Keely Maxwell, AAAS Fellow
EPA National Homeland Security Research Center
Community resilience, the ability to prepare and
plan for, absorb, recover from, and more
successfully adapt to adverse events, is a key
policy issue. Policy priorities are: public-private
partnerships, critical infrastructure, lifelines,
cybersecurity, interoperability, supply chains.
Priorities don’t address human-environment
system resilience. Putting resilience into practice
requires scientific indicators and metrics.
What do indicators show?
Community resilience is aided by scientifically informed indicators and metrics that tell us how the human-environment system
functions before and after a disaster. In addition to vulnerability and capacity, an ideal suite of indicators would show us:
Cultural context. Values, knowledge, and beliefs shape what resilience looks like to people, and how they want to get there.
Distribution of populations, hazard risk, infrastructure, natural and cultural resources, and contamination across the landscape.
Feedbacks across scales. Political economy, public health, and environmental processes influence vulnerability and resilience.
Flows of nutrients, energy, money, social capital, people, and information.
Health of community residents and ecosystems.
Power. A community’s social networks and institutions are embedded in broader power relations.
Process. Measures community institutions take to improve adaptive capacity and disaster planning.
Property rights. Disasters may alter infrastructure ownership and resource access.
System resilience properties. Redundancy, diversity, connectivity, modularity, adaptive capacity, agency, non-brittleness.
rates, job satisfaction,
Indicators proposed by scientists and practitioners
tell us more about socioeconomic and biophysical
vulnerability to disasters and community capacity
than they do about recovery outcomes. They focus
on infrastructure more so than ecosystems.
Research methods & literature
Surveyed academic and policy literature. Analyzed indicators and
metrics using human-environment system models. Identified federal,
state, and local data sources for scientific and community use.
Adger, W.N., et al. 2005. Social-ecological resilience to coastal disasters Science
Cutter, S.L., et al. 2008. A place-based model for understanding community
resilience to natural disasters Global Environmental Change 18:598-606.
CINRD. 2012. Disaster resilience: a national imperative. Washington: National
Return to social function
electricity, water/waste, natural
Liu, J., et al. 2007. Complexity of coupled human and natural systems Science
Machlis, G., et al. 1997. The human ecosystem part I Society and Natural Resources
Norris, F.H., et al. 2008. Community resilience as a metaphor, theory, set of
capacities, and strategy for disaster readiness American Journal of Community
Psychology 41: 127-150.
Pfefferbaum, R.L., et al. 2013. The Communities Advancing Resilience Toolkit
(CART): an intervention to build community resilience to disasters Journal of
Public Health Management and Practice 19(3): 250-258.
Sempier, T.T., et al. 2010. Coastal community resilience index: a community selfassessment. MASGP-08-014.
Expand priorities to address more system variables.
Improve institutions’ adaptive capacity to face uncertainty.
Pay attention to power dynamics to minimize negative
externalities and navigate trade-offs.
Market demand, supply chains,
migration, state and federal policy
Communities. Identify endpoints, core values, and assets
for resilience planning.
Scientists. Field test resilience indicators and metrics.
Government agencies. Incorporate human-environment
system approach to hazard resilience.
To avoid indicator bloat and operationalize resilience, communities should initiate a participatory process to define resilience
endpoints. A community that prioritizes getting people back to work would select indicators to show:
Human-environment system resilience indicators
Identity, role function,
Income, access to
© File copyright Colin Purrington.
You may use for making your poster,
of course, but please do not plagiarize,
adapt, or put on your own site. Also,
do not upload this file, even if
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with nonlinear feedbacks to multiple stressors.
are robust the
accessible and meaningful to communities.
Measure baseline conditions and recovery trajectories.
Identify variations in
resilience to different hazards.
Many thanks to the American Association for the
Advancement of Science for the opportunity to be a
Science and Technology Policy Fellow; and to Tonya
Nichols, Peter Jutro, and the National Homeland Security
Research Center at EPA for supporting this research.
Photo credits clockwise from top left: FEMA David Fine,
FEMA Patsy Lynch, Corporation for National and