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Military Climate Resilience Planning and Contemporary Systems Thinking

Published onMar 30, 2018
Military Climate Resilience Planning and Contemporary Systems Thinking

(Header Image: Military planners would benefit from incorporating contemporary and regional concepts into their resilience planning. Source: U.S. Air Force)


This paper establishes the nexus of climate change adaptation with military resilience planning and reviews the historic and interdisciplinary use of resilience as a concept. Then, it focuses on the current and particular definition of resilience utilized by the military and explores what the military might learn from urban planning and non-military versions of resilience. The paper examines the military and security agency planners focus on engineering resilience at the project level, and then at the system level, and identifies a gap in planning for resilience at the community (or regional) levels in the current military planning paradigm. The examination includes how military and security agency planners can fill this gap and benefit by expanding the current resilience framework to emphasize contemporary urban and regional planning concepts that involve sustainability, smart concepts, urban ecology, and enhanced socio-environmental aspects of resilience to more fully consider climate change. The paper concludes that this broadened and more comprehensive consideration of urban and regional resilience will enhance climate change adaptation strategies of the military and that urban ecology and the sub-system linkages related to environment, health, social values, ecology, and resilience should be incorporated into the overall military and security agency planning lexicon. Additionally, military and security agency planners should pursue intentional transdisciplinary planning efforts to help frame and refine the dynamic concept of resilience and integrate the many facets of resilience into their climate change adaptation strategies.


Resilience, climate change adaptation, military planning, systems thinking

Introduction: Climate Change Adaptation and Military Resilience Planning

As populations swell and the realities of climate change bear down on our urban centers, understanding the future consequences of current planning and design decisions becomes increasingly important. Global urbanized populations are expected to reach 66% by 2050 (UN 2014), while changing regional climatic profiles are expected to produce extreme events (heat, cold, rain and drought) (IPCC 2014). These phenomena are expected to have a concentrated effect in heavily populated urban areas where low albedo surfaces exacerbate urban heat island effects, density magnifies anthropogenic pollution and water problems, and more frequent and extreme weather events severely impact less stable socio-economic groups (IPCC 2014; Dorer et al. 2013; Carter et al. 2015; Stewart and Oke 2012).

Governments have responded with policies and regulations to address these anticipated climate change impacts. Climate change is now codified in international and national government policy with direct relevance to military and security agency planners. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Dictionary now includes an official definition of climate change as “variations in average weather conditions that persist over multiple decades or longer that encompass increases and decreases in temperature, shifts in precipitation, and changing risk of certain types of severe weather events.” Adaptation to deal with these variations is also defined, as “adjustment in natural or human systems in anticipation of or response to a changing environment in a way that effectively uses beneficial opportunities or reduces negative efforts” (U. S. Department of Defense 2016). Thus, the desire to minimize risk through climate change adaptation in order to protect the health, safety, and welfare of a population is formally part of many government planning processes. In 2014, the DoD published its Climate Change Adaptation Road Map that lays out a vision and supporting goals to meet this end state objective in the interest of national security.

U.S. military and security agencies may not consider climate change as a direct or immediate threat, but clearly they see how it contributes to regional instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict thus requiring planning consideration for present and future risk environments. The result is a blending of planning considerations both by military and security agency planners and by more traditional urban planners related to climate change, security, sustainability, smart city concepts, and resilience. The military and security agencies are working to understand all the facets of resilient systems. The evolving military concept of resilience can leverage sustainability and smart city concepts of the past two decades with an added emphasis on security and planned risk response strategies. This blending of interdisciplinary expertise provides extensive opportunities for collaboration and shared learning between military and urban planners.

To explore what the military might learn from urban planning and non-military versions of resilience, we must understand the contemporary nexus of climate change adaptation with military resilience planning. This paper briefly reviews the historic and interdisciplinary use of resilience as a concept, as well as the current and particular definition of resilience utilized by the military within this myriad of fields. It argues that the military and security agency planners’ current policies and understanding of resilience focus on engineering resilience at the project level and then at the system level, leaving a gap in resilience planning at the community or regional levels in the current military planning paradigm. The paper then explores how the military and security agency planners can fill this gap and benefit by expanding the current resilience framework to emphasize contemporary urban and regional planning concepts and tools that involve sustainability, smart city concepts, urban ecology and enhanced socio-environmental aspects of resilience to more fully consider climate change. The paper concludes that transdisciplinary planning efforts will help better frame the dynamic concept of resilience and integrate the many facets of urban ecological resilience into climate change adaptation strategies.

History of the Term “Resilience”: Multiple Meanings in Various Fields

This section briefly reviews the origins in the engineering-related fields. A more fully informed understanding of resilience and its use in a multitude of disciplinary fields benefits from a recognition of its origins and evolution; even intradisciplinary use of the term resilience must begin by asking core questions. A further overview of resilience in the areas of psychology, organizations, and ecology acquaints the reader with the different connotations and form the basis for exploring resilience in the military context of the following section. At the end of this section, Table 1 summarizes the contextual meanings of resilience in various fields and provides a lens through which to identify potential gaps in military resilience planning at the community and regional level and in proposed military climate adaptation planning considerations. Later sections expand upon the current urban planning approaches to resilience and more fully develop the evolving concept of urban ecology and urban resilience along with tools that may benefit the military planning approach.

The term resilience in its earliest forms dates back more than three centuries, with its origins in the mechanical design realm where it related to the ability of a material, component, or system to “spring back” from an externally applied force (Random House Dictionary 2017). Contemporary materials mechanics courses in engineering colleges still consider resilience regarding the ability of a material to absorb and release energy within the elastic range, thus retaining its material properties. The principle of resilience traveled from engineering to infrastructure design and system designs as well. Today, this design principle is utilized in design guides and building codes that require redundancy in critical elements and oversized components that allow for multiple load factors and factors of safety (Hassler and Kohler 2014). The structural engineer balances the goal of optimizing strength with the goal of reducing the quantity of material needed. This application of resilience allows structural engineers to determine specific solutions for a particular set of anticipated, although possibly unlikely, pressures or loading scenarios. These solutions allow the component or system to retain its original design capacity within a multiple and varied loading condition scenario. In this original sense, resilience focused on maintaining stability and predictability, and the concept was applied in similar fashion across engineering fields.

The application of resilience to systems resulted in a more nuanced concept of resilience. It recognized the complexities of most systems and that, while physical nature could change, consistent functionality would provide retained capacity and thus a resilient system. The concept of resilience evolved from its focus on the equilibrium of physical properties to one of functional properties. A hospital building provides a classic engineering example of the contrasting and contradictory outcomes that result from different definitions of resilience. A physically resilient hospital building may be designed with foundation, walls, roof, electrical, and air conditioning systems that can withstand certain disaster scenarios while still providing high quality hospital services. However, this overall building design has limited functionality such that it can only be utilized effectively as a hospital. What happens when the building use must change due to shifting market or social demands to that of an office building, warehouse, or retail space? Using a functional resilient design approach may result in open floor plans, modular electrical and air conditioning systems that are easily modified to suit different tenant needs other than a hospital building, but would trade some of the physical resilience design aspects for functional resilience. Thus, even in the somewhat streamlined field of building design and construction, there is a need to ensure a common understanding of resilience and the challenges in using the term.

The above example brings to light three key questions that are important to answer: (1) resilience to what?; (2) resilience of what?; and (3) resilience for whom? (Hassler and Kohler 2014). In our hospital building example, we can see that different answers skew the design approach from, on one hand, a resilience to natural disasters intended to ensure continuity of medical operations for patients to, on the other hand, a resilience to changing market and economic conditions that is intended to ensure functionality for present and future tenants and profitability for building owners. Does this potential for such different interpretations indicate that using resilience as a concept is futile? The hospital building example displays the challenges of using the term, but it also shows that answering these basic questions about resilience then clarifies the meaning and provides real design choices and impacts for engineering solutions. It is an argument for an informed use of resilience in planning and design.

While the concept of resilience is solidly rooted in the engineering discipline to which it owes a fair portion of its modern use and application, psychology and ecology equally utilize the term today. The field of psychology began studying and using resilience in the mid to late 20th century with initial research on how severely disadvantaged children resisted negative outcomes and emerged unscathed from severe circumstances (Graber, Pichon, and Carabine 2015). This research represented a paradigm shift from looking at the risk factors that led to psychological problems to identifying the characteristics of individuals who thrived while living in difficult circumstances, thus demonstrating resilience. The effort to understand and facilitate the promotion of resilience in the face of substantial adversity became the goal within psychology, and use of the term generally accepted its definition as “the process of, capacity for, or outcome of successful adaptation despite challenging or threatening circumstances” (Masten 1990).

Military planners would benefit from incorporating contemporary urban and regional concepts into their resilience planning. Source: U.S. Air Force,

Psychologists’ understanding of human functioning in demanding situations has grown significantly over the past two decades. The examination of resilience has ranged in contexts across business, education, military, sports, and communities (Fletcher and Sakar 2013). While adversity must first be present in order to form resilience, the key to psychological resilience is the concept of “positive adaptation,” which is behaviorally manifested social competence or internal well-being (Fletcher and Sakar 2013). Case studies of events such as post-Hurricane Katrina or those that cause military post-traumatic stress continue to inform and develop the concept of psychological resilience. Resilience has grown from its original application to individuals to a broader social application to families and groups. Business case studies look at individual, team, and holistic organizational resilience in terms of flexibility, market response, and profitability with overt efforts to build organizational resilience. As we examine in a following section, the military uses resilience as a measure of combat readiness. However, even with the above definition of resilience generally agreed upon in the field of psychology, the usefulness of the term is challenged in the ongoing debate over whether resilience is truly a process, an individual capacity, or, rather, an eventual outcome. Its measurement, prediction, and development remains elusive. Therefore, the use of the term can be as contested within psychology as it was in engineering.

This elusive and dynamic nature of resilience has also been significantly informed and shaped by the concept within ecology, where ecosystem function is often characterized by constant change. The ecological sciences have significantly shaped resilience theory and application. With a widely accepted definition of ecology as the study of the interactions of organisms with one another and their environment, ecology can trace its history to the 19th century but more recently gained prominence during the focus upon an environmental crisis during the mid to late 20th century. Ecology begins with the study of individual physiologic, structural, and behavioral traits but then looks at characteristics of groups of organisms and interactions of these groups. Broadly, the science includes landscapes and ecosystems so that the properties of the entire system emerge from the interaction of its parts (Pickett, Cadenasso, and McGrath 2013). Ecology is largely transdisciplinary, relying upon expertise in a multitude of fields to research a system and understand underlying and emerging actions and reactions. In ecology, resilience can refer to the rapidity with which a system returns to its equilibrium after a disturbance measured in time units. While similar to other definitions, the equilibrium of ecosystems is characterized by a multitude of properties. Thus ecological resilience has helped introduce complexity and broader systems thinking into resilience concepts.

A significant premise of ecological research is that nature is not in constant balance but rather in eternal flux. This notion leads to a fundamental transformation in thinking, from an emphasis on equilibrium, homogeneity, and determinism, to one on non-equilibrium, heterogeneity, and stochasticity, including the introduction of the concept of patch dynamics (Wu and Wu 2013). Observing that ecosystems often have multiple stable states, resilience in ecology is defined as the ability of a system to absorb change and disturbance without changing its basic structure and function, or shifting into a qualitatively different state (Holling 1973). This resilience, based upon multiple alternate states, is often labeled “ecological resilience” or “ecosystem resilience.” It stresses persistence, change, and unpredictability, in contrast with what can be labeled “engineering resilience,” which stresses efficiency, constancy, and predictability (Wu and Wu 2013).

The 21st century has seen a new emergence of the inclusion of social and human nature into ecological discussions. An understanding of urban areas as ecosystems that include humans as well as their institutional arrangements and artifacts as components of the system has created the hybrid term “urban ecology” (Pickett, Cadenasso, and McGrath 2013). The Resilience Alliance, a diverse community of scientists and practitioners in academia, government, and other organizations joined together to promote research on resilience, is one example of deliberate effort to understand social-ecological systems (Wu and Wu 2013). This and other emerging studies of social-ecological systems holistically consider how climate change developed by studying the combination of humans with nature, and they offer insight into how people, and our institutions like the military, can work within the system to intervene.

Table 1: Varied resilience definition and context with potential climate adaptation considerations (adapted from Hassler and Kohler 2014).

Resilience in Military Context: How to Mitigate Threats with Action Plans

In keeping with the evolution of the term resilience and its use in multiple disciplines, in the military the term resilience is also used at many levels and with many interrelated meanings. Its use by military medical and personnel field is closely tied to its use in psychology. The soldier readiness and leader development fields of the military tend toward the organizational components of resilience. Engineers and disaster response planners in the military are disposed to think of resilience as related to infrastructure and the built environment. This section examines the current military context of resilience, explores the rational approach taken to develop climate adaptation mitigation strategies and action plans, and identifies the need for expanded understanding of resilience at the urban and regional levels.

The army now applies resilience at the level of the personal soldier to represent individual readiness. It is a command responsibility to optimize human performance in environments of uncertainty and persistent danger. The focus upon personal resilience grew out of the increased suicide rate and occurrence of post-traumatic stress during an increase in operational tempo after the 9/11 terrorist attacks upon the United States. A “ready and resilient” force is a stated strategic objective, with the Army Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program aimed at achieving personal balance in the five fitness domains of physical, emotional, social, family, and spiritual well-being (U.S. Army 2013). This concept of resilience leverages the psychological history at the individual level, as well as the organizational history of resilience applying it to unit readiness. While this more recent focus on personal resilience is different from urban and infrastructure resilience, it does provide cultural context and insight into a resilient system process that is aimed at social resilience. The army’s stated vision is an established community comprised of resilient individuals, adaptive leaders of character who develop cohesive teams capable of accomplishing a range of missions in environments of uncertainty and persistent danger (U.S. Army 2013). These principles—adaptation in the face of risk, and retained capability during uncertainty—apply broadly, beyond the individual level, also informing the understanding of resilience in the military engineering and disaster planning context.

As mentioned above, the military considers resilience as a critical element in the ability to defend the homeland and protect vital national interests. DoD Directive (DoDD) 4715.21, “Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience,” became effective January 14, 2016. It applies broadly to the military departments, defense agencies, and defense operations worldwide and is intended to help safeguard the U.S. economy, infrastructure, environment, and natural resources. It also aims to provide for the continuity of DoD operations, services, and programs. This directive provides an overt linkage of climate change strategy to resilience planning within a national security context and establishes federal policy.

DoDD 4715.21 states that defense agencies and military services will begin to implement the 2014 DoD Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap. The foreword of the roadmap document reaches back to the classic military strategist Carl von Clausewitz who wrote, “all action must, to a certain extent, be planned in a mere twilight.” Thus, it recognizes the level of uncertainty that planners have always confronted, and it applies von Clausewitz’s maxim to planning for resilience in order to provide climate change adaptation. Within the action and decision oriented culture of the military, overt statements of uncertainty are important in applying risk management strategies that prioritize limited resources, with security agencies valuing consistent definitions and the quantification of uncertainty when possible. The desire to quantify risk around specified and desired functionalities integrates the military understanding of resilience with the historical evolution of resilience in the engineering field.

The DoDD also established a useful definition for resilience at the policy and planning level. Resilience is “the ability to anticipate, prepare for, and adapt to changing conditions and withstand, respond to, and recover rapidly from disruptions” (U. S. Department of Defense 2016). Historic agencies within the DoD claim they have always considered resilience, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Resilience Roadmap released in May 2016 stating they have incorporated resilient strategies for more than 200 years of their existence (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 2016). The enduring function and existence of some civil works and military engineering projects constructed and operated by USACE does testify to their resilience. But does a single lock and dam facility that survives a flood event ensure that the regional and national economy reliant upon that navigation system, the local and regional communities impacted by the flood, and the riverine ecosystem are all resilient as well?

Recognizing that the different aspects of resilience depend upon how the key questions for resilience—“to what”, “of what”, and “for whom”—are answered, USACE is now looking at resilience on three different levels. These three levels are project (or facility), system (or program), and community (or regional) resilience. While project and system resilience are addressed extensively in public policy and design documents, the concept of community resilience and the broader urban ecology dynamics are still lacking.

The military view of resilient systems planning includes climate change but is broader in its overall scope. A resilient system is one that is robust enough to withstand severe blows, adaptive and responsive to threats, and can mitigate the consequences of threats through response and recovery operations (Mandler 2013) Resilience is not a single outcome but rather a “cradle-to-grave” process for engineering, building, and operating a fault-tolerant, safe, secure, smart, efficient, and sustainable infrastructure system (Allen and Albert 2014). These descriptions focus upon the built and natural infrastructure and how it interacts with the human and natural environment. The military is in the early stages of trying to align its current efforts in resilience and sustainability to help optimize resources and avoid duplication or contradiction of effort.

An exploration of how the military has integrated and distinguished resilience and sustainability is worthwhile because of the interrelated nature of the two concepts. The United States currently considers infrastructure resilience as a critical component of national security and integrated with sustainability goals. The focus of resilience policies is often to lay out a functional resilience target and then attempt to provide a holistic checklist format of considerations for a comprehensive approach that considers systems dynamics and links to other systems with the end product of the process as an action plan. Resilience also becomes a way of achieving some of the sustainability goals established over the past twenty years in many areas of government. Using a deliberative planning approach, the military planner identifies relevant planning factors and sets objectives of functionality or system equilibrium that are desirable related to resilience. A rational construct of ends-ways-means is then used to identify potential courses of action and quantify risk associated with these courses of action to achieve objectives, and an acceptable action plan is then developed, approved, and implemented or put on the shelf until needed.

As an example, the U.S. Infrastructure Protection Plan envisions a “a secure and resilient transportation system, enabling legitimate travelers and goods to move without significant disruption of commerce, un-due fear of harm, or loss of civil liberties” (U.S. Department of Homeland Security 2010). This vision captures the close relationship between security and resilience, as well as the interdependent relationship to the economy and social values. Similar to veins in the body that make sure blood and oxygen are carried to cells, a network of transportation systems and multiple modes provides resilience by ensuring the infrastructure is robust enough to withstand severe blows and provides adaptive responses and recovery operations (Mandler 2013). Infrastructure system breadth and depth both provide attributes of resilience. Thus planning and designing infrastructure with current and future climate and threat impacts evaluated will provide infrastructure system resiliency (Allen and Alberts 2014). To ensure that a comprehensive consideration of resilience is undertaken, and that a consequential action is associated with each identified risk, federal agencies utilize planning factors related to resilience and are developing associated risk response strategies. Planning factors associated with resilience help identify how resilient a specific system or facility is, and what risk response strategy is warranted or viable. There are four resilience elements proposed by the Volpe National Transportations System Center infrastructure resiliency framework: fault tolerance, adaptive solutions, critical asset redundancy, and mitigation (Barami 2013). Each element has associated management strategies and layered defense elements to improve resilience of the system.

Fault tolerant infrastructure systems have design-based components that ensure adequate functional capacity and structural hardiness. The system is built with protective measures enabling it to resist severe blows, absorb shocks, withstand extreme events with tolerable levels of loss, and degrade gracefully if needed (Barami 2013). An example of fault tolerance is the construction of bridges using seismic design criteria in earthquake-prone regions or that withstand vessel impacts if they cross navigable water.

Adaptive solutions as part of a system are capable of anticipating and preventing risks, limiting hazards, and ensuring continuity of operations through access to smart decision- making capabilities and situational awareness. Adaptive solutions enhance system resiliency by providing agility and flexibility for taking alternative paths and making real-time decisions to avert looming threats or mitigate developing dangers (Allen and Alberts 2014). An example of adaptive solutions is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking (SARSAT) system that serves as an automated adaptive decision-support tool that calculates precise location of mariners and vessels in distress, computes the probability of success for alternative approaches, and determines the most effective way to conduct search and rescue operations.

Critical asset redundancy contributes to system resiliency by providing redundant system components and spare safeguards. Critical asset redundancy provides operational flexibility and distributed functionalities that enable system operators and users to substitute

assets and modes of service or product delivery to avoid single-point failures. This flexibility enables the system to reorganize rapidly, shift inputs and resources, and sustain an acceptable level of functionality as the disruption unfolds (Barami 2013). An example of critical asset redundancy is the presence of both rail mass transit and bus rapid transit for people movement in urban areas. These same people-centric modes of transportation could be flexible enough to deliver supplies rather than people if needed for a pandemic scenario where quarantined areas limit movement of people in order to contain an event.

Mitigation as an element of infrastructure resilience is the ability to allay or ease the consequences of system failures through the system’s response and recovery capabilities. Rapid response and recovery operations save lives, minimize the spread of hazards and their cascading effects, and reduce loss of valuable assets (Barami 2013). Decentralized system operations and local government or private entities that are capable first responders to natural or manmade disasters are an example of mitigation that contributes to system resilience.

Risk response strategies depend upon the risk tolerance identified for a specific infrastructure system. Risk response strategy options are along a continuum that can include: avoid the risk (remove the opportunity for a risk event to occur), transfer the risk (transfer the consequences to something or someone else), mitigate the risk (take actions to lessen the impact or likelihood of occurrence), or accept the risk (accept the potential impacts as tolerable) (U.S. Department of Transportation 2012). Solutions can be incorporated into a long term plan by using a risk management approach that identifies current and future threats to the system, assesses vulnerabilities and risk to the system, develops a strategy using risk-based prioritization, identifies opportunities for co-benefits and synergy across sectors, implements strategic options, and monitors and reevaluates implemented options.

While the military tends to isolate resilience analysis into these separate functional areas that lend themselves to a systems approach, the military is now attempting to engage in planning for resilience at the community and regional level. This is evidenced by military representation and engagement in the publication of the “2011 Regional Disaster Resilience Guide” by The Infrastructure Security Partnership, which includes military related organizations such as the Society of American Military Engineers (TISP 2011). The guide serves to identify focus areas, priorities, and actions that relate to community planning for resilience. It meets the practical need for communities to start thinking about the critical systems within their communities, and develop action plans to mitigate risk. The guide is more directed at short term disasters that are symptoms of climate change than at longer term, more enduring disaster scenarios that require planned climate change adaptation strategies.

The current military aspects of community resilience planning encourages collaboration but maintains an engineering and systems related approach. The military focus is on development of concrete mitigation strategies and action plans rather than looking earnestly at the longer term impacts of the broader urban ecosystems and system to system linkages that can result in cascading impacts and events. Missing from the current military discussion on using resilience as a means to prepare for climate adaptation is a robust inclusion of regional planning and urban ecology concepts that pull together the broad urban planning considerations of the natural environment, built environment, and social and health considerations into a unified ecological framework that has potential for a more comprehensive and inclusive planning approach. It is in this vein that the community and regional resilience that is part of the contemporary military planning dialogue related to climate change adaptation can benefit from modern urban and regional resilience planning and the actively changing tools, techniques, and concept of urban ecology.

Resilience in Urban Planning: Using Urban Socio-Ecology Thinking to Enhance Military Resilience Planning for Climate Change Adaptation

With the understanding of resilience’s use in a military and security agency context presented in the previous sections, we now look at resilience and its role in urban planning in relation to climate change in order to glean prospects for a new lens through which the military can gain a refined vision. This review of resilience in urban planning will demonstrate that urban planning inherently uses a transdisciplinary concept of resilience, as the urban planner typically facilitates a blending of multiple domains and expertise from across fields including ecology, sociology, psychology, engineering, and others. This transdisciplinary view integrates the concept of resilience with other modern concepts of sustainability, smart cities, and urban ecology. Its associated tools and techniques for urban analysis can also benefit military resilience planning.

“Urban” is a broad term that connotes a contrast with rural landscapes characterized as wild or devoted to natural resource management, with economies based on commodification of natural resources and includes cities, suburbs, and exurbs (Pickett et al. 2013). Although resilience planning is not limited in its scope to urban areas, with the majority of the population and key infrastructure in urban areas and the highly developed urban and regional planning processes in place, an examination of urban planning and resilience offers opportunities for expanded military planning considerations related to resilience and climate adaptation. The concept of urban resilience relates to the definition from ecology, to the capacity of a system to tolerate disturbance without collapsing into a qualitatively different state (Holling 1973). From an urban systems perspective, this capacity is often seen as an urban area’s ability to withstand shock, whether human or environmentally derived (Young et al. 2006). More recently the term has been used to describe the capacity of an urban place to withstand the influence of a changing climate (Heller et al. 2015; Meerow, Newell, and Stults 2016; Shove 2010), suggesting various approaches to planning for resilient places (Bell 2002; Bulkeley and Betsill 2013, 2005; Fiksel 2006; Godschalk 2003; Zimmerman 2001). For example, Folke et al. (2002, 439) argues for better “understanding the complex connections between people and nature.” Fiksel (2006), on the other hand, proposes analyzing multiple models simultaneously in order to simulate redundancy and iteration, but both consider essential urban resilience characteristics. Others have described a range of dichotomies that need to be resolved when considering urban resilience: redundancy and efficiency, diversity and interdependence, strength and flexibility, autonomy and collaboration, and planning and adaptability (Bell 2002; Godschalk 2003; Zimmerman, 2001). All of these approaches offer a useful lens to view the diverse climate change challenges of cities, from climate refugees to food shortage to rising tides.

Social science suggests a need for an interdisciplinary approach to urban resilience with strong linkages to social theory (Gillard et al. 2016). Most of these theories also refer to the importance of understanding the inextricable link between social and ecological systems (Collier et al. 2013; Gillard et al. 2016). Although there has been a plethora of studies on the independent systems that comprise urban environments—energy, water, vegetation, climate, and waste (Pincetl, Bunje, and Holmes 2012; Codoban and Kennedy 2008; Kennedy, Pincetl, and Bunje 2011; Grimm et al. 2000; Pickett et al. 2008)—we still know little of these systems with respect to their role in ecosystem functioning and ecosystem services within urban environments (McPhearson, Hamstead, and Kremer 2014). More specifically, we lack the ecologically based research needed to scale up plot-based field experiments to address the data needs of planners, policy makers, and managers that could facilitate a more robust science of resilient cities (McPhearson, Hamstead, and Kremer 2014). Urban ecology is now serving as a bridge to integrate these systems in theory and practice, and this transdisciplinary approach benefits both urban and military planning.

Debate still exists regarding the distinctions and interfaces between sustainability and resilience for urban planners. The concept of resilience offers a means to address the long-term evolution of the built environment and to explore implications of changing conditions of the efficacy of differing approaches in planning, design, operation, management, value, and governance (Hassler and Kohler 2014). Sustainability and climate change research provide a growing awareness of risk and have brought attention to fragilities and the need to create resilience across the spectrum of urban planning and design (Hassler and Kohler 2014). Related to infrastructure, specifically transportation, one argument is that sustainable transportation is the result of intentional policy at the strategic level and potentiates unified governance and economic growth. Peace and stability are reliant upon sustainable transportation that can best be accomplished in a comprehensive approach starting with a long term vision and focused on balancing the key sustainability principles of transportation resilience, economic development, environmental health, and social values (Allen and Albert 2014). If we accept this premise, then resilience is a component of sustainability elevated to joint importance with the traditional triad components of social, economic, and environmental balance in decision-making that characterizes current urban planning processes. Elevating resilience thus elevates climate adaptation and the incorporation of both with sustainability in urban planning.

The relationship of resilience to the concept of smart cities, with a focus on big data and optimized processes that improve efficiency and the quality of life for a population, is another area of current opportunity and growth. In contrast to our notions of socio-environmental resilience, the concept of smart cities often emphasizes a users’ “perception and experience in the environment” without a clear connection to ecological based processes (Davoudi et al. 2012). Although it espouses improvements to the quality of life of (smart) citizens, it tends to undervalue the critical environmental systems needed to achieve these improvements (Neirotti et al. 2014). Many smart cities are also beginning to reexamine the use of big data and smart city principles to enhance security and improve citizen safety. These concepts have implications for urban resilience and the opportunity to inform military planning in urban areas.

In terms of data, smart city projects typically make use of sensor networks to monitor real world, real-time systems; provide real-time adjustments and alerts to possible anomalies; make use of distributed installations; and use various formats and interfaces for data dissemination (Neirotti et al. 2014). A weakness in the approach is the problem of big data. Enormous volumes of data are generated, only some of which are relevant and most of which describe static and stable conditions. As demonstrated previously, urban ecology assumes a more dynamic condition. The aim is to monitor both human and environmental systems that act as indicators to socio-environmental stress. Where smart city efforts tend to be directed toward optimizing a city’s operational performance related to physical and economic infrastructure (Neirotti et al. 2014), socio-environmental urban resilience efforts are directed toward the ability of a city to withstand shock such as climate refugee influx, pollutants, extreme weather events, and other environmentally related stresses that might influence the long-term health and viability of both human and natural system (McPherson, Hamstead, and Kremer 2014). Smart cities currently emphasize data collection from the internet of things, utilities, and publicly monitored devices like traffic cameras, physical infrastructure sensors, or traffic counts. Socio-environment resilience requires adding data relating to water quality, climate, species richness, and habitat and vegetative diversity (for example) as important indicators of urban health, vitality, and the potential resilience of a place. Collecting disparate data from varied sources with wide-ranging reliability to perform data analytics that inform decisions in a relevant manner is a core capability of military intelligence and security agencies. Thus adapting planning approaches in the military culture for intelligence assets to perform this broader analysis in existing and notional urban space is a key opportunity for collaboration of military and urban planning and leveraging smart technology.

The importance of leveraging smart city technology and big data to improve security is now at the fore of planning for safety and security of urban populations in Europe. The argument that government’s basic role is the protection and provision of security for its citizens certainly affects the quality of life objectives of smart cities. Hazard and disaster management systems can leverage real-time data on weather or other natural disasters, criminal or terrorist activities, and traffic congestion or other related incidents related directly or indirectly to resilience and climate adaptation strategies. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) have identified three dimensions or facets of resilience that include emergency management, design engineering, and climate, community, and societal changes (AASHTO 2017). Each of these facets can leverage data sets specific to that dimension such as travel times for emergency management, bridge structural condition for design engineering, and carbon emissions for climate, community, and societal changes.

Resilience principles in urban planning continues to expand the planning process, tools, and techniques utilized. It requires a greater awareness of broader contexts and potential implications that enables decisions that are more readily adaptable to changing circumstance (Deal and Chakraborty 2010). Folke et al. (2005) submit that the path toward community resilience is built on a form of dynamic governance that involves all citizens. They advocate for empowering and equipping all members of a community with an ability to participate (equally) in the planning process. This participation requires planning tools that can facilitate two-way communication between expert system (the information) and user (stakeholder, decision maker, or citizen planner).

The connectedness of data and exchange of knowledge and information however, implies a polycentricity to resilience planning that extends beyond the user experience (Young et al. 2006). The resilience perspective emphasizes the connection between social and environmental systems and thus, the need to incorporate environmental systems and monitoring into smart city and planning support system development. Adding and understanding socio-ecological relationships to smart approaches however, will require the dynamic collection of additional environmental and social data along with dynamic modeling approaches that can evaluate and interpret the collected data. Further, the integration of data from these various “big” sources, formatting and functional interoperability in itself, presents significant challenges (Buccella, Cechich, and Fillottrani 2009), and to date, models have not frequently been used to illustrate impacts of adaption on urban functionality (Collier et al. 2013).

The computational basis for urban big data has thus far emphasized urban data acquisition techniques, data structures and communication protocols, real-time analysis, and some short- term projection capabilities. This focus ignores the connection to longer timeframe analysis, environmental data and impact analysis, and visualization techniques that are critical to planning for resilient places. According to Collier et al. (2013), an information infrastructure is needed to secure and understand diverse meta-datasets—origin, content, purpose, format and access—which inform models that simulate environmental function. This can be accomplished through the use of planning support technologies and systems. The military can benefit from adopting these emerging technologies in their community and regional resilience analysis process as it relates to climate change adaptation; therefore, a brief description of some of these tools and techniques follows.

Contemporary urban planning resilience concepts call for the use of technology to help communities visualize change in spatial phenomena and to help facilitate more rapid response to environmental stresses using dynamic insight regarding land development (Collier et al. 2013; Folke et al. 2005). The use of models provide insight and the means to visualize options and trade-offs between different urban scenarios which may consider development, environmental stressors, the addition or subtraction of job centers, and other important variables. However, Collier et al. (2013) note that current land-use models tend to focus on the process of urbanization and its relation to urban form, and few have been used to illustrate the effects of adaptation in urban areas. To plan for adaptation and resilience, the linkage between land-use models and assessment of urban function must be improved. Likewise the limitations of existing data streams that do not account for the plethora of environmental data that are needed must be acknowledged (Collier et al. 2013). For military planners, these items can fall into the category of “known unknowns” in analyzing urban areas that inform the risk management process.

Current discussions regarding planning support technology literature acknowledge the need to shift from prescriptive-based approaches to the management of information needs (Power and Sharda 2009), use-based systems (Deal and Pallathucheril 2008), and web-based strategies of information retrieval and delivery (Budthimedhee, Li and George 2002; Deal and Pallathucheril 2009a), in an effort to determine how “information and communications technologies might improve the functioning of cities” (Batty et al., 2012, 483). Planners have been employing these technologies to understand a range of urban phenomena including, land use change over time, transportation networks, the metabolic flux of cities, etc. Some of these tools and models can provide planners with the means to understand, analyze, and predict macro-scale attributes that go beyond a reductionist view of explicit characterizations of subsystem components. Some scholars argue that planning support system models can provide quantifiable and replicable information, help manage uncertainty, provide feedbacks, and help understand lags in complex urban system dynamics (Deal and Pallathucheril 2009b). These tools have been shown to help planners understand the socio-ecological impact of planning decisions and the complex hierarchical dependencies that often foster unanticipated or emergent behavior under external stress such as climate change or dwindling resources. This type of tool offers key insights for military and security agency planners who strive to understand how government intervention, whether slight or severe, can have unintended second, third, or fourth order effects. These tools can help understand the complex urban ecosystems in a more comprehensive way.

Smart concepts may add to resilience and security, but may pose new security and resilience concerns. Adoption of these enhanced systems are not without challenges. Security and legal issues arise with the use of many smart technologies related to cyber security, personal privacy, data storage, and data ownership. Going back to the three basic questions of resilience—“to what,” “of what,” and “for whom”—complicates the risk of leveraging smart technologies. Concern over defensive urbanism that protects select classes and demographics while disenfranchising others must be considered by urban and military planners alike. Security demands and technology developments will continue the growth of smart and resilient innovations in urban areas; however, a transdisciplinary approach that includes elements of social justice and equity must balance gains in resilience to ensure that the “for whom” is inclusive of the broader society and not just a select minority.

Combining military and urban planning efforts for resilience offers great benefit in integrating the concepts discussed in this and previous sections. Both are evolving and both have knowledge gaps. Current urban system models are driven by socio-economic and socio-physical factors, but missing are the links to socio-environmental elements that the emerging concept of urban ecology seeks to bridge (Pickett et al. 2008). Thinking about the future of urban resilience and how both urban and military planners can benefit from improved analysis tools for climate adaptation will guide research and investment in planning tools and techniques moving forward. In order to tackle the complexity of urban systems and resilience, the next generation of planning support systems and tools should be an interactive decision-making environment that collects data to gain an evolving self-awareness about its context, manipulates this data, and presents information to users in a useful and timely manner. A form of system intelligence would support urban and military planners as they attempt to resolve conflicts among different interests and assess risk in proposed courses of action or inaction. The challenges of large volumes of data and complex model support to make urban resilience-based policy decisions that adequately include critical ecological, environmental, and social data is best faced by combining the expertise of those proficient in both urban and regional planning and military planning professionals.

Conclusion: Improved Military Climate Resilience Planning with Contemporary Urban Systems Thinking

This paper has argued for the interconnection of military resilience planning with climate change adaptation. We began with an overview of the historical context of the term resilience in relation to varied fields of study, and followed with an examination of planning for resilience in both the military planning paradigm and the contemporary urban planning context as it relates to climate change. The discussion concluded that military resilience planning can benefit by understanding and adopting some of the theory, tools, and techniques offered by the contemporary blending of ecology and urban design and planning into modern urban ecology and socio-environmental planning concepts.

The discussion introduced military approaches to developing action plans and their foundation in national strategy documents, policies, and guidance. The review of military resilience included the three layers of resilience concepts at the project, system, and community levels built into military regulations and policies for implementing resilience strategies in order to achieve climate change adaptation. The argument then examined urban ecology concepts that proffer an ecologically based, socio-environmental perspective of resilience planning, which can benefit the military planning process as it seeks to fully understand cascading impacts of planning intervention related to climate adaptation strategies. Common challenges face both urban and military planners and include appropriately integrating resilience with sustainability, issues related to “smart” approaches, developing tools and processes for analysis of urban ecologies to inform planning in current and future environments, and working across interdisciplinary fields. Urban planning and military planning can work collaboratively so that system linkages related to ecological/environmental health, social values, and resilience can be incorporated into the overall security planning lexicon.

Achieving urban resilience requires a transdisciplinary approach that appeals to a broad range of expertise to plan for resilience that adequately considers emerging patterns, trends, and threats. Future challenges include the need for continuous monitoring of physical, economic, social, ecological, and environmental systems in order to study current and (potentially resilient) future states, improve the ability to adapt to potential state changes, and develop methods for governing these systems in inclusive ways. Like urban ecosystems, planning information must be dynamic, forward looking, and with relatively long time horizons. By pursuing intentional transdisciplinary planning efforts, military and urban planners can collaborate to help frame and refine the dynamic concept of resilience and integrate the many facets of resilience into their climate change adaptation strategies in a more unified and enlightened manner.


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