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Infrastructure: A Basis for 360 Degree Resiliency?

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Daniel G. Bauer
August 8, 2019

A proliferate number of frameworks dot the infrastructure public policy and program countryside. Oftentimes to the casual observer, as well as the dedicated professional, confusion reigns supreme. Measuring performance and establishing standards seem to compete for the right to be first choice. Part of the confusion may stem from the inconsistencies in the definitions of the terms. What is infrastructure? What type of infrastructure? Is the infrastructure, physical or technological, blue or grey or green? Furthermore, what is resilience? How does one meaningfully measure performance? Resilience: over what period of time should performance be assessed?

All of these questions emanate from the use of just two terms: infrastructure and resilience. An overview of definitions represents a valid starting point for infrastructure serving as the fundamental basis for a 360 degree view of resilience, which is the argument proffered herein.

Historically, a popular dictionary (Merriam-Webster) definition defined resilience as, “The ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” The 2019 Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s first definition for resilience is, “The capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress,” while the aforementioned is the second definition. As public administrators and social scientists, both groups are concerned about social elements and therefore, community can serve as an application of resilience. Looking beyond the definitions, examples of infrastructure-based community resilience may include affordable housing, children’s classrooms and local businesses in addition to the classical infrastructure consisting of electricity flow and water flow.

An increasingly significant supporting argument for the premise that infrastructure is the beginning and end of 360 degree resiliency is the issue of security. Security in the form of asset protection has moved front and center stage. The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) 2009 National Infrastructure Plan: Partnering to Enhance Protection and Resiliency defined resilience as, “The ability to resist, absorb, recover from or successfully adapt to adversity or a change in conditions.” DHS defined the term asset as, “A person, structure, facility, information, material or process that has value.”

As standard universally applicable definitions for resiliency do not exist, at least over the past decade, the broad-based application of resiliency now encompasses security, public safety, cybersecurity, human resources and physical assets such as infrastructure. The next scholarly inquiry would be to wonder whether infrastructure public policy has fallen behind, kept pace or trend-lined on an increasingly upward trajectory.

In 2012, in a report titled Critical Infrastructure Resilience: The Evolution of Policy and Programs and Issues for Congress, author John Moteff argued that infrastructure and resilience were intertwined, stating that, “Policy has evolved to the point that resilience and protection of critical infrastructure assets are recognized as distinct options to be equally considered.” Moteff furthers the issue by reporting that comparing assets’ level of resilience to other assets allows for analysis of how certain improvements might contribute to better resilience.

The fact that infrastructure is not just defined as measurable assets allows for a whole host of measurements regarding resilience performance.

Two entities eased infrastructure’s transition from a static measurement to a dynamic measurement. In 2014 the Infrastructure Resiliency Division was created and established by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). The ASCE focuses its efforts on improving civil infrastructure resilience and lifeline systems to all hazards. Seven categories comprise the division efforts including:

1). Civil infrastructure and lifeline systems

2). Disaster assessments

3). Community resilience

4). Emerging technologies

5). Multi-hazard characterization

6). Risk and resilience management

7). Social and economic impacts.

The second entity the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a non-regulatory agency of the United States Department of Commerce, establishes standards and steps for evaluating infrastructure resiliency in communities. The Institute created a six step process to planning for community resilience. These steps consist of:

  • Forming a collaborative planning team.
  • Understanding the situation.
  • Determining goals and objectives.
  • Planning development.
  • Planning preparation, review and approval.
  • Planning implementation and maintenance.

The community resilience planning guide provides an approach for communities to set priorities and allocate resources while managing risks associated with prevailing hazards. Communities undertake an inventory count of both physical and social infrastructure. This article represents part one of two parts covering infrastructure and 360 degree resiliency. The second part will apply the seven activities by juxtaposing the six steps for an actual community case study. The message herein is that comparisons of infrastructure and resilience among and between communities needs to be exact especially considering performance measurements. Tying the performance loop back to the beginning allows measurements to be comparable, delivering value in Moteff’s claim that certain improvements in infrastructure resilience might contribute value. Or else competing sets of standards and development of infrastructure resilience footprint(s) may be stepping on some policy toes.


Author: Daniel G. Bauer is finishing his Doctorate at the School of Public Administration at Florida Atlantic University. Mr. Bauer, formerly Managing Director of the Public Procurement Research Center, has an Executive MBA from the College of Business at Florida Atlantic University and a BBA in Finance from University of Toledo College of Business. Daniel has 20+ years of professional experience in both telecommunications and energy renewables domestically and abroad. His research areas focus on finding solutions at the confluence of financing, procurement/supply chain, organizational behavior, sustainability, and social responsibility. Please reach out to him at [email protected]

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