One Lab’s Mission: Resilience Research

By Lilly Chapa

Hajjar says he focuses most of his research on resilience—developing structural systems that can bounce back quickly after an extreme event. “Most structures are designed now to have little damage in light events, reparable structural damage in moderate events, and significant damage in major events—so significant that the buildings might have to be condemned,” Hajjar tells Security Management. “This is an issue of cost effectiveness, ostensibly. We’re trying to develop cost-effective methods that allow the structures to bounce back quite quickly after the event…rather than being condemned.”

The focus on resilience is not a new approach to homeland security. In 2006, the Critical Infrastructure Task Force, which was appointed by the Homeland Security Advisory Council, initiated a public policy debate, arguing that the government’s critical infrastructure policies were focused too much on protecting assets from terrorist attacks and not focused enough on improving the resilience of assets against a variety of threats.

Since then, homeland defense policy has evolved—to an extent—to support efforts of improving critical infrastructure. The Office of Infrastructure Protection within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has created a resilience index to be applied to assets, and the DHS Science and Technology Directorate supports resilience-related research. However, there is little direct government support for private sector organizations to implement resilience-oriented measures, according to a 2012 report.

The leaders at the Kostas Institute want to further shift the focus of homeland security solutions from one of pinpointing threats to one of developing and enhancing adaptability.

“The overarching goal is to ensure the continuity of the critical functions and services that these systems provide, versus a focus on the protection of assets,” Flynn explains. “It’s a pivot away from the whack-a-mole effort to identify the threat and threatened and muster a protective measure against that. It steps back and looks at the critical systems we have within our society and how they can manage the full range of risk, from man-made, like terrorism, to accidental, like the kind of disruption that we saw with Hurricane Sandy.”



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