Tye Ferrell, Resilience Collaborative NW
Earlier this year, I joined a team from the William D. Ruckelshaus Center to assess resilience efforts on the Washington State coast.* We knew it would be important to ask assessment participants how they defined resilience. Because how people define resilience patterns the objectives they set for themselves and the actions they take to make their community more resilient.
The assessment team conducted 104 interviews with coastal tribes, residents, elected officials, federal, tribal, state, county, and city government staff, researchers, scientists, and other interested parties. What we found was that definitions varied widely around three areas: the type of change envisioned, how boundaries lines are drawn, and the hazards people were most concerned about.
In terms of the types of change participants envisioned, people thought about it in terms of:
How participants defined the boundaries of the systems for their communities varied. Some people looked at ecological systems, others at infrastructure, and still others on people and community. Some participants focused on all three. Many participants felt that economic prosperity was foundational to their community’s resilience.
Finally, participants were concerned about different hazards. Some of this was due to the fact that the severity of threats for different communities along the coast vary. Erosion might be the most immediate concern for one community, while another might see itself as more at risk in the event of an earthquake. Even within communities there were differences in what people saw as key hazards, influenced by different livelihoods, perspectives, or interests. A shellfish farmer, for example, may see ocean acidification as the most important threat, while others may not.
Each of these different ways of slicing resilience may make sense for individuals or communities. However, to make collective efforts to increase resilience as successful as possible, it is important to develop a shared understanding of what resilience means, the boundaries of the system, and the key hazards facing the community, however community is defined.
For example, if part of a community defines resilience as being able to bounce back from the impact of an earthquake or tsunami, then they will want to spend available resources to mitigate the impacts they expect. Other potential hazards might be excluded from consideration, as resources are scarce. Another part of the community might define resilience as having the capacity to adapt to new conditions and see lack of economic opportunities for residents as the key challenge.
While this hypothetical community won’t have to agree on everything, it would be helpful to have some agreement on what the key threats are and what the community sees as a resilient future.
Chances are, there are things that can be done to increase both the resilience of the economy and of the community to earthquake and tsunami risk. For example, ensuring that any construction projects hire local people and provide multiple benefits. For example, Ocosta, Washington, made headlines by being the first school in the nation to double as a tsunami evacuation center. In the future, similar projects might consider doubling as small business incubators and/or community centers as well.
By developing shared understandings of and goals around resilience, communities, and the coast as a whole, can better prepare for a variety of threats, as well as opportunities.
* In 2016, coastal entities in Grays Harbor County, with the office of U.S. Representative Derek Kilmer’s Office and the Washington State Department of Ecology, contracted with the William D. Ruckelshaus Center to conduct an assessment exploring long-term resilience opportunities in response to growing concerns about the impact on coastal communities, infrastructure, and natural environment from erosion, flooding, and landslides; number and severity of storms; rising sea levels; and potentially large earthquake and tsunami. The team included Amanda Murphy, Sr. Project Lead, William D. Ruckelshaus Center, and Extension Assistant Professor, WSU, and Phyllis Shulman, Resilience Collaborative NW. The report can be found at: http://ruckelshauscenter.wsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Executive-Summary_Washington-Coast-Resilience-Assessment-Report_Final_5.1.17.pdf
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