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Development of a First-Generation Community Resilience Assessment Methodology


Community resilience is a complex, multi-dimensional problem that relies on engineering, social sciences, earth sciences, and other disciplines to improve the way communities prepare for, resist, respond to, and recover from disruptive events, whether those events are due to natural or human-caused hazards. This project will develop tools and metrics for communities to measure resilience at the community-scale. The assessment methodology needs to employ a a complex systems perspective in order to make linkages between social and physical systems. Additionally, the methodology needs to address resilience over time on order to provide useful information to inform an understanding of the factors influencing recovery following a disruptive hazard event. The goal of this research is to develop a simplified, science-based community resilience assessment methodology that can be applied to communities of any size for the purpose of assessing baseline resilience and changes in resilience over time. The methodology will ultimately be coupled with a systems model in order to provide a means of evaluating decisions for their contribution to resilience, among other factors.


Objective - To develop the tools necessary for communities to quantitatively assess their resilience over time based on a suite of community resilience indicators that account for meaningful aspects of the physical, social, and economic systems.

What is the new technical idea?  Currently, communities are encouraged to consider and plan for resilience with little guidance or tools at their disposal. NIST released the Community Resilience Planning Guide for Buildings and Infrastructure Systems to help communities plan and implement prioritized measures for the built environment to strengthen their resilience to hazard events. The next step is to provide communities with the tools necessary to evaluate and measure their resilience. A more resilient community will have, among many other characteristics, improved functionality of buildings and infrastructure systems and a shorter recovery time of community functions following disruption.

This project will develop the methodology required to develop a community-scale resilience assessment tool. The methodology will be based on a foundational understanding that community functions are linked to buildings and infrastructure systems. Examples of community functions are the following: housing/shelter, the economy, health, education, sustenance, public safety, communication, transportation, religion/culture, and recreation/entertainment. Each function is delivered through interconnected components of the social system (e.g., the banking system, health care system, personnel/staff, consumers) and the physical system (e.g., building clusters, transportation networks, communication networks). Both social and physical systems influence community resilience – or a community’s ability to function after a disruptive hazard event.

In order to begin exploring the empirical relationships between community functions and physical systems, a framework of community-wide social and physical systems, their attributes, and their dependencies is being developed. This framework provides important foundation to the methodology, which will consist of a social science based approach to composite indicator (or metric) development. Such methodologies typically include the following: development or identification of a theoretical framework, data selection, imputation of missing data, multivariate analysis, normalization, weighting and aggregation, uncertainty and sensitivity analysis, revisiting the data, exploring relationships, and finally, data visualization.

The following major activities will support the development of a final methodology for assessing community resilience:

  • Establish linkages between building and infrastructure functions and societal functions
    • Identify empirical relationships
  • Develop draft conceptual map of community resilience indicators for physical, social, and economic systems
    • Indicator inventory
    • Identify most used indicators & broad categories
  • Test and refine analytical methods for indicator development
    • Data compilation
    • Evaluate methods for indicator development
    • Conduct sensitivity & uncertainty analysis for each method
    • Select methodology for indicators development
  • Gain consensus around a priority list of resilience indicators
    • Identify priority list of indicators through a modified delphi methodology
    • Map to theory and conceptual framework
  • Develop priority indicators and corresponding methodology

The final methodology will include the following: selected priority indicators, the analytical approach(es) for computing each indicator over time in a relevant manner for at least one spatial scale, best practices for how the approach can be replicated for different spatial scales, public data sources for all indicators, data visualization for the indicators, multivariate analyses to examine relationships between indicators, sensitivity and uncertainty analysis, and validation studies.

This research will inform and engage closely with the Community Resilience Center of Excellence (CoE) which has a similar task focused on the development of resilience metrics. Through an effective collaboration, the work of NIST and the CoE will be strengthened and improved for the benefit of communities engaged in resilience planning. Specific examples of this collaboration include work focused on the development of a conceptual model and relevant metrics for community recovery as well as engagement of CoE researchers on issues such as scaling of existing metrics and aggregation.

The methodology will ultimately be developed for use by communities and will be science-based, user-friendly, and applicable to communities of varying sizes without requiring extensive technical support to implement. The outcomes of the methodology will be available as a web based tool for obtaining resilience indicator scores over time for a particular community along with the methodology to support the development of scores for geographic scales not provided by NIST.

What is the research plan? Methods will be identified to develop relevant, systems-based indicators of community resilience.

In FY 15, a critical assessment of existing methodologies that measure or represent community resilience was completed. This critical assessment helped identify gaps in knowledge, data, and analytical approaches needed for resilience metrics and indicators. The main gaps identified were the following:

  • Most methodologies focus on the resilience of social systems only; for example, health care, education, businesses, and families/kinship systems.
  • Those methodologies that address the built environment had a weak integration of social systems and the built environment.
  • Dependencies among social or physical systems are not taken into account.

Based on these gaps, a demonstration of one approach to linking social and physical systems was completed and documented in a report. The demonstration approach was to identify for one specific community function (i.e., health), the physical and social systems that supported that function, the attributes or dimensions of those systems, and dependencies among the physical and social systems.

In FY 16, supporting physical and social systems, the attributes or dimensions of those systems, and the dependencies among the physical and social systems were identified for the following community functions: Sustenance, Housing and Shelter, Belonging and Relationships, and Education and Personal Development.

In FY 17, this information was used in combination with additional investigations to develop a conceptual map of the community resilience assessment methodology that incorporated the indicators, theory, and methods required to quantify community resilience. A focus of this work was  identifying the types of indicators that should be used as proxies to represent system attributes, dimensions, and dependencies (e.g., “% of housing units that are not manufactured homes”, Cutter et al. 2014). 

In FY18-20, the focus has been on collecting data on indicators for the community resilience assessment methodology and creating the foundational database from which to refine the analytical methods for developing indicators. This will support identifying gaps and research needs for indicator development, theory, and methods to develop a community resilience assessment methodology. 

In FY21, the first generation resilience assessment methodology will be developed. This initial version of a resilience assessment methodology will be used to conduct validation studies. In FY22, the application of the first generation resilience methodology will be documented. 

Created May 11, 2016, Updated May 4, 2021