re·sil·ience (noun) the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after an adverse and/or disruptive event–Merriam Webster Dictionary. Please hang on to that definition. We’ll need it soon.
But first, and a first for me, a personal note. Apologies all around, for it has been almost six months since my last post. A lot has happened in that relatively brief–in the annals of history, anyway–time, both personally and professionally. Personally, after 51 years, I am for the first time since I was 9 months old no longer a resident of northwest Louisiana. Although I’ve traveled the world, and “lived” on the west coast for almost three years, I never moved my permanent address from that little corner of the globe. All that changed in May, when due to an unfortunate change in my life, I decided to make a change of residence as well, and moved 300 miles south to New Orleans.
The move made sense, as my work in disaster recovery began with Katrina, and New Orleans is known worldwide for that series of horrific events–the hurricane, the resulting flood, the much-criticized response, and the long recovery that was initially vilified, then in recent years, praised. There is no doubt in my mind that New Orleans is a different city. There is a new energy there, a new spirit. It is still New Orleans (I live a half-block behind the French Quarter), but it has a new sense of purpose. New Orleanians were always proud of their unique, non-conformist city. But now they also take great pride in their resilience–their ability to come back, to rebuild, and the measures taken to ensure that the multiple tragedies that occurred never happen again.
Hurricane Isaac tested that claim, and although it was not as powerful as Katrina, it’s persistence would have resulted in much worse damage before New Orleans, and all of us through the U.S. Government, invested in flood protection measures. Add to that my friend Belinda Little-Wood’s relentless pursuit of a large project to establish THE International Resilience Center at the massive former Naval Support Administration facility near the Bywater area, a bold and attainable quest, and resilience takes on the persona of an economic development initiative.
Resilience–a theme not only of business commercials on local television, but a central theme of my friend Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s bid for reelection (guess I’m plowing two new rows of ground by saying I’m politically Independent but think Mitch has done a terrific job and I am absolutely supporting him). Yes, resilience, or as some say, resiliency, is a very popular word, and not just in New Orleans. In fact, it is in danger-danger of quickly moving into the purgatory of any word denoting a great idea that suffers from overuse and, worse, misuse–BUZZWORD.
That fact was made clear in a meeting I recently attended with an executive of one of the largest reinsurance companies in the world in Washington, who cautioned of its overuse and frequent misrepresentation. His words stung, for the meeting I had requested was to ask for input into the University of Oklahoma’s new International Resilience Institute, which I am honored to be co-developing and implementing. The Institute will provide practical, hands-on graduate-level certificate training in both resisting to and recovering from adverse events of all types.
I had met the previous day with representatives of the United Nations and a global foundation, who had given positive feedback and tentative support. Feeling emboldened and confident, going into the meeting, I was a bit shaken thinking that my client and I had chosen a “buzzword” for such an important initiative. Later, I realized that was exactly the point of the Institute–to impart knowledge and deepen understanding of exactly what resilience is, and (as importantly) what it is not, in fact, to prevent the word from misuse. The Institute, working in collaboration with efforts of the UN, other Non-Governmental Organizations, major foundations, and the private sector, should greatly lessen the danger of resilience becoming yet another “B” word.
Many may not realize that the University of Oklahoma is the home of both the National Severe Storms Research Center (NSSRC) and the National Storm Prediction Center (NSPC). While not under the University’s control, there is a close relationship between these centers, and the University does control the Center for Terrorism and Disaster at the Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, which deals with emotional damage from these acts.
As the host of the NSSRC and NSPC, and overseer of the CTD, the University of Oklahoma is ideally suited to launch a comprehensive teaching, research, and development initiative like the International Resilience Institute. The University, commonly known as OU, runs one of the largest continuing education effort in the nation, and reportedly is involved over 70 international continuing education partnerships. OU also owns and administers the Economic Development Institute, widely regarded as the premier economic development graduate education program.
The University of Oklahoma International Resilience institute, abbreviated to OU/IRI, would focus on the major components of disaster and/or disruption resilience, providing classroom instruction, interactive, real-life learning through scenarios and case studies, and applied research & development through the NSSRC and CTD. The Institute would be funded through a combination of student tuition fees, grants, and corporate support. A curriculum is now being developed by a prominent national leader in disaster recovery, and a website is under development. Watch for more to come on this very exciting initiative, which has an ambitious agenda to hold its first session in the fall of 2014.
Hopefully, OU/IRI and other efforts by colleagues throughout the disaster and disruption universe will ensure that this tremendously important word–Resilience–that can mean so much to so many, does not become relegated to the wasteland of the buzzword. Economies, physical assets, and indeed lives. are at stake. Stay tuned for more on OU/IRI, economic and social recovery, and, yes, RESILIENCE.