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Community resilience has emerged as a way to reduce the direct and indirect costs due to natural, technological, and human-caused hazard events.  There continues to be  a need for additional guidance on how to plan for and implement measures to improve community resilience as well as science-based tools to measure resilience and support evaluation of alternative strategies to achieve resilience.  The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) program is (1) developing science based tools and metrics to support and measure resilience at the community-scale and support economic evaluation of alternative solutions to improve resilience, (2) engaging community resilience stakeholders for input and feedback to products, such as guidance, tools, and metrics, for planning and implementing resilience measures, and (3) conducting disaster and failure studies (DFS) and developing DFS expertise and metrology that support validation of community resilience tools.

VISION: Make all communities resilient.




  • To develop science-based tools for communities, professionals, and researchers to assess resilience and to support informed planning and decision making at the community scale for improving resilience in communities of all sizes.
  • To conduct a multi-faceted outreach effort to inform the development of community resilience guidance documents and tools.
  • To conduct disaster and failure studies (DFS) and to develop DFS expertise and metrology that support validation of community resilience tools.

Despite significant progress in science and technology guidance and tools related to disaster-mitigation, natural,  technological, and human-caused hazard events in the United States result in significant direct and indirect costs in terms of lives lost, disruption of commerce and financial networks, properties destroyed, and the cost of mobilizing emergency response personnel and equipment.  Hazards are a continuing and significant threat to U.S. communities.  Major catastrophes such as Hurricane Katrina (2005) and future earthquakes like the ones that struck Tohoku and Kobe, Japan in 2011 and 1995, respectively, can cause mega-losses ($80B-$300B) in a single event.  Human activities that are accidental, criminal, or terrorist can also lead to significant losses.  The risk for substantial damage and losses across large regions of the nation is substantially greater now than ever before due to urban development and population growth in parts of the country that are susceptible to natural hazards (e.g., along coastlines, in the wildland-urban interface, and in earthquake-prone regions). Additionally, the nation’s physical infrastructure is aging, diminishing its capacity to resist hazards. 

Community resilience, the ability to withstand the impacts of natural, technological, or human-caused hazards and recover community functions quickly, is a local and a national issue.  Just as the effects of a disruptive hazard event cascade locally through impacted infrastructure and society, they can also cascade across entire regions, or even nationally.  Preventing hazards events (e.g., earthquakes, hurricanes, and community-scale fires) from becoming disasters depends upon the resilience of buildings and infrastructure systems. 

While tools exist to assess risks and vulnerabilities of individual assets, science-based tools do not exist to assess the resilience of a community, including the dependencies among buildings and infrastructure systems as well as dependencies with social systems.  Further, no tools currently exist to assist communities with investment decisions to enhance resilience.

Current practice generally focuses on life safety for buildings and reliability of service during normal operations for many infrastructure systems.  The ability of social and economic systems, supported by buildings and infrastructure systems, to resume their normal functions within a specified period of time following a disruptive event is not currently considered by communities, nor is the interconnected nature of buildings and infrastructure considered in their design and operation.  Using the social and economic functions of the community to set the performance requirements of buildings and infrastructure is essential to community resilience.

The problem is not solved today, although progress is being made.  Studies in San Francisco, Oregon, Colorado, and elsewhere have begun to address the concept of resilience, identify dependencies between physical, social, and economic systems, and attempt to assess the current state of existing buildings and infrastructure systems relative to community resilience goals.  Cities, counties, and states are beginning to incorporate resilience concepts in their planning.  The Federal government, forward-thinking state and local governments, and some private sector organizations have made progress in addressing qualitative aspects of community resilience but  a community-centric science-based methodology, model, or decision-support tool to enhance community resilience is not available.  The Rockefeller Foundation funded the 100 Resilient Cities Program, which provides for a Chief Resilience Officer (CRO)  in 100 cities around the world for two years and provides a network for sharing of information and experience among CROs.  Other organizations (e.g., United Nations, Community and Regional Resilience Institute) have developed indicators or metrics for resilience.  These metrics, however, do not generally take into account both the physical systems of a community (buildings and infrastructure) and the social and economic systems.  Further, many existing indicators or metrics are subjective and do not have a science-based foundation.  No objective, standard, science-based methods exists that can assess resilience on a community scale.

NIST has a long history as a convener of technology experts in multiple disciplnes to help solve tough national challenges.  This particular effort is modeled on the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel, which has successfully brought together technology suppliers, utility operators, and regulators to address technical barriers to implementing smart grid technologies.  In addition, the Engineering Laboratory has strong research programs and statutory responsibilities that address specific aspects of resilience, including the performance of physical systems for hazard events.  Last, NIST has funded a Resilience Center of Excellence (CoE), the Center for Risk-Based Community Resilience Planning, to collaborate with NIST in advancing science-based models and tools for community resilience. This program provides an overarching structure and synergy for NIST resilience-related research and leverages other federal agency and private organization research to enable improvements in resilience at the community scale. 

Community resilience requires understanding of the community social and economic needs to determine when its buildings and infrastructure systems need to recover their functions to support community recovery without major disruption.  The notion of “time to recovery of function” requires consideration of building systems (structural frame, envelope, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems), infrastructure systems (electric power, water, wastewater, communications, transportation systems), and the connections and dependencies among and between social, economic systems, and physical systems.  Currently, buildings and infrastructure systems are designed and operated as independent systems.  As a result, there is sometimes a mismatch between design objectives, performance between systems for the same hazard event, and public expectations.  Since buildings and infrastructure systems are essential to the functioning of modern society,  establishing common or compatible performance goals for their recovery would improve and support the recovery of dependent social and economic systems (government, business, industry and individual citizens) following a disruptive event.

To transform the way buildings and infrastructure are designed, built, operated, and maintained, NIST will develop  science-based guidance, tools, and metrics that measure resilience at the community scale and support decision-making on alternative actions to improve community resilience, taking into account the connections and dependencies between the built environment and social and economic systems present in the community.  Collaboration with the NIST-funded CoE will increase the rate of research and development of science-based guidance, tools, and metrics. In addition, NIST will engage a diverse body of stakeholders to provide input and feedback on community resilience plans, guidance, tools, and metrics that enhance community resilience and address gaps in standards, codes, and practices.   

There is significant demand for guidance, tools, metrics and standards to enhance the resilience of communities.  This demand is fueled by recent, large-scale disasters (Hurricane Katrina, Joplin Tornado, Superstorm Sandy).  Our communities need tools and guidance to help them better plan and recover from disruptive hazard events, as well as other chronic impacts such as sea level rise or prolonged heat waves and drought.  There is also a growing recognition that conventional methods of siloed approaches to constructing, designing, operating, and maintaining buildings and infrastructure systems does not result in  resilience communities, and that new integrated approaches that account for dependencies are needed.  

Advances have been made in recent years in computing capacity, modeling of hazards and their impact on physical, social, and economic systems, dependencies between these systems, analysis and management of diverse types of data, and spatial visualization.  NIST plans to build upon this foundation with a science-based ‘systems of systems’ modeling approach that links buildings and infrastructure systems with social and economic systems to develop  guidance, tools, and metrics to support assessments and decision making for community resilience.

There are three major components in the NIST Community Resilience program: (1) developing science based tools and metrics to support and measure resilience at the community-scale and support economic evaluation of alternative solutions to improve resilience and (2) engaging community resilience stakeholders for input and feedback to products, such as guidance, tools, and metrics, for planning and implementing resilience measures, and (3) conducting Disaster and Failure Studies (DFS).

Developing Science-Based Tools and Metrics
This component of the program has three thrusts: developing community-scale systems methods and models, measuring and assessing community resilience, and developing an economic methodology to support decision making. 

Systems methods and models. Systems-based modeling methods will be developed to (1) simulate the effects of disruptions to the community (both social and physical), (2) analyze the response and recovery of physical, social, and economic systems, taking into account the dependencies, and (3) establish a science basis for a community resilience assessment and decision-support methodologies, tools, and metrics.  Community goals will be used to identify performance and recovery criteria, and data from communities and past events will be used for validation and sensitivity studies.   This research will be conducted collaboratively with the NIST-funded Center for Risk-Based Community Resilience Planning, led by Colorado State University.  

Measuring and assessing community resilience. Science-based methodology, tools, and metrics will be developed for measuring and assessing resilience at the community scale includes:

  • Identification of performance goals for the built environment based on the social systems and needs in the community, and
  • Development of tools and metrics to assess resilience at the community scale that account for the individual elements (buildings, infrastructure systems, social organizations) and their dependencies. 
  • The tools and metrics will be applicable to communities of varying sizes without requiring extensive technical resources to implement.

This research component will be supported by analytical models and by disaster and failure studies of past events and current events. These studies will include data collection on the condition of the built environment, the hazard event, damage and losses immediately after the event, and recovery stages of the physical, social, and economic systems over time.

Economic methodology to support decision making. Economic methodology and tools will be developed to support community decision-making for resilience planning and implementation.  Decision support tools will account for social needs before, during, and after a disruptive event, community performance goals for physical and social systems, and evaluation of alternative resilience options to enhance community resilience.

Design Methods for Resilient Community Systems. This project will advance performance based design (PBD) methods and assessment criteria for buildings and infrastructure to improve their ability to support the social and economic functions they support and community resilience.

Engaging Community Resilience Stakeholders
This component of the program has three thrusts: developing guidance for community resilience planning, gathering input and feedback on the use of the Guide by communities, and supporting a Community Resilience Panel.

Community Resilience Planning Guidance. Community resilience planning guidance documents will be developed to support improved resilience planning methods, tools, and metrics. The guidance documents will be developed with input and feedback from stakeholders during the development process.

The NIST Community Resilience Planning Guide for Buildings and Infrastructure Systems (Planning Guide) provides a practical and flexible 6-step approach to help communities improve their resilience by setting priorities and allocating resources to manage risks for their prevailing hazards. The first version of the Planning Guide was released on October 29, 2015, and may be updated periodically as new best practices and research results become available and as communities gain experience using the Guide and recommend improvements. Using the Planning Guide, communities will be able to integrate resilience plans into their economic development, zoning, mitigation, and other local planning activities that impact buildings, public utilities and other infrastructure systems.

The Planning Guide will be supplemented by a series of Guide Briefs that provide more detailed information on implementing the 6-steps of the Planning Guide, including references to existing tools and examples or case studies of resilience planning decisions about the built environment, social systems, and dependencies between systems. 

The Economic Decision Guide for Buildings and Infrastructure Systems (EDG) provides a standard economic methodology for evaluating alternative resilience options for improving community resilience. The EDG is designed for use in conjunction with the Planning Guide. The economic methodology frames the economic decision process by identifying and comparing the relevant present and future streams of costs and benefits—the latter realized through cost savings and damage loss avoidance—associated with new capital investment into resilience to those future streams generated by the status-quo.

Guide Use by Communities. NIST will maintain a relationship with communities that use the NIST community resilience guidance documents to identify opportunities to improve or develop new guidance and tools, and develop success stories that can be shared with other communities. Success stories for early adopters can illustrate how the resilience guidance can be implemented, identify strengths and weaknesses in the process, and its benefits. 

Disaster and Failure Studies (DFS)
DFS provides leadership, coordination, and management for (1) the conduct of disaster and failure studies, including the development and maintenance of an archival data repository, (2) promoting the implementation of recommendations from disaster and failure studies, (3) carrying out the statutory responsibilities assigned by the National Construction Safety Team Act, including the development of field investigation expertise and metrology.

Resilience is being addressed at the national, regional, community, and organizational scale by governments, professionals, and researchers. To leverage the ongoing developments in a number of areas, NIST is collaborating with federal agencies (e.g., DHS, FEMA, HUD, EPA, USACE), private organizations (e.g., Rockefeller Foundation, 100 Resilient Cities, CARRI), and communities engaging in resilience planning.

OTHER IMPACTS:  A significant reduction in community impacts and losses due to hazard events through:

  • Guidance documents, tools, and metrics for implementing resilience measures at the community scale
  • A standardized, science-based methodology for assessing the resilience of a community
  • A standard decision-support methodology for evaluating alternative investment options to enhance resilience at the community scale

State, local, and federal government, utility owners and operators, businesses, industry, and the general public will all benefit from the reduced disruptions and losses due to hazard events.


100RC (2016) Defining Urban Resilience, 100 Resilience Cities, Rockefeller Foundation, New York, NY. Viewed January 23, 2017.

Boulder County (2015) Infrastructure Policies, Boulder County Collaborative, Longmont, CO. Last accessed 20 March 2017.

National Science and Technology Council, Committee on Environmental and Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Disaster Reduction, Grand Challenges for Disaster Reduction, June 2005, p.21. 

Oregon (2013) The Oregon Resilience Plan, Reducing Risk and Improving Recovery for the Next Cascadia Earthquake and Tsunami, Report to the 77th Legislative Assembly from Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission (OSSPAC), Salem, OR, February 2013.…. Viewed March 7, 2017.  

SPUR (2012). Safe Enough To Stay. SPUR Report. San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association, San Francisco, CA.….

Created May 11, 2016, Updated May 12, 2021