Real Gulf Coast Recovery Requires Resilient People, Communities and Ecology

Now that the BP oil hole has finally stopped gushing, people and communities in the Gulf region will need ongoing assistance as they recover and rebuild.  Research shows that certain people tend to come through disasters such as this and Katrina in better shape than others.  The ability to withstand and even thrive under adversity is known as resilience.  This article starts with tips for building resilience within people and communities; followed by summaries of key articles about disaster from the journal Science.  Finally, there are quotes from philosophers, athletes, politicians and others about  resilience and how it can be achieved.
Click below to learn important lessons about resilience:

Resilience is the ability to deal with trouble in such a way that people comes through it unharmed or even better for the experience. Resilience is the quality that allows people to rebound from misfortune, hardships and traumas.  People who have a clear sense of identity and purpose are more resilient, because they can hold fast to our vision of a better future.  Much of human resilience comes from community — from relationships that allow us to support each other during times of trouble.

Social science research has identified the following characteristics of how resilient people respond to situations:

  1. They believe the setback is temporary, not permanent. This enables them to move on to their next achievement.
  2. They perceive setbacks as impersonal. They don’t believe that it was their fault that they didn’t succeed. They don’t take losses personally.
  3. They see a silver lining in the darkest clouds. Able to take a gain from their losses, a lesson, or an inspiration, they move on.
  4. They don’t generalize defeats into larger, more ominous patterns. However, they do believe that their successes are part of a larger optimistic pattern.
  5. They remember wins, and relish them, more than losses. Their glasses are always at least half full.

Highly Resilient people have the following abilities:

  • Able to bounce back and recover from almost anything
  • Possess a “where there’s a will, there’s a way” attitude
  • See problems as opportunities for improvement
  • Able to “hang tough” which things are difficult
  • Capable of making the most of situations
  • Possess deep-rooted faith in a system of meaning
  • Have a healthy social support network
  • Possess a wide comfort zone and high tolerance
  • Able to recover from traumatic experiences


In many ways Science is the ultimate in peer-reviewed scientific reputation.  Along with that comes a complex way of communication that scientists do use effectively to communicate with each other.   The following are significantly shorter than the originals.  In two cases the full articles are available for free at the site.

Resiliency in the Face of Disaster by Brooks Hanson and Leslie Roberts. Science 12 August 2005: Vol. 309. no. 5737 (FULL Article)

Societies today are facing increasingly diverse and costly natural and human-triggered threats. Many trends are exacerbating the risks. More people are concentrating in coastal areas, where threats of flooding and storms are heightened, and climate change and sea level rise will amplify these risks. Terrorists have attacked the infrastructures of cities. Population movements, along with global trade and transport, heighten the odds of disease pandemics.

Such diverse and, in many cases, unpredictable threats have led to renewed efforts to improve the resiliency of cities and societies overall. This special issue surveys some of these emerging approaches both for preparing for diverse disasters before they happen and for dealing with them afterward. … There are steps that can be taken now that will increase security and help society even if a disaster does not strike. For example, preserving natural ecosystems such as reefs diversifies coastal economies, which can enhance recovery from disasters.

Social-Ecological Resilience to Coastal Disasters by W. Neil Adger, Terry P. Hughes, Carl Folke, Stephen R. Carpenter, Johan Rockström  Science 12 August 2005: Vol. 309. no. 5737 (FULL Article)

Social and ecological vulnerability to disasters and outcomes of any particular extreme event are influenced by buildup or erosion of resilience both before and after disasters occur. Resilient social-ecological systems incorporate diverse mechanisms for living with, and learning from, change and unexpected shocks. Disaster management requires multilevel governance systems that can enhance the capacity to cope with uncertainty and surprise by mobilizing diverse sources of resilience.

Human populations are concentrated along coasts, and consequently coastal ecosystems are some of the most impacted and altered worldwide. These areas are also sensitive to many hazards and risks, from floods to disease epidemics. Here, we explore how a better understanding of the linkages between ecosystems and human societies can help to reduce vulnerability and enhance resilience of these linked systems in coastal areas. By resilience, we mean the capacity of linked social-ecological systems to absorb recurrent disturbances such as hurricanes or floods so as to retain essential structures, processes, and feedbacks. …

The concept of resilience is a profound shift in traditional perspectives, which attempt to control changes in systems that are assumed to be stable, to a more realistic viewpoint aimed at sustaining and enhancing the capacity of social-ecological systems to adapt to uncertainty and surprise. …

The resilience (or conversely, the vulnerability) of coastal societies is more tightly linked to larger-scale processes today than in the past. For example, economic linkages and the globalization of trade in commodities and ecological goods and services tie regions much more closely together than before. In coastal regions, this is often evident in the vulnerabilities created by global tourism (an ecosystem service), where the growing demands of visitors impact previously undeveloped coastal areas. … Greater mobility, improved communications and awareness, and the growth of national and international NGOs that link societies can all strengthen resilience to crises and improve responses when they occur.

During periods of gradual or incremental change, many important sources of resilience may be unrecognized or dismissed as inefficient or irrelevant. Typically, therefore, components of resilience are allowed to decline or are deliberately eliminated because their importance is not appreciated until a crisis occurs.

Resilient social-ecological systems incorporate diverse mechanisms for coping with change and crisis. In ecosystems, biodiversity, functional redundancy, and spatial pattern can all influence resilience. Biodiversity enhances resilience if species or functional groups respond differently to environmental fluctuations, so that declines in one group are compensated by increases in another. Spatial heterogeneity can also confer resilience, as when refuge areas provide sources of colonists to repopulate disturbed regions. Similarly, in social systems, governance and management frameworks can spread risk by diversifying patterns of resource use and by encouraging alternate activities and lifestyles. Such practices sustain ecosystem services, analogous to the way that management of a diverse portfolio sustains the growth of investments in financial markets.

Social resilience, including institutions for collective action, robust governance systems, and a diversity of livelihood choices are important assets for buffering the effects of extreme natural hazards and promoting social reorganization. Coastal communities harboring knowledgeable, prepared, and responsive institutions are more likely to be able to prevent the tsunami from making the transition from extreme natural hazard to longer-term social disaster. …

The case for building resilience in coastal regions is urgent, given trends in human settlement, resource use, and global environmental change. Two-thirds of the coastal disasters recorded each year are associated with extreme weather events, such as storms and flooding, that are likely to become more pervasive threats because of anthropogenically driven shifts in Earth’s climate and sea level rise. These risks in particular are exacerbated by human action, raising the possibility that greenhouse gas emitters may one day become legally liable for impacts.

The capacity of coastal ecosystems to regenerate after disasters and to continue to produce resources and services for human livelihoods can no longer be taken for granted. Rather, socio-ecological resilience must be understood at broader scales and actively managed and nurtured. Incentives for generating ecological knowledge and translating it into information that can be used in governance are essential. Multilevel social networks are crucial for developing social capital and for supporting the legal, political, and financial frameworks that enhance sources of social and ecological resilience.

The Tsunami’s Psychological Aftermath by Greg Miller. Science 12 August 2005: Vol. 309. no. 5737, p. 1030

Eight months later, the full impact of the tsunami on the mental health of the survivors remains unknown. The World Health Organization (WHO), among others, has estimated that hundreds of thousands of people could suffer lasting psychological effects. Some early evidence, however, suggests that people may be coping better than expected, aided by the Asian emphasis on strong family and community ties. …

Similarly, the verdict is not yet in on how effective the myriad interventions have been. The mostly Western relief groups arrived with abundant good intentions and a wide variety of strategies. But the field of disaster mental health is relatively new, and little research exists on what interventions best stave off long-term psychological problems. Problems have arisen in the aid effort, but many experts say the spotlight on mental health has benefited tsunami survivors and provided political leverage for revamping health policy in the region to include mental health care. This would be a welcome development for a part of the world where mental health problems are thought to take a heavy toll but–as in much of the developing world–are largely unrecognized. …

Some of the most-cited estimates of the toll come from WHO, which in February suggested that up to half of the 5 million people affected by the tsunami would experience moderate to severe psychological distress that would fade without intervention over the course of a year or more. Roughly 5% to 10% would develop more persistent problems, such as depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or other anxiety disorders that would be unlikely to resolve themselves without intervention. And perhaps 1% to 2% would be left with incapacitating mental problems such as major depression or psychosis. …

Preliminary surveys and anecdotal reports suggest that the tsunami has indeed affected people deeply. Many women have been wracked with guilt and anxiety over children they were unable to save. Children have been afraid to leave their parents to go to school. Men have found it hard to return to the sea to fish, and many have turned to alcohol to help cope. Survivors complain of nightmares, flashbacks, and intrusive thoughts of the disaster. One of the challenges for the upcoming epidemiology studies will be to distinguish normal stress and grief responses from psychopathology.

At the same time, many people who have worked with tsunami survivors are struck by their resilience. Asian culture, with its emphasis on group welfare over individual self-reliance, seems to have been a powerful, positive influence. “People came together to support each other and look after the necessities,” says Athula Sumathipala, a Sri Lankan psychiatrist who has worked with tsunami survivors in the south and west of the country. …

Instead of putting tsunami survivors in our shoes, we should begin by asking what they actually want, says Summerfield, who has worked in Bosnia and other war zones and advised Oxfam and other NGOs on their psychosocial aid programs. In his experience, people want help rebuilding their homes, reestablishing their livelihoods, and getting the children back to school. “People want material help, people are not asking for counseling,” he notes. …

The critique by Summerfield and others highlights how little is known about the best way to care for the mental health of people who have lived through a disaster. The bulk of the research to date has been carried out in developed countries. As a result, much of what is being tried in Asia, for instance, is based on good intentions rather than good science, says Minas. “I think there’s a real obligation to carry out good quality evaluation of what’s being done and the consequences of the disaster,” he says. “But there’s an ethical quandary about what kind of research, and carried out by whom.” …

Despite the glitches in the relief effort and problems with particular NGOs, most observers say the psychosocial response has been beneficial overall. There are also encouraging signs that the influx of money and the expertise of the better trained groups may help pave the way for a stronger mental health care infrastructure.

Toward Inherently Secure and Resilient Societies by Brad Allenby and Jonathan Fink.  Science 12 August 2005: Vol. 309. no. 5737, pp. 1034 – 1036

Resiliency is defined as the capability of a system to maintain its functions and structure in the face of internal and external change and to degrade gracefully when it must. Developing enhanced resiliency is a rational strategy when the probability and specifics of a particular challenge are difficult to define. However, resiliency is not a global characteristic of a system; it can meaningfully be determined only with reference to an identified system and particular challenges. …

Frequently, a challenge will involve multiple scales, so that overall resiliency requires the ability to understand and take advantage of different initiatives at different levels. … Analogously, there may be a number of opportunities in the “event life cycle” to implement resiliency strategies. One might invest in avoiding any event in the first place; creating long-term plans that reduce or mitigate threat; generating a warning in time to implement or adjust plans and reduce potential costs; mitigating the event as it occurs; or planning short-term responses and recovery or longer term recovery capabilities. …

Some kinds of resiliency are primarily externalities, in that the protection gained provides almost no other benefits, whereas others are dual use and provide substantial economic benefits in addition to resiliency. … The creation of internal corporate intranets and support systems for virtual offices and telework capability, which diffuses information assets, can save firms money and make them more resilient against point attacks, as well as natural events such as epidemics. More broadly, when a resiliency option is less coupled to other functions, it can be more easily implemented, but it may not offer the additional benefits that strategic investments enhancing resiliency often do. …

It is elementary that physical dispersion of assets makes them less subject to point attack or localized disaster such as a tornado or earthquake. A decentralized workforce is also more resilient against a number of other disruptions, including disease (employees who are able to work from home run less risk of infection and help reduce the velocity with which infectious diseases can spread).  A dispersed workforce enhances resiliency in more subtle ways in addition to the obvious reduction in direct impact. The response to the September 11 attacks indicates that postevent stress and anxiety (the creation of which is a major purpose of many terrorist attacks) can be relieved substantially if arrangements are in place that enable dispersion of the workforce, especially to a home environment where they are both more comfortable and feel themselves less of a potential target. …

From the perspective of a city, policies that encourage a strong teleworking capability in local firms are ideal dual-use systems: They provide resiliency against disaster or attack, but many important ancillary benefits as well. An urban system with a large number of potential teleworkers can encourage working from home on bad air quality days, or during blizzards or other emergency conditions, or when unanticipated upsets in the traffic networks result in congestion. Moreover, an urban environment that encourages teleworking also provides a higher quality of life; AT&T’s data indicate that 81% of its teleworkers name better balance between work and family as a substantial benefit of the practice. Additionally, some argue that by enabling people to work in their neighborhoods, telework can enhance a sense of community and neighborhood security. …




At the national scale, the implications of network-centric organizations are profound and only slowly being recognized. For example, reducing unnecessary transportation reduces demand for gasoline and thus enhances energy security. AT&T, for example, estimated that its telework/virtual office program even in 2000 was avoiding some 110 million unnecessary miles of driving per year, avoiding the consumption of more than 5 million gallons of gasoline (and emission of an estimated 50,000 tons of carbon dioxide). It also seems likely that, if properly managed, a network-centric society might well be more equitable, more productive, and therefore perhaps less fragile in the face of challenge. …

The range of ancillary effects discussed in this brief example illustrates the complexities and challenges of adopting the principle of resiliency as a policy and planning touchstone, as well as the potential value of dual-use tools and technologies. Understanding the interplay of these systems and how various investments and policy choices integrated into a resiliency portfolio can simultaneously enhance both security and economic and social stability and growth is not a trivial challenge, but the potential benefits argue strongly for such a course.


Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. – James A. Baldwin

In order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, to struggle together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life. – Albert Bandura

People who believe they have the power to exercise some measure of control over their lives are healthier, more effective and more successful than those who lack faith in their ability to effect changes in their lives. – Albert Bandura

In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins – not through strength, but through persistence. – Buddha

Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall. – Confucius

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not… nothing is more common than unsuccessful people will talent.
Genius will not… unrewarded genius is almost legendary.
Education will not…. the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
President Calvin Coolidge

It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. – Charles Darwin

You never really lose until you quit trying. – Coach Mike Ditka

Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration. – Thomas Edison

I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work. – Thomas Edison

Life is like riding a bicycle, in order to keep your balance, you must keep moving. – Albert Einstein

Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

The strongest oak of the forest is not the one that is protected from the storm and hidden from the sun. It’s the one that stands in the open where it is compelled to struggle for its existence against the winds and rains and the scorching sun. – Napoleon Hill

Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it. – Michael Jordan

The bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists. – Japanese proverb

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved. – Helen Keller

It may sound strange, but many champions are made champions by setbacks. – Bob Richards

When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. – Franklin D. Roosevelt

All of us get knocked down, but it’s resiliency that really matters. All of us do well when things are going well, but the thing that distinguishes athletes is the ability to do well in times of great stress, urgency and pressure. – Roger Staubach

My policy is to learn from the past, focus on the present, and dream about the future. I’m a firm believer in learning from adversity. Often the worst of times can turn to your advantage – my life is a study of that. – Donald Trump

Humor is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritation and resentments slip away, and a sunny spirit takes their place.  – Mark Twain

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. – Mark Twain

Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do. – John Wooden


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