Resilience: Bending Without Breaking

By Jim Mullen
Emergency Management, Once Removed

To “bend but not break” may seem more like a description of a National Football League team’s defensive strategy – keeping the opponent’s offense between the 20 – yard lines, never yielding a touchdown. While a field goal still is possible three points is easier to overcome than six or seven! Limiting the damage is always a sound approach, because regardless of how strong a defense you have on the field, it’s not always possible to emerge completely” unscathed”.

To bend without breaking in disaster terms is similar: natural hazards will occur and do some damage. We cannot prevent storms, floods, or earthquakes, or infectious diseases. We can minimize the issues that inevitably follow. In both examples, resilience (bending without breaking) helps keep the “score” down.

At the local level, where public and private interests intersect to protect the “social equilibrium” (life, the economy and the environment) support for resilience is indispensable. Local governments have become dependent upon federal funding to facilitate mitigation activities that help protect their respective jurisdictions. Even if one differs (as do I) with the overall approach this federal administration employs in the arena of homeland security and emergency management, one cannot discount the rightness of their view that local governments must rely less on the feds to provide pre and post disaster support. The federal interest is largely financial; local officials have a longer standing, more personal interest in strengthening the resilience of the places where they, themselves live.

Weaning local (and state) government away from dependence on federal preparedness and mitigation funds will take time. A program of education, incentivization and candid discussions with local decisionmakers needs to occur to bring about the necessary attitude adjustment.

Volunteer groups like the Natural Hazards Mitigation Association, or NHMA (full disclosure – I am a Board member) have developed programs aimed at educating and training communities and their leaders on the benefits of a thorough analysis of hazards, followed by development of a community – based resilience strategy that enhances both public safety and economic viability. NHMA’s membership boasts expertise that would be invaluable to any community wishing to proactively address known hazards.

Even relatively quiet times are merely a prelude to a future disaster that will take a toll on our own community. Are our defenses adequate to bend, but not break? Can we, will we, choose to hold the score down, and pave the way for a comeback?

PostScript RE COVID-19: we are fortunate in Washington State that a coordinated team at county and state health agencies, along with the emergency management community is on the job. Their efforts illustrate the importance of advance team- building across professional disciplines. As we profit as a state from the competent, candid and coordinated teamwork from health, emergency management and other public safety personnel, let’s recall that the state agency relationship between the State Health Department and the Emergency Management Division of the Washington Military Department is the work product of four outstanding public servants: former Secretary of Health Mary Selecky and John Erickson of the State Public Health Department, and the late M/G Tim Lowenberg and my predecessor at Washington EMD, Glen Woodbury. Because of their foresight, our state may bend, but those that are now at the helm will not break. They will hold the score down and lead our recovery. That is resilience.

Subscribe to the Emergency Management, Once Removed Blog Feed
HINT: The RSS feed works in Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari but a free extension is needed if browsing in Google Chrome.

Information on this Blog is provided with the understanding that the authors and publishers are not engaged in rendering professional advice or services. As such, it should not be used as a substitute for consultation with an professional adviser. Opinions expressed here represent the viewpoints of individuals authoring the blog and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Center of Excellence.