Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Sarah Allison, and I am the 2014-2015 Oregon Sea Grant Resilience and Adaptation Fellow. My research looks at economic resilience to natural hazards on the Oregon coast. As an introduction to this topic, I will use this post to clarify what I mean by economic resilience within the context of natural hazards. With growing uncertainty around climate, the economy and global politics increasingly impacting our lives, resilience has become a “buzzword” in recent years. It is not always clear what it really means, though. By explaining how I am using the concept, I hope both to make it easier to understand and show that there are ways to increase our resilience, leading to safer communities.
Resilience is a tricky concept, because it means different things when you apply it to different systems. You might call this “resilience of what”, like the resilience of an individual versus a building. Resilience also means different things when you apply it to different stresses. You might think of this as “resilience to what”, like the resilience to disease versus emotional trauma. At a very broad level, resilience is the ability of a system to anticipate, absorb, recover from, and adapt to a given stress. You might also think of this as reducing vulnerability to a particular threat.
Because my project focuses on economic resilience to natural hazards, I will start by clarifying the “resilience to what” – resilience to hazards. Hazards resilience explores how different systems can better handle natural hazards, such as floods, earthquakes, landslides, or drought.
Hazards impact many aspects of a community, including the local economy. Businesses can be destroyed in a disaster, taking vital services and employment with them, but there is a lot that can be done to help them weather the storm. This, then, becomes the “resilience of what” – resilience of the local economy.
With both resilience of what and resilience to what defined, you can begin to pinpoint areas of vulnerability and ways to address them. Efforts to make the business community less vulnerable to natural hazards would be considered ways to increase economic resilience to natural hazards. By looking at how communities currently support businesses in the face of hazards, we can better identify opportunities to make them safer and more secure.
One way to think about the types of support the business community might need is around key principles of resilience, such as redundancy. Redundancy is a principle that affirms the value of having multiple elements serving the same function, so that if one element fails, the function is not lost. For example, if there is only one source of electricity for a community, and a disaster breaks it, then the community is in serious trouble. If it has two or three sources of electricity, then even if one of them breaks, the community as a whole has access to some electricity. A community with multiple sources of electricity is more resilient than a community with only one.
Redundancy is one of seven resilience principles developed by the Stockholm Resilience Centre. These principles form the basis of my research. Upcoming posts will explore these principles, and how they have been refined for this specific project.
In summary, economic resilience to hazards is the ability of the local business community to handle natural hazards. By focusing in on how resilience principles can be applied to that specific intersection of stress and system, we can identify targeted ways to increase resilience and therefore reduce the vulnerability of the business community.