Book Reviews

Book Cover  Designing Resilience

Book Cover – Designing Resilience

Designing Resilience

by Louise K. Comfort, Arjen Boin, and Chris C. Demchak, (eds )
Pittsburg, PA: University of Pittsburg Press, 2010.
349 pages, $US 32.50
ISBN-10 0822960613

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Reviewed by Bernd Horn

The subject of resilience has recently become a relatively hot topic. This is not surprising, considering the plethora of traumatic events that seem to inundate modern societies. From pandemics and horrific mass casualty terrorist attacks, to natural disasters such as Tsunamis, flooding, wild fires, and a record number of hurricanes and tornados, the earth’s citizens are increasingly faced with overwhelming shock. As a result, the concept of resiliency and its applicability has spread from a military or emergency services worker focus to a broader encompassing application.

As such, Designing Resilience, which is based upon papers stemming from two international workshops on the subject, tackles the complexity of resilience, and attempts to fill the knowledge void in this field. Specifically, it examines the characteristics, causes, consequences, and measurement of resilience. As the editors clearly state, the collection of essays “… presents us with a clear understanding of what resilience is – and what it is not.” 

The underlying definition of resiliency in the book is given as “… the measure of a system’s, or part of a system’s, capacity to absorb and recover from the occurrence of a hazardous event.”  The book consists of 14 chapters that address various aspects of resiliency. Topics range from a discussion of the concept itself, to designing governmental policy, lessons learned, and designing societal disaster resiliency strategies.

The book is very well written, although the reader must be warned that many chapters are technical in nature and scientifically based. Nonetheless, all are logical, well-laid out, and easy to follow.  Many include graphs and charts that assist the reader with absorbing the concepts and arguments put forward.

Although the work specifically covers resiliency, this book is not for those looking for solutions to individual or small team resiliency. Rather, it is aimed more at the organizational level. In fact, it focuses upon dealing with large-scale societal responses to catastrophic events.  Importantly, it provides some excellent case studies such as Hurricane Katrina and ‘7/7,’ – the London subway bombings.  In all cases, the various contributors provide important lessons and observations, as well as interesting statistics, such as the amount of money spent on security; the percentage of Muslims who are estimated to sympathize with violent response to world political events; and the number and types of casualties stemming from the respective disasters covered.

In sum, the volume is an excellent scholarly work dealing with resilience in the context of catastrophic societal events. The chapters, as already noted, are well written and researched.  The contributors are, on the whole, scholars focusing upon emergency management and/or crisis/disaster response. The book includes an extensive, detailed list of references provides the reader with an excellent starting point for further examination, if desired.  Moreover, the book contains a comprehensive index. In the end, this publication is a great resource for anyone interested in resiliency whether their focus is at the individual, organizational, or societal level.
Colonel Bernd Horn, OMM, MSM, CD, PhD, is the Chief of Staff Strategic Education and Training Programs at the Canadian Defence Academy. He is also an Adjunct Professor of History at the Royal Military College of Canada.