What is resilience?

The term resilience has been around for some time.  The Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary defines it as the ability “….(of a substance) to recoil, spring back, resume its original shape after bending, stretching and compression; and (of a person) to readily recover from shock or depression; buoyant.”

The concept of resilience has recently migrated from the fields of engineering and the environment to address the capacity of individuals, families, communities and institutions to withstand and recover from catastrophic events and experiences.  It is used to describe the ability of society to accommodate the unexpected, to adapt, to judiciously engage with catastrophic events, and in some cases to become stronger as a result of the experience.

The term is being used more frequently by government officials, the emergency services and the media in this country to describe the nation’s innate resilience and its ability to cope in the face of adversity.

Despite its growing use there is no agreed national or international definition of resilience, and there no common understanding on how society can become more resilient and therefore better able to respond to, and recover from disruptive challenges. The purpose of the Institute is to address these issues by conducting advanced research, by providing improved management tools and operational assistance, and by delivering management education and training.

What is a disruptive challenge?

Disruptive challenges (or events) are incidents, including natural and human made disasters, which overwhelm local disaster management capabilities and plans.

Why is the concept of resilience important to Australia?

Australia has historically been vulnerable to natural hazards, in particular to tropical cyclones, bushfire and droughts. As a result of climate change, such disasters are likely to become larger, more frequent, more complex and occur in areas that had not previously been affected.  Furthermore, our society is becoming ever more complex and our organisational systems, including the public and private sectors and civil society, are becoming more interdependent and thus more vulnerable to disruption. If not properly managed, disruptive events can escalate into an emergency, crisis, or even a disaster.

What is humanitarian resilience?

Humanitarian resilience addresses the particular challenges from natural and human made disasters with a humanitarian impact. This impact may be sudden and overwhelming such as the 2004/05 tsunami in South East Asia. It may also be caused by disasters with a slow onset, initially less apparent and with long lasting humanitarian implications. Such disasters can involve explosive remnants of war, the uncontrolled ownership and use of small arms and light weapons, AIDS, de-forestation and global warming.

Is the Federal Government interested in resilience?

On 4 December 2008 in his first national security statement to Parliament, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd defined the security of Australia and its people in a broad sense to include threats to human security other than attacks from foreign states and terrorist acts.  Such non-traditional threats include attacks on critical infrastructure and information systems, transnational crime including the trafficking of people, drugs and arms, and the impact of climate change which may bring unregulated population movements, declining food production, reductions in arable land, violent weather patterns and resulting catastrophic events.

In response to these new and growing challenges Prime Minister Rudd raised the issue of resilience three times in his speech.  He stated that:

(1)    “Effective mitigation of terrorist attacks involves the combination of an appropriate security response with broader strategies to enhance social cohesion and resilience and lessen the appeal of radical ideology.”

(2)    “One of the fundamental assets we have to promote our national security objectives is our underlying strength, resilience and cohesion as a nation. Through community engagement we can achieve important national security outcomes ranging from sustaining support for our forces deployed overseas, undermining the influence of violent ideologies and preserving the social cohesion of our diverse society. Just as neighbourhood watch programs promote security at a local level, so we recognise the contribution all Australians can make to promoting security at a national level.”

(3)    “In Australia we have a strong tradition of volunteering to support our communities, especially in times of emergency, demonstrating the innate resilience and collective responsibility we all share as Australians.  This trait is a great strength within our community, a strength the Government will continue to encourage and nurture for the future.”

Who is responsible for developing national resilience?

A number of agencies, organisations and individuals are responsible for building resilience.  Local authorities and the emergency services (police, fire authorities and ambulance services) are responsible for identifying and assessing the risks, developing contingency and emergency plans, testing these plans, and providing information to the public. Utilities (electricity, gas, water and telephone service providers), transport (railways, bus companies, airports, highways and ports) and health bodies are responsible for cooperating with local authorities and the emergency services in developing and proving plans.

Organisations in the public and private sectors are responsible for developing management systems which will assist in establishing the procedures and processes, training requirements, metrics to measure performance and demonstrate success, and systems for improving organisational performance in managing disruptive events. A national standard is currently being developed in Australia to assist organisations build their own resilience.  The Institute has been invited to assist in the development of the standard.

At the Federal Government level, the National Security Resilience Policy Division of the Attorney-General’s Department is responsible for developing the policy, legislation, advice and programs aimed at building national resilience against the full range of natural and human-made disasters. This includes critical infrastructure protection, chemical, electronic and identity security, and protective security policy.

What is the purpose of the Institute?

The Institute has been established in Adelaide to improve the capacity of organisations and societies to respond to disruptive challenges which have the potential to overwhelm local disaster management capabilities and plans.  We aim to be a national and international centre of excellence through the development of advanced thinking in the concept of resilience.

Our mission is to assist the Federal and State Governments, the emergency services, organisations and civil society enhance their leadership and management capabilities, and thus enable them to prepare for, and respond better to, disruptive challenges.

What does the Institute do?

Essentially, the Institute conducts three categories of work: research, operational support, and management training:

(1)    We aim to conduct high quality research that will enable informed decisions to be taken on policy, and will assist the development of resilient systems, procedures and practice. Applied research into the concept of resilience will provide the intellectual foundations upon which practical solutions can be developed, and will provide academic rigour and discipline to subjects which have previously been seen as a technical response to local and national disasters.

(2)    We provide information, management tools and specialist advice to the Federal and State Governments, the emergency services and organisations in Australia to enhance their management capabilities. This includes an on-line library of reports, papers and key references on resilience and other related subjects including crisis management, business continuity, corporate security, counter-terrorism, information assurance, human security, behavioural change and societal resilience.

(3)    We provide education, training and resilience-focused workshops and seminars with the aim of increasing the knowledge and skills of individual leaders and managers. We work with other organisations which specialise in vocational training, but our main emphasis will be on post-graduate education and the training of professional managers who need to apply rigorous academic thought to practical problems in their sector.

Is resilience part of security?

The terms security and resilience are often used together, in particular at the national level. Both share common roots and requirements: the need to assess threats and vulnerabilities; the need to develop plans and procedures; and the need to have access to accurate and timely information.

There are advantages in bringing together national security and resilience. First, the large investment which governments are making in national security, such as hardening their country’s critical infrastructure including utilities and transport, is also making each country more resilient. Also, by bringing together resilience and national security, governments are better able to encourage a greater degree of standardisation and interoperability between first responders such as the police, fire authorities, health bodies and volunteer emergency services.

There are, however, significant areas of difference and departure between national security and resilience. The threats to national security are usually inspired by the security forces or agents of other countries, terrorists or anarchists who aim to destabilise a government and its people, and national security aims to block or defeat such threats. In contrast, resilience involves an ongoing process of assessing a broad range of risks and threats, preparing to face such threats, accepting that some threats will become disruptive events, reducing the impact of events when they occur, and then recovering afterwards.

Why the Torrens Resilience Institute?

Sir Robert Torrens, South Australia's third Premier, introduced the Real Property Act in 1858 which established a new system of land transfer through one document recorded at a single registry. This simplified the existing requirements and allowed ownership to be easily identified through the registration of the certificate of title. The Torrens model is now used throughout Australia and has been widely adopted by many other countries including the UK and USA.

It is hoped that the Institute will follow the lead of Sir Robert by developing an improved understanding of the concept of resilience and by developing management tools that will have real operational impact at the State, Federal Government and international levels.

What is Food Defence?

Food Defence fact sheets:  Food Defence (PDF 1MB)

Food Defence Newsletter - September 2018:  Let's Talk Food Defence (PDF 2MB)