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Right Royal Resilience

Right Royal Resilience

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I’ve been thinking lately, motivated by on-going projects at work, about what influences our resilience. My ponderings tend to wind up at etymology, what did the word or term originally mean and what does that tell us, if anything, about how we should or could understand it.


Whilst many people believe ‘resilience’ has roots in 1970s environmentalism, in his paper (Resilience and disaster risk reduction: an etymological journey) David Alexander suggests resilience traces back considerably further to classical cultures, I therefore got to thinking about the broader history of resilience.

Fittingly, I visited Rome earlier this year and recognised the symbolic nature of the Colosseum – both as a reminder of the destructive power of the 1349 earthquake, but also that such destruction doesn’t always equate with decline. Similarly London has also exhibited significant ‘ability to endure’ and to prosper in the face of catastrophic events. Flooding, Fire and Plagues have befallen the city, but it remains standing as a leading world power.

My first post on this blog nearly a year ago concerned Doomsday Preppers, who have taken preparing to the next level compared to the general public. Staring across the River Thames at the Tower of London today, I realised that the notion of a ‘Prepper’ isn’t new.

The Tower of London is typical of medieval castles, and employs some similar strategies those of modern doomsday preppers.

  • Multiple layers of defences (see image above), including ditches and moats, fences, stone walls and towers – even the ancient wall of Roman London also served a defensive purpose – and the origins of The Barbican are in a fortified outpost or gateway to the city
  • Self sufficiency – in order to withstand a prolong siege, the area inside the castle was used for farming, water, and small industries.

As important as the Kentish ragstone walls, pots of boiling tar or portcullises no doubt served to be, they alone do not define resilience. As I reflected on the link between royalty I realised that the parallels weren’t just in the hard measures either.

The British Monarchy has demonstrated resilience as an institution (having had it’s fair share of low points from which it has ‘bounced back’) but I wonder whether monarchical rule itself exerts any influence on wider resilience? Does it represent continuity between the past and the present, or provide hope of stability and order during times of uncertainty and change.


Image Source: Wikipeadia

CBRN = HazMat = CBRN

CBRN = HazMat = CBRN

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Sometimes when I bite my tongue it is an accident, and it hurts. Other times it’s quite deliberate, yet it still hurts. I had to do that today, and then realised it was a metaphor for why I was biting it in the first place!


I’ve mentioned it before, the somewhat false distinction which is drawn between hazardous materials and…CBRN. The later is deemed so important that it gets a sexy abbreviation, which incidentally is all in capitals, serving to further emphasise it, to separate it.

I wholly understand that there is a difference between an accident (Although in reality even accidents usually end up apportioning blame somewhere) and a deliberate act – I remind you of the tongue biting! However, for the public, and for the majority of emergency responders, I think the distinction is unnecessary jargon.

There is a false assumption that the deliberate use of chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear materials would be more impactive than an incident where these agents are released via accidental means. I took a look at some historical examples in a previous post which demonstrated this not to be the case.

As recent events in Syria have shown, the malicious use of chemicals (what has been reported today as the nerve agent Sarin) is extremely significant and I in no way wish to belittle that. However, daily 72,000 gallons of radioactive water are being poured into the sea following the Fukushima earthquake (2011). The Fukushima incident is categorised at the same scale as Chernobyl (incidentally also an accident, and therefore hazmat incident).

Read these three statements:
1) The incident is complex and requires a multi agency response, nobody can solve this on their own.
2) It could take a long time for the area affected to get back to normality, there could be long term consequences.
3) Those responsible should be caught and punished appropriately.

Which of the two incidents above am I talking about? I’d be really interested if anyone reading this blog is able to tell me why they don’t apply to both.

Fine, keep the distinction internally if that helps certain agencies (I expect the assistance relates to setting budgets), but ditch the elitism. Lets talk about incidents involving those agents and what actions are required to minimise the impact, not about who done it.

3D Resilience

3D Resilience

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I recently discovered news aggregator Feedly. Having been released in 2008, I’m a little behind the curve!

For some time I’ve seen the inherent value of RSS feeds, but haven’t been able to figure out a way of making them work for me. However, Feedly (I’m not on commission, I’m sure other products are available!) seems to do just what I’ve been looking for. I have begun using Feedly to collate resilience blogs that I regularly check in on, and it’s really handy to have summaries available on the go without having to navigate to particular blogs.

Today Chris Bene’s article Making the Most of Resilience popped up in my feed, so I thought I’d check it out, and I’m glad I did.

Whilst primarily approaching resilience from a development angle, a diagram explaining resilience is applicable in an emergency management context.

3d resilience

Bene states that three types of capacity are important in living with change and uncertainty

  • absorptive capacity – the ability to cope with the effects of shocks and stresses
  • adaptive capacity – the ability of individuals or societies to adjust and adapt to shocks and stresses, but keep the overall system functioning in broadly the same way
  • transformative capacity – the ability to change the system fundamentally when the way it works is no longer viable

Im my experience, much of the work on resilience in a UK context is around developing the former, and it links back to an earlier post about developing a wider range of options for countering terrorism.

How can resilience professionals help to develop ‘softer’ approaches to preparing to emergencies which aren’t just about hardening, strengthening and fallback systems. How can we better embrace opotunities to transform both communities and places? I imagine that developing resilience is more likley to be sucessful where interventions reflect the three dimensions on the continuum.