Designing Resilience: Preparing for Extreme Events

David A. McEntire (Emergency Administration and Planning, University of North Texas, Denton, Texas, USA)

International Journal of Disaster Resilience in the Built Environment

ISSN: 1759-5908

Article publication date: 19 July 2011



McEntire, D.A. (2011), "Designing Resilience: Preparing for Extreme Events", International Journal of Disaster Resilience in the Built Environment, Vol. 2 No. 2, pp. 178-180.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Designing Resilience: Preparing for Extreme Events is a timely publication edited by Comfort et al. (2010a). This 349 page book, which is available from the University of Pittsburgh Press, follows up on the work of Wildavsky (1988), Kendra and Wachtendorf (2003) and Manyena (2006) and others who are interested in the concept of resilience. Designing Resilience is a key resource for anyone involved in disasters and emergency management. Students, scholars and practitioners will glean much from the valuable discussion provided by the contributing authors.

The concept of resilience is defined in the book as “the capacity of a social system (e.g. an organization, city, or society) to proactively adapt to and recover from disturbances that are perceived within the system to fall outside the range of normal and expected disturbances” (Boin et al., 2010, p. 9). While “the term resilience has many meanings in academic discourse,” it frequently suggests an ability to “bounce back” (de Bruijine et al., 2010, p. 13). A debate is unfolding about the meaning of resilience, but there is no doubt that it “has become a fashionable buzzword in recent years” (Boin et al., 2010, p. 1). Designing Resilience therefore adds to the burgeoning literature and advances the state of knowledge on this important topic.

There are several distinct strengths associated with the dialogue in Designing Resilience. First, the book is written by well‐respected scholars who are leaders in the field. These authors come from around the world and represent various disciplines such as computer science, disaster management, international relations, law, political science, public administration, public policy, and other fields. Consequently, several areas of expertise are covered in the volume including disaster planning, crisis management, earthquakes, critical infrastructure, national security, disaster policy, sociology, vulnerability, wireless networks, post‐conflict reconstruction and environmental management.

A second advantage of the book is the breadth of topics explored in the chapters. Designing Resilience begins with an overview of the tome and investigates the nature of the concept. It then addresses lessons from the military, government response capacity, disaster policy, transportation issues, international relief coordination and other subjects. The book concludes with a reflective chapter that also anticipates the future of resilience. The countless examples and case studies – ranging from utilities, avian flu and terrorist attacks to the 2004 Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina – are other accomplishments of the book.

The most significant contribution of Designing Resilience pertains to the identification of factors that enhance resilience. Such variables are improvisation, careful information management, a supportive political culture and the assistance of the armed forces. Other facilitators include organizational learning, effective communications, leadership skills, cooperation, computer technology, networking, cognitive processing, and even luck! Such factors are argued to foster theoretical development and improve policy implementation.

In spite of the obvious advances generated by Designing Resilience, the editors admit that their work is but a “first step” in the promotion of our understanding and pursuit of resilience (Comfort et al., 2010b, p. 284). Those reading this book may subsequently ponder questions that should be addressed in future research. For instance:

  • Is resilience a proactive or reactive concept?

  • What are the assumptions of resilience? Are they logical and are they applicable to all variables associated with disasters?

  • Can consensus over a definition of resilience be reached?

  • Do all disaster disciplines advance the concept of resilience?

  • Is resilience related to all types of hazards and all participants in emergency management?

  • Is resilience a top down, bottom up, or blended approach?

  • Is resilience applicable to all levels of analysis (e.g. individual, organizational, national, global)?

  • Does resilience incorporate each aspect of prevention, protection, mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery?

  • What is the relation of resilience to other historically popular concepts such as risk, resistance and sustainable development?

  • Is resilience completely isolated from vulnerability, or are they opposite sides of the same disaster phenomena?

  • Are there degrees of resilience and does the concept capture the complexity of today's disasters?

As can be seen, Designing Resilience opens up ample research agendas for future scholarship which cannot possibly be met in any single book. Nevertheless, Comfort et al. (2010b, p. 284) are correct to note that disasters are changing and we need a new approach. For this reason, their work will be a classic text on this subject. Designing Resilience is highly recommended for disaster scholars and emergency management professionals alike.


Boin, A., Comfort, L.K. and Demchak, C.C. (2010), “The rise of resilience”, in Comfort, L.K., Boin, A. and Demchak, C.C. (Eds), Designing Resilience: Preparing for Extreme Events, University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA, pp. 112.

Comfort, L.K., Boin, A. and Demchak, C.C. (2010a), Designing Resilience: Preparing for Extreme Events, University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA.

Comfort, L.K., Boin, A. and Demchak, C.C. (2010b), “Resilience revisited: an action agenda for management”, in Comfort, L.K., Boin, A. and Demchak, C.C. (Eds), Designing Resilience: Preparing for Extreme Events, University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA, pp. 27284.

de Bruijine, M., Boin, A. and van Eeten, M. (2010), “Resilience: exploring the concept and its meanings”, in Comfort, L.K., Boin, A. and Demchak, C.C. (Eds), Designing Resilience: Preparing for Extreme Events, University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA, pp. 1332.

Kendra, J.M. and Wachtendorf, T. (2003), “Elements of resilience after the World Trade Center disaster: reconstituting New York city's emergency operations center”, Disasters, Vol. 27 No. 1, pp. 3753.

Manyena, S.B. (2006), “The concept of resilience revisited”, Disasters, Vol. 30, pp. 43450.

Wildavsky, A.B. (1988), Searching for Safety, Transaction, New Brunswick, NJ.

Related articles