

  3. —When I watch the interview with Prof. Desouza, the sustainability and vulnerability issues come to my mind regarding to resiliency and “new normal” implementations. I have thought that the level of the resiliency has direct or in direct connections with the level of sustainability and vulnerability. For each chance on the level of resiliency or adaptation of the new normal, the status of the sustainability and the level of the vulnerabilities have also changing and adjusting new environment. I reconcile the resiliency with the ability survive of an agency, system or network after a rapid change like natural disaster. Embracing the existing vulnerabilities and being aware of the capacity of sustainability can help the systems to adapt faster and start to leave with new normal as soon as possible. Brené Brown is sharing her idea about how we may embrace our vulnerabilities. Her unit of analysis is human, but if we enlarge her perspective from human to society, then, we can interpret her ideas as “Systems are imperfect, society wired to struggle and we are worthy of love and belonging.” (http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html)

    —People have learned many things from the nature. When I think about resiliency, sustainability and vulnerability issues an article came to my mind that I have read before about the spiders. The main question is what we can learn from spider’s web. Moreover, when I think about the network structures spider’s web becomes more meaningful to examine and search.

    When I was a child I always was astonished by the beauty of a spider web. Not only the patterns, shapes, characteristics were magnificent, but also the functionality, performance strength and sensitivity took my attention. That is why I would like to share the article, named “Nonlinear material behavior of spider silk yields robust webs” by Cranford et al., which describe the hidden strength of a spider’s web. (http://www.nature.com.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu:8080/nature/journal/v482/n7383/full/nature10739.html)

    “Spider silk is one of nature’s ‘super-materials’. Its remarkable mechanical properties include high extensibility and strength comparable to that of steel. But Markus Buehler and colleagues show that it is not just these virtues that make silk ideal for web construction. Silk’s nonlinear stress response — linear at low strain, suddenly softening as strain increases then stiffening prior to failure — is also critical. This behaviour allows webs to keep their shape when experiencing small, distributed loads such as those exerted by wind. But during strong local deformations, such as those caused by falling debris, the geometrical arrangement of the threads and the nonlinear stress response combine to limit damage to the area near the impact site, so that the web remains functional.”

    I believe that some useful tricks can be derived from the article to increase the resiliency of the society, organization, systems and networks. Especially, observing their attitude to the new normal and adaptation rapid changes in the environment can provide us new perspectives to modify our social, cultural organizational and /or economical webs.

  4. –When I watch the interview with Prof. Desouza, the sustainability and vulnerability issues come to my mind regarding to resiliency and “new normal” implementations. I have thought that the level of the resiliency has direct or in direct connections with the level of sustainability and vulnerability. For each chance on the level of resiliency or adaptation of the new normal, the status of the sustainability and the level of the vulnerabilities have also changing and adjusting new environment. I reconcile the resiliency with the ability survive of an agency, system or network after a rapid change like natural disaster. Embracing the existing vulnerabilities and being aware of the capacity of sustainability can help the systems to adapt faster and start to leave with new normal as soon as possible. Brené Brown is sharing her idea about how we may embrace our vulnerabilities. Her unit of analysis is human, but if we enlarge her perspective from human to society, then, we can interpret her ideas as “Systems are imperfect, society wired to struggle and we are worthy of love and belonging.” (http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html)

    –People have learned many things from the nature. When I think about resiliency, sustainability and vulnerability issues an article came to my mind that I have read before about the spiders. The main question is what we can learn from spider’s web. Moreover, when I think about the network structures spider’s web becomes more meaningful to examine and search.
    When I was a child I always was astonished by the beauty of a spider web. Not only the patterns, shapes, characteristics were magnificent, but also the functionality, performance strength and sensitivity took my attention. That is why I would like to share the article, named “Nonlinear material behavior of spider silk yields robust webs” by Cranford et al., which describe the hidden strength of a spider’s web. (http://www.nature.com.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu:8080/nature/journal/v482/n7383/full/nature10739.html)

    “Spider silk is one of nature’s ‘super-materials’. Its remarkable mechanical properties include high extensibility and strength comparable to that of steel. But Markus Buehler and colleagues show that it is not just these virtues that make silk ideal for web construction. Silk’s nonlinear stress response — linear at low strain, suddenly softening as strain increases then stiffening prior to failure — is also critical. This behaviour allows webs to keep their shape when experiencing small, distributed loads such as those exerted by wind. But during strong local deformations, such as those caused by falling debris, the geometrical arrangement of the threads and the nonlinear stress response combine to limit damage to the area near the impact site, so that the web remains functional.”

    I believe that some useful tricks can be derived from the article to increase the resiliency of the society, organization, systems and networks. Especially, observing their attitude to the new normal and adaptation rapid changes in the environment can provide us new perspectives to modify our social, cultural organizational and /or economical webs.

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