Here’s a sneak peak of the paper, titled “Perceptions of Resilience among Coastal Emergency Managers,” accepted this week for publication in Risk, Hazards & Crisis in Public Policy.
Increasingly disaster risk reduction has been coupled with resilience. For decades social scientists have applied the concept to the study of disasters, using it as a metaphor for coping with and bouncing back from shocks. In the aftermath of the failures associated with Hurricane Katrina, the federal government adopted resilience as a guiding principle for federal emergency management. Multiple federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, champion resilience as a vision for community-based capacity-building to enable successful adaptation to adversity (NAS). In response research has become focused on identifying metrics for assessing resilience. Given the wide scale adoption of resilience in academic and policy circles, we would expect a common understanding of the concept. However, there is not one. Academic disciplines, ranging from psychology to ecology to hazards and disasters, are rife with conflict over the conceptual clarity of resilience; there are calls among federal agencies as well for consensus over the term. One such appeal, from the Homeland Security Advisory Council Community Disaster Resilience Task Force, calls for building a “shared understanding” of resilience across groups (DHS 2011: 13). The task force noted that despite the differences that may exist in perceived meanings of resilience, evaluating resilience perceptions among specific groups can contribute to our broader understanding, measurement, and development of community disaster resilience. With this in mind, this study assesses the perceptions of resilience among the group that comprises the closest, on-the-ground government directly responsible for emergency management – county emergency managers. How do county emergency managers along the Gulf Coast perceive community resilience? And what factors explain these perceptions?
Employing original survey data collected from interviews with 51 Gulf Coast county emergency managers, this study finds that the meanings of resilience among emergency managers is as varied as those used by academics and federal government agencies. There is, however, considerably overlap in definitions that evoke resilience as capacity – interpretations of resilience as “bouncing back” is most common among county emergency managers. Regression analyses indicate that county adaptive capacity, organizational capacity, and disaster experience shape emergency managers’ perceptions of resilience. Some of the associations of these factors with perceptions of resilience are unexpected but have significance for understanding the utility of multiple definitions of resilience among disaster scholars and the use of resilience as a guiding principal for federal emergency management. The findings also indicate which factors may be leveraged to increase a culture of resilience on the local level.