With 2017’s record tab for U.S. disaster costs, estimated at $307 billion, the concept of resilience remains top of mind. Defined by the American Psychological Association as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress,” resilience is the characteristic or ability to “bounce back” from difficult experiences.
Indeed, an entire body of literature and practice has emerged around this concept. Consider the Resiliency Center of Newtown, Conn., offering trauma-related services for children and adults impacted by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012; or the Resilience Center for Veterans and Families, New York City, operated by the Teachers College of Columbia University that assists veterans with their transition back to civilian life. The Resiliency Center at University of Utah Health aims to promote wellness and combat burnout, anxiety, and depression among faculty members and staff.
Many colleges and universities are well aware of the need to nurture resilience among vulnerable student populations, and they have specific programming in place for that purpose.
Beyond important attention to individual resilience, what about the resilience of whole systems—of a campus, a city, a state, and a nation? What does that look like? As simple as the term may sound on its surface, resilience provides rich layers of complexity. It envelopes a broad swath of understanding and activity of a particular place—from its environmental stability and economic vitality, to the health and safety of its people, to the vibrancy and diversity of its culture. (See the accompanying “Systemic Strength” interview.)
While the best planning and risk-mitigation efforts cannot prevent a tragic act of violence or the devastation stemming from a natural disaster, what can communities put in place that allow them to rebound more quickly, to move forward in a manner that restores quality of life, and to act from a sense of possibility rather than despair? Likewise, what long-term protections can be woven into the social fabric of a community to enhance and sustain well-being no matter what shorter-term crises or hardships emerge?
The challenges that confront every big city and small town pose a threat to campuses as well. Yet, in the broader scheme of resilience, colleges and universities play a central role as an embedded member of a community, with a vested interest in its success, and as a brain trust capable of identifying and implementing solutions in partnership with others for the greater good. This article profiles diverse perspectives and approaches taken to build resilience and ultimately thrive in the face of nearly any threat.
University of Minnesota: Building Adaptive Capacity
Mike Greco is director of the Resilient Communities Project (RCP) at the University of Minnesota’s (UM) Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA), a program to connect cities and counties with the expertise of university faculty and students to address pressing local challenges. Since the university first piloted the project in 2012, it has worked directly with six communities. Each benefits from consultation on several dozen projects that might involve several hundred students during the course of the yearlong collaboration.
Consistent with the mission of CURA, the approach is community-focused, says Greco. “In applying to the program, we ask communities to define resilience within their local context and to identify a list of projects they would like to work on with us.” Although RCP typically partners directly with local government, the program encourages a broad base of participation in the process for identifying issues, to include residents and members of local businesses and neighborhood organizations in addition to city staff. “To the degree that happens, it typically produces a better list of projects and a better understanding of what is needed to increase capacity for resilience at the local level,” says Greco.
The program model that UM has adopted allows the university to provide a fresh approach to problem solving using existing resources within established institutional structures, since RCP matches community projects with graduate and upper-level undergraduate courses already being taught, explains Greco. In addition to the opportunity to work on real-world problems, students receive a beneficial civics lesson working alongside city staff, he adds.
A fair amount of consistency has emerged in the types of project requests the university has received from different communities, says Greco. “We believe this reflects the fact that many cities and counties are facing similar stresses and strains.” One recurring theme has been a lack of affordable housing, which is a complex issue to address in the short term, notes Greco. “As is probably the case for other states, there is an acute awareness in Minnesota that demographics are changing, including a rapidly aging population statewide.” At the same time, historical trends for how families move from one type of housing to the next has been upended in some communities, creating a mismatch in the types of housing stock available versus what is most needed, notes Greco.
For instance, in some communities, economic situations may keep empty nesters in place, which creates a shortage of single-family homes from becoming available for the next generation. In other instances, developers might be focused on single-family dwellings when in actuality more economical apartments or multi-family housing options are in demand. “What we can bring to a community through RCP is the ability to objectively assess the situation and think creatively about how to move the needle for the long term,” says Greco.
While consistent themes have emerged, each community does have its own set of nuanced challenges, and community-specific approaches are still required, says Greco. In Brooklyn Park, for instance, the idea for a community kitchen emerged from a noticeable uptick in fire code violations by various immigrant families who were operating small cottage businesses from their homes and attempting to do commercial-scale cooking in their kitchens. Rather than take a punitive approach to these violations, the city wanted to figure out how to provide what these families needed to maintain their livelihoods.
Part of the work of UM students included researching potential models for a commercial space where individuals could rent time to do their canning or other product preparation. They also researched the demand and financial viability for such a venture, explains Greco. “While the city still needs to make the final decisions on such a project and determine the logistics, student research identifying potential solutions and costs has certainly helped propel new thinking about how to solve a real challenge,” says Greco.
Changing Leadership Culture
The kind of objectivity that UM students provide can also help change how cities approach problem-solving itself, says Greco. The city of Minnetonka, a community of about 60,000 people, is reflective of typical suburban development, complete with subdivisions, cul-de-sacs, and commercial strip malls. As a means to better connect with residents, city government officials wanted to create a neighborhood association structure, and they asked UM to help identify the best process for doing this, including how to fund and manage these organizations.
The students working on this project spent numerous hours talking with residents in coffee shops, libraries, schools, and community centers. What they found was that most residents didn’t consider themselves as living in a neighborhood with particular geographic boundaries, says Greco. “Ultimately, the students working on this project across multiple UM courses all arrived at the same recommendation: Don’t do this.” They argued that the most effective neighborhood organizations are created organically. Trying to impose an artificial structure using a top-down approach wouldn’t work. Instead, the students proposed an alternate structure for engaging with residents using a beehive metaphor, notes Greco. “In the same way bees cluster around hives, people have their specific nodes of activity that connect them, whether it’s parents whose kids play soccer at the same school, or a group of biking enthusiasts who get together on weekends for a ride,” says Greco. The students proposed trying to instead capitalize on existing social networks.
The city adopted this beehive concept and ran with it, and it has changed the culture for how the city now approaches outreach, says Greco. Rather than trying to get people to come to city hall to share their opinions, the city is instead going to where residents naturally cluster—those same local coffee shops, libraries, schools, and community centers that UM students visited, says Greco. “Of all the projects that we worked on with the city, this beehive metaphor is what they have referenced most in follow-up conversations with us.”
The spectrum of changes impacting local communities is vast. Building resilience in a community context has to recognize that change is occurring—whether political, environmental, demographic, or financial—and it requires that governments think more critically about where to invest their resources, argues Greco. “What we’re trying to do through this program is to help communities take what they see as a threat or liability and leverage that to become more adaptive, making changes that will help them thrive under new circumstances.”
One of the beneficial components of RCP is that the program is not housed within a particular college, notes Greco. “We have access to any department anywhere at the university. This is important, because a project may seem straightforward at first, but then as we talk with community members during our advance work, we may find that a civil engineering problem also requires an educational component.” For instance, a storm water improvement might be even more effective if property owners are informed about what they can do to reduce fertilizer use or avoid runoff. To help solve that issue, education faculty and students can develop information materials for homeowners and course materials for an adult education turf management class so that commercial landscapers and irrigation companies understand how frequently to water lawns or the preferred species to plant that require less water or fertilizer, explains Greco. “It’s not uncommon to end up matching a single project with classes from four or five different departments over the course of the year.”
Building resilience also requires thinking outside of traditional silos, says Greco. “Our approach to reframing issues from different disciplinary perspectives can also help break down silos within city governments, where departments that traditionally did not work together now see reason to interact.”
Having gone through multiple iterations of this process working with different communities, Greco is currently assessing how the university might continue to raise the bar with RCP. “One potential direction may be to identify key areas where we know that the university has deep capacity and encourage communities to focus project proposals around those areas,” says Greco. Another idea is to create cohorts of communities that together try to address a particular common concern. “This may be one way the program can evolve to involve more communities and become more than a yearlong project,” says Greco. “As a land-grant university, we see much of what we do as outreach, and RCP is another example of the kind of engaged research we can provide that improves the lives of residents, and in turn, further advances our own academic capacity in ways that are targeted back to the needs and concerns of our communities.”
Dickinson College: Quantifying Resilience
In spring 2016, the Greater Carlisle Project steering committee began a conversation around the city’s comprehensive plan, which borough officials were in the process of revising. “Within our group, there was a sense that something was missing, that we needed a more cohesive, integrated way of thinking about our community,” says Neil Leary, director of the Center for Sustainability Education at Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pa. He also serves on the steering committee of the Greater Carlisle Project, an association of community, health, business, nonprofit, and faith organizations working together to make the borough and its surrounding area a better place to live. According to Leary, committee members realized that what was missing from the plan was the concept of resiliency, of enabling the community to deal with stresses that might negatively affect it—like the loss of a major employer—and remain strong despite any adversity.
Following that conversation about how the city could incorporate resilience into its comprehensive plan, Leary pondered how he might spearhead a joint effort between the college and the community for that purpose. That summer, he attended a workshop of the National Academy of Sciences where he heard about the City Resilience Index, a tool developed for The Rockefeller Foundation by Arup International—a firm of designers, planners, architects, and engineers—for tracking the health of urban systems.
“I contacted Arup and the foundation to ask permission to use the index as part of a course I teach. There was some initial skepticism about doing so because of the size of our city,” says Leary. At that time, the tool was still under development and the dozen or so locations testing it were larger urban environments and major metro areas around the world. With a population of roughly 19,000, Carlisle wasn’t exactly an ideal test case for the group, admits Leary, but he persisted. “After providing more details about our community and the work I had done internationally with climate adaptation and resilience and connecting ecological concerns with human and social system concerns, I convinced them that Carlisle could provide a good test of their methodology for a smaller community,” says Leary.
Perception Versus Reality
For that fall 2016 semester, Leary offered his course on building sustainable communities. He divided the 16 students into four teams to assess Carlisle’s current level of resilience based on the index tool. Student teams went to work collecting data related to more than 150 questions. As part of that process, students interviewed community members working in a variety of disciplines, including borough officials, local health professionals, nonprofit staff members, public school administrators, and many more. This provided a valuable opportunity for students to interface with community members, gaining exposure to a variety of professional fields and allowing the community to experience the college in a new way, says Leary.
Based on their field work, the students produced reports with detailed quantitative and qualitative data. At that point, students hosted a workshop with the Greater Carlisle Project to share their findings and validate their assessments. By and large, student research matched perceptions of community members who were in a position to know the details, says Leary. One example where workshop participants felt students had slightly missed the mark was giving insufficient weight to the most vulnerable members of the community—minority, jobless, and homeless populations—with regard to the supply of affordable housing, access to health care, and food security, and so they made suggestions for students to modify their findings.
The process also validated Carlisle’s strengths, including the presence of a diverse set of community service organizations for a town its size, says Leary. “Overall our population is fairly diverse and our economy is pretty strong, with good jobs and livelihoods.” Another strength: a significant presence of higher education. In addition to Dickinson College, Carlisle is home to Penn State’s Dickinson Law school and the U.S. Army War College, each serving as a strong anchor for other business and service industries, says Leary. “As a city, we also have good respect for borough staff, good relations between the community and local police, and strong emergency response capability.”
Certain weaknesses were also revealed:
- Student research showed that a significant portion of Carlisle’s population—primarily those who are unemployed, between jobs, or with lower income levels—struggle with access to quality health care, says Leary.
- Additionally, the poverty rate in Carlisle stands at around 15 percent. Statistical findings like this require stepping back to fill in some of the backstory, says Leary.
From 2008 to 2010, three manufacturing plants closed in the Carlisle area, and the borough has since struggled to replace those lost jobs with new positions carrying comparable wages and benefits. The sector most dynamic in the area is trucking and warehousing, explains Leary. “Carlisle sits at the crossroads of a number of major highways, and we are a 10-hour drive from roughly 150 million people—nearly half the U.S. population—making us an ideal East Coast logistics hub for those sectors.” While these industries remain a good producer of economic activity, they tend to generate lower-paying jobs, so this remains a concern, says Leary.
- Although the data don’t suggest this is a significant issue for the greater Carlisle community, another area of potential concern for any community experiencing sustained downward shifts in economic vitality is the potential for a rise in drug addiction and crime. “Because of what we all see happening in pockets around the nation, we know we have to pay attention to these indicators and be proactive in monitoring a variety of related metrics, such as an uptick in emergency ambulatory care,” says Leary.
Plans for Formal Monitoring
College and community resilience efforts continue. Following the fall 2016 course, three students from that course signed up for an independent collaborative research project for the spring 2017 semester that Leary supervised. Students spent another semester focusing on health and well-being and economic and social issues where the fall course efforts indicated some weaknesses. Through additional interviews and focus group discussions, the students ended up with a manageable list of recommendations for monitoring key resilience indicators going forward. These include the percentage of residents without health insurance, and the percentage of children in the community with public versus private insurance. Together these might help gauge whether, for instance, a growing percentage of Carlisle’s population is dependent on Medicaid, notes Leary.
“Our process of using the index did showcase the comprehensive nature of the tool—something that, for a community of our size, we simply wouldn’t have had the resources to complete each year,” says Leary. From a process perspective, students recommended that the local United Way, which conducts periodic community needs assessments, might embed questions in its surveys as a way to begin shaping a more coherent narrative about Carlisle’s overall health. “This is one way we’re hoping we might formalize action around resilience so that we can better think about related issues through a larger lens,” notes Leary. Another student recommendation was to create an online resilience dashboard with information about strengths and vulnerabilities of the community so that borough members and other groups can use the information for their planning efforts.
While nothing has been formalized yet in terms of specific actions to monitor key indicators, Leary is encouraged by the work of students and the Greater Carlisle Project to help lay the groundwork for thinking in a more comprehensive manner about what resilience means for the community. Resilience as a focus is likewise picking up steam in conversations on campus, suggests Leary. “While Dickinson has a strong history of partnering with the community and has been forward leaning on issues like sustainability, our new president has made clear that she wants to become even more deliberative with regard to our civic engagement and more intentional about working with community partners to tackle common challenges.”
New America: Eliminating Digital Isolation
Until recently, Greta Byrum served as director of the Resilient Communities Program at New America, where she remains a senior fellow. The focus of her work at Resilient Communities has been to help re-imagine the way community leaders design, build, and manage systems and infrastructure to support local residents.
In part, what has shaped Byrum’s thinking about resilience is a growing body of social science research on what makes communities thrive, in the midst of stress or disaster. One influential thought leader in this area is New York University Professor of Sociology Eric Klinenberg, notes Byrum. His book Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago (University of Chicago Press, 2002) explored what happened during a weeklong heat wave in Chicago in July 1995 that buckled city streets and resulted in failed electric grids that left many residents without power for days. More than 700 people perished in connection with this event, making it one of the deadliest of such disasters in American history.
In Klinenberg’s account, social breakdown—including the isolation of senior citizens and the abandonment of poor neighborhoods—contributed to high fatality rates. According to Byrum, among Klinenberg’s conclusions is that communities that have strong social ties fare better in disasters, and that relationships make a difference. In the case of Chicago, this included having a place like a community center where people knew to go in a dangerous situation.
That same dynamic of isolation is often present with communication technology, asserts Byrum. “While a lot of attention has been given to first-response channels for firefighters and law enforcement, how can residents in neighborhoods across a city talk to each other and organize in a mutual way in a disaster, especially when it may take time for government response to reach certain neighborhoods?” As in the case of Hurricane Katrina, trust played a big role, says Byrum. “As rescue and response efforts unfolded, we saw individuals who were traditionally suspicious of government or big media disregard evacuation warnings.” Often it was only when a pastor or a block captain or someone who residents knew said they needed to evacuate that they left, adds Byrum. That had a huge impact on the number of lives lost, based in part on the degree of trust people felt.
Byrum’s involvement with New America focused on creating and supporting flexible, resilient communications infrastructure in New York City through the city’s Resiliency Innovations for a Stronger Economy (RISE: NYC) program. New America’s Resilient Networks initiative is one of 11 projects supported by the city’s economic development corporation related to Superstorm Sandy recovery efforts. The block grant supports training, tools, and equipment to develop storm-hardened local Wi-Fi for five Sandy-impacted neighborhoods.
Byrum collaborated on a parallel initiative led by the Detroit Community Technology Project. The focus of Detroit’s Equitable Internet Initiative helps set up neighborhood-level networks in communities with scant or no Internet service. “Even today where residents can afford it, Internet service is too often unavailable in communities where the large telecoms don’t see an investment value,” says Byrum. The recent repeal of net neutrality may only exacerbate the significant gap in access that remains between connected and unconnected neighborhoods for many communities across the United States, adds Byrum.
Not surprising, the unconnected neighborhoods tend to be in poorer communities—the same areas that are often most acutely affected by climate-related events like flooding, says Byrum. “Post-Sandy, there was a realization that it may be most effective to invest in local networks instead of building one larger-scale communication infrastructure.” This more modular approach to a communication infrastructure is akin to what is taking shape on the energy front with the rise of micro-grids, explains Byrum.
Building Local Capacity
The driving concept behind Detroit’s initiative and the Resilient Networks project in New York City is to promote local ownership and management of servers and services. To date in New York, 61 small businesses in five neighborhoods have been vetted and approved for network construction. The program has also trained about 45 “digital stewards,” reports Byrum. These individuals are local residents who are identified and recruited by the community organizations with which Resilient Networks collaborates. “We provide funding for the organizations to offer stipends for classroom training and apprentice work. By the end of their training, these individuals know how to configure and maintain equipment. They also learn valuable customer relations skills so they can serve as liaisons to the small businesses in the community that host the networks as part of each mini-digital ecosystem,” says Byrum.
Investing in the people who are already part of the fabric of local neighborhoods means they are also more likely to maintain a presence in the community and feel an urgency to fix problems when they arise. And, where there is community ownership and control, there also tends to be trust in knowing whom to go to when something goes wrong, says Byrum. “The idea is that in the event of an emergency or weather-related disaster, even if the larger Internet fails, residents can maintain access to local services like chat, file sharing, and blogging, so they can still communicate with others in their neighborhood to know who has water, who is making sure that kids reunite with their parents, and so on,” says Byrum. Maintaining connection also allows local organizing for relief efforts, like gathering a group to check on seniors in public housing.
Getting to the point of actual network construction has been slower than anticipated, admits Byrum. In the meantime, New America has improvised, developing portable network kits. These are essentially Wi-Fi hot spots with local hosting that can also be connected together and scaled up, explains Byrum. “They’ve become so popular that we can’t keep up with demand.” In fact, Resilient Communities is currently raising funds to send staff and kit resources to assist with ongoing recovery efforts in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, says Byrum.
Broadly speaking, projects like Resilient Networks can help change market dynamics by aggregating consumer demand in favor of what benefits citizens at a local level. While the primary focus of the project has been on preparing a communication infrastructure that can endure at a time of crisis, this remains a critical need even in “normal” times, says Byrum. “Communication resilience isn’t only about capacity to maintain connection in the event of an emergency. It’s about equity and opportunity to be part of the digital fabric of society on a daily basis,” she argues.
“Kids still need to do their homework. Adults need to look for and apply for jobs. What we’ve seen in areas with substandard infrastructure or where residents can’t afford to get online, it deepens other inequities and multiplies challenges to every aspect of daily life right down to paying your bills on time,” says Byrum. If your only access to the Internet is to go to your public library for a 30-minute session on a slow terminal, that puts you at a significant disadvantage, notes Byrum. “A lack of access to decent broadband equates to an inability to thrive and participate in our economy and culture.” The reality, asserts Byrum, is that many communities across the country would benefit from an alternative digital marketplace that serves individuals who are most often left out of the consumer equation.
That movement may be gaining momentum. Byrum points to alternate models for connection being explored by a variety of communities, including grassroots networks on the rise in places like Fort Collins, Colo.; St. Louis, Mo.; Santa Monica, Calif.; and Chattanooga, Tenn.
Additionally, some electric cooperatives in Tennessee and Missouri are becoming broadband providers, which should help push access to unserved or underserved areas, notes Byrum. She points to Christopher Mitchell, director of community broadband networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, as one pioneer in this arena. Mitchell also serves as the policy director for Next Century Cities, a national collaboration of mayors and chief information officers seeking universal access to fast, affordable, and reliable Internet networks for their communities.
Byrum believes that there remains a largely untapped opportunity for higher education as well to partner with local communities to ensure that underrepresented populations in their midst can gain access to the digital economy. One possibility might be for colleges and universities to assist with the technology training of residents and small businesses interested in establishing localized networks. Or, it might be providing an option for community members to purchase bandwidth on their Internet2 connections, suggests Byrum. In whatever ways imaginable, Byrum anticipates greater creativity and collaboration on this front going forward involving partners from diverse constituencies that share a mutual goal of leveling the digital playing field for all. And, Byrum may get the opportunity to help forge those new partnerships with higher education firsthand in the role she assumed as of February 2018 as co-director of a new center for digital equity at The New School in New York City.
Portland State University: Planning for Resilience
One of the five goals in the current strategic plan of Portland State University, Portland, Ore., is to innovate for long-term stability. Included in the accompanying initiatives for that goal is to plan for resiliency, says Kevin Reynolds, PSU’s vice president, finance and administration, and interim vice president, research and strategic partnerships. This includes action to “create and implement a comprehensive emergency plan that prepares PSU for natural disasters and other extraordinary occurrences” and “provide the necessary infrastructure to ensure rapid response, ensure safety of the PSU community, and restore critical services.”
Recently, the university sent out RFPs for a new food service provider. Questions included how a provider would address a major disruption to utilities, and what plans it had for providing food in an emergency situation without access to normal facilities, notes Emma Stocker, PSU’s assistant director of emergency management. Stocker was hired in 2016 into a newly created position to contribute to the university’s risk assessment and disaster preparedness and response strategy.
“Planning for resilience requires broad participation from diverse stakeholders who likewise begin to embed resilience as a strategy into their portfolios,” argues Stocker. PSU is currently in the final stages of constructing a new basketball pavilion to open in April 2018, and the newly selected food service provider has joined the planning committee discussions for operations and emergency preparedness. Above and beyond hosting athletic, community, and academic events, the new arena may have a unique role to play during emergency response and recovery. Both the campus and the county are developing plans for the arena to serve as a hub for emergency sheltering operations in the event of an earthquake or other natural disaster. As a multifaceted space it has many of the ideal characteristics, notes Stocker, with both large open areas and smaller adjacent rooms, showers, a prep kitchen, a design that incorporates natural light, and proximity to outdoor open areas.
“In many instances, we’re talking about how to incorporate flexibility to adjust spaces over time or for different needs,” says Jenny McNamara, PSU’s campus sustainability director. “It’s really no different from making a building solar-ready even if you aren’t yet ready to add solar.” While McNamara works on a different “layer” of resilience as she describes it, much of her planning overlaps with Stocker’s efforts, as the two often work closely on different components of a project.
Group Think Required
Planning for resiliency is a relatively new area for many colleges and universities with regard to setting aside funding for capital projects and improvements, notes Reynolds. “It’s an additional perspective we didn’t have in place as few as five years ago.” He relies on Stocker and McNamara to keep him apprised of resilience-related features that might be necessary for building retrofits or new construction—things like incorporating water storage or ramping up backup generator capacity. “There are lots of ways you can plan for resilience with fairly modest cost increases, but you need to make it part of your discussions early on,” says Reynolds. “From a strategic planning perspective, you have to think not only about cash on hand to address an emergency, but also about the additional time required for collaboration and cross-disciplinary planning related to your resilience efforts.”
Stocker concurs. “When considering worst-case scenario response, you need an integrated lens of preparedness.” PSU is also a participating institution in Second Nature’s Climate Resilience in Urban Campuses + Communities program, a multicity initiative supported through a Kresge Foundation grant to accelerate progress in resilience efforts across the nation. This includes evaluating areas of vulnerability, most specifically in connection with long-term or chronic impacts associated with climate change, notes McNamara. “Like a growing number of urban areas across the U.S., Portland has been experiencing an uptick in longer, hotter summers, and efforts are underway to identify potential cooling centers for local residents.”
Dealing With Dichotomies
PSU routinely works in close partnership with city government and nonprofit and private sector groups on issues related to transit, air quality, the local food economy, green infrastructure, and flooding mitigation to improve quality of life in the region. As one example, the university collaborated with the city to develop a “resiliency app” that integrates data regarding temperature and air quality at a neighborhood scale. The tool has been used to flag potential heat islands across the metro region, in part to identify where tree cover might be added to mitigate the impacts of sustained higher temperatures. That work has likewise provided operational planning benefits for the campus. “Fifty years from now, what kind of campus landscape will be most beneficial?” asks McNamara.
Collaboration with faculty and students on a comprehensive tree inventory to track and manage the university’s urban canopy is another example of the kind of cross-disciplinary conversation required for resiliency planning, suggests McNamara. “Preserving a healthy and diverse tree canopy will help alleviate the impacts of increasingly hot temperatures and support wildlife at risk in future conditions, at the same time as we continue the work of slowing climate change through carbon sequestration.” McNamara admits she sometimes feels a tension in trying to reconcile a mindset focused on prevention of climate change with a mindset of adapting to a planet where changes in climate are already underway. “The reality is that I have a responsibility to be active on both fronts of mitigation and adaptation,” says McNamara.
For Stocker, resilience demands a continual focus on adapting to change. That said, the preservation of natural and built environments and social and economic concerns are all at the forefront of Stocker’s mind as she assesses response scenarios related to any number of acute incidents that might require evacuation or sheltering in place for the university community.
As Reynolds sees it, chief business officers have numerous immediate short-term issues and challenges to deal with. “But, we must not lose sight that we also have a fiduciary responsibility for longevity of the institution, and thus, to make a clear commitment to the resilience of our people and place,” says Reynolds. “If we as chief business officers are not preparing daily for potential disruptions of any kind, we are being remiss in our duties.”
KARLA HIGNITE, New York City, is a contributing editor for Business Officer.