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Resilience: From the Ground Up

Ernie Edgar | 26 Jan 2016 | Comments

The 2020 Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) Strategic Plan, published in the Jan-Feb 2016 issue of the Military Engineer, included articles by several National Board of Direction members discussing how the plan was developed and how it will be implemented. Atkins' Ernie Edgar, Chair of The Infrastructure Security Partnership (TISP) Council, shared his view on SAME's resilience goal.

The fourth goal of the 2020 SAME Strategic Plan is Resilience, which rightly reflects where we—as engineering professionals and as a nation—need to be in this time in our history. Our nation relies on the infrastructure that engineers plan, design and enable every day. This country and our built environment must be resilient in the face of natural and man-made hazards. We all have a stake and a voice in achieving that objective.

Resilience at its most intuitive is the ability to “take a punch” and keep performing to some level. In the built environment of today’s America, infrastructure systems are tied together and interdependent. We have seen the loss or failure of infrastructure systems in one geographic location dramatically affect the economy many states away. To be resilient, we must understand our vulnerabilities, know how these vulnerabilities affect others, then develop solutions to mitigate the impacts when vulnerabilities become failures.

Achieving resilience is a national goal but achievement must begin locally. A disaster event, whether national or man-made, is fundamentally local. It is in the crucible of the disaster that we measure our resilience. How did the infrastructure perform? What failed? How soon can it be back online? To what extent can local residents get back to “normal” and how much help do they need? But the work of building resilience into our infrastructure and ourselves must take place beforehand.

Achieving resilience also must recognize that the overwhelming proportion of our built environment is privately held, which means that solutions are not purely governmental in nature. 

In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, SAME helped found The Infrastructure Security Partnership (TISP). Since then, TISP has facilitated dialogue that has led to resilience as a national goal. Specifically, TISP has provided thought leadership that defines our threat in an all-hazards context; pioneered resilience concepts; published two editions of its Regional Disaster Resilience Guide; and provided key inputs to the National Infrastructure Protection Plan. TISP also annually hosts a Critical Infrastructure Symposium (the next being held in April in Charleston, S.C.) that brings together government, industry and academia to advance resilience.

In 2015, TISP was integrated into SAME as a Council. Now SAME, through its Posts, is ideally suited to foster resilience locally and provide real-world feedback to policymakers at the national level to develop proactive solutions for the built environment.

This article was originally published in the January - February 2016 issue of The Military Engineer (TME) and republished with kind permission of the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME). Read the complete issue and 2020 SAME Strategic Plan here.