Climate resilience planning is a priority for government agencies, financial institutions and countries around the world. Many experts are working to build tools to help address resilience for our communities and buildings so they’re better able to withstand and recover from severe weather events.

Anita Chandra of RAND Corporation was moved by her firsthand experience in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. She thought strategies that were implemented there could be applied at many different scales, and she used her new experience post-Katrina to help RAND develop a suite of tools to help communities, local governments, and others build climate resilience into their networks.

Let's take a deeper dive into RAND and what Chandra has created over the years to develop and make climate resilience more available.

Q: Can you define for us what "resilience" is and why it's important to focus on it now?

A: Sure. We entered the resilience conversation to understand not only what it is that makes communities withstand a wide range of acute and long-term stressors, but also what makes them recover more effectively than other communities. That ability to withstand, recover, and learn from past experiences is part of the resilience development process.

As to why focus on it now, I think there are several reasons. People talk a lot about the changing scope and scale of natural disasters, but we also have overlapping chronic stressors, like changing community dynamics and climate, which are slower moving. These things are compounding and require us to think differently about how we build up our physical and social systems.

Q: Can you share some of your own story in terms of your work on resilience? How did your interest in resilience begin, and how has it progressed?

A: My background is first and foremost in child development and public health. While working on children's issues in a wide variety of communities, I was introduced to resilience concepts and theories through the lens of individual resilience. There's a large body of literature on resilience that focuses on how to help kids withstand stress and traumatic experience.

I was working for RAND in the Gulf South when Katrina happened, and I found myself in a position to combine my background in childhood development, community-based research, and social justice with what I witnessed during their disaster response and recovery. I started thinking about how these concepts and experiences relate. What helps build community capacity to recover from traumatic events? How can we address issues of social justice and equity that get magnified in disasters? How can we transfer concepts and practices around individual resilience into the community resilience experience?

There are other people at RAND who have been working in complementary ways. There were researchers like me who had initially more of the health and human services background and researchers who thought about resilience in the realm of physical infrastructure — engineering, operations research, systems analysis. It was important to me from the beginning that we approached resilience as the interaction between the human domain and the infrastructure domain and combine those two areas into one.

Over the past few years, we've been able to blend research streams and policy interests. For instance, RAND worked with the Department of Health and Human Services on the first ever National Health Security Strategy, and we just released a second edition. In supporting HHS, we were able to elevate building community resilience as a primary goal of this strategy, and that had never really been done before. It's a new concept that nongovernmental organizations are important to disaster response and recovery capacity, and that you have to have a community-based approach.

Q: RAND has created a set of tools for communities based on the work of its researchers. Can you tell us about these tools?

A: Beginning a few years ago, we started a push to disseminate information through different tools — podcasts, newsletters, infographics. It was important to concurrently develop tools while the research was growing. Our approach was to use varied materials to appeal to different types of stakeholders across the resilience development process or timeline.

We started the newsletter and a podcast series to share lessons learned with the broader community and explore resilience from different vantage points.

We have an online training tool, "Building Resilient Communities," which provides a self-guided tool to explain resilience. We also have two infographics, or standalone items that explain resilience. "The Road to Resilience" explains the difference between resilience versus emergency preparedness and introduces the notion of a resilience mindset. "Building Blocks for a Resilient City" presents four levers of our eight-lever model for areas communities can focus on to make them better able to withstand and recover more quickly and effectively from any sort of disaster or emergency.

There are also a few other tools that have been released. One is called "Learn and Tell," which is about how do you talk and communicate about resilience? It's really for a wide variety of organization leaders who want to then in turn share with their constituents (or) their clients. There is a tool that we call "Hungrier Games". It's a curriculum for youth based on work we completed to create a youth resilience corps in DC to explain resilience at that level.

Lastly, we also have a separate website for the Los Angeles County Community Disaster Resilience (LACCDR) project and on that website we include several resources, including the toolkit called, "Resilience Builder."

When you take all these tools together and put them side by side with our podcasts, articles and newsletters, you have this set of materials that can help you as a community leader or a whole community planning group really start to think about its assets.

Contributed by Kim Pexton, ALL-KAPS consulting, LEED Fellow, CSM, CEM, and Co-Chair of the Greenbuild Host Committee and Jennifer Wellman-Andryuk, PhD., LEED GA, Program Manager at USGBC-NCR.