Resiliency: What’s the Buzz?

Written by: Sarah Diefendorf
Sarah Diefendorf is the Director of EFC West.

There is quite a bit of talk about resiliency today and it seems as though there are numerous definitions and uses to fit just about any circumstance.  There are schools of thought dedicated to data resilience, military resilience and even psychological resilience.  Entire academic and nonprofit centers have been funded and devoted to the research and application of resiliency.  As a result, sometimes it seems as though the word has become so popular that it begins to lose its meaning. However, for us, resiliency is more than a buzz word, it means effectively preparing for an uncertain and complex future.

Resiliency is the ability of a community to grow, resist, absorb, respond and/or recover in a timely and efficient manner, preserving or restoring its essential basic structures, functions and identity.  Simply put, resiliency means survival.  Small water systems should be thinking about resiliency in a way that focuses on more than just the pumps and pipes.  Without water, there is no survival, but without community, there is no water system.  When considering a system’s ability to grow, resist, absorb, respond and recover, water managers need to consider not just those elements that maintain the integrity of the system, but also those community assets that are critical to the lifeblood of its citizens.

What defines your town, village or district?  Why makes your city a place your citizens call home?  What critical assets enable safe and thriving health, culture, recreation and environment? What would happen if any one of those key community elements lost access to clean and healthy water?  The most effective approach to resiliency starts with your system but also includes other municipal assets that are vital to community survival. Look beyond the pumps and pipes to define critical assets and establish criteria to rank levels of importance to you and your neighbors.

To begin the process of determining community resiliency, follow these 6 key steps:

  1. Define your water system and community assets.
  2. Identify assets that are most critical to a resilient future.
  3. Research weather and climate patterns predicted for your region.
  4. Develop scenarios that reflect how future weather might impact your assets.
  5. Distinguish which critical assets are most vulnerable.
  6. Apply adaptation measures that can be implemented in the short, medium and long term.

Finally, don’t go it alone.  Identify other external community stakeholders, from the restaurant owner to the fireman, who can and should be integral to decision-making about your town’s future.  Once you have your team, follow the 6 steps above to weigh the viability of critical community assets against the weather and climate risks that threaten our resilient future.