Building Community Resilience is an interdisciplinary, multi-institutional effort to foster resilience in communities and organizations overcome by human security and homeland security challenges, such as terrorism and catastrophic disasters.

Syracuse University Institute for Security Policy and Law’s contributions to the discussion of community resilience address how resilient systems are defined and understood across multiple disciplines (such as social sciences, engineering, and biology) and how weaving these perspectives into a society’s “blanket of protection” affects what Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) calls the “Whole of Community” approach to resilience (one that incorporates law enforcement, public health officials, emergency management, the public at large, and more).


Effective disaster management depends on policymakers’ ability to deploy law enforcement, intelligence, the military, emergency management, and public health actors. Complete coverage further requires weaving in the private sector and an active citizenry.

Considering the unpredictability of man-made and natural threats, current policy thinking is that we need to knit together sectors from the bottom up. FEMA calls this a Whole of Community approach. The White House refers to its as an All-of-Nation Approach. This policy direction was evident in the Department of Homeland Security’s 2009 Quadrennial Homeland Security Review that identified fostering community resilience to disasters as one of its five mission areas. Yet shifting the nation’s focus toward building community resilience brings new challenges.

Research Agenda

In examining the way resilient systems are understood across multiple disciplines (such as social sciences, engineering, and biology) in a policy context, ISPL’s researchers have concluded that a community’s resilience is a function of its resource robustness and adaptive capacity, a concept that is more fully explained in “Building Resilient Communities: A Preliminary Framework for Assessment.” ISPL’s researchers continue to advance this study in order to operationalize the conceptual framework.

Research Activities & Products

  • Assessing Critical Infrastructure Resilience: SU researchers conducted a comparative validation study of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sponsored Critical Infrastructure Protection Decision Support System (CIPDSS) to offer an interdisciplinary and systems-level understanding of resilience. The results were reported in “Baton Rouge Post-Katrina: The Role of Critical Infrastructure Modeling in Promoting Resilience.”
  • Enhancing Regional Resilience: ISPL researchers are analyzing intrastate mutual aid systems and compacts in all 50 states to assess the state-of-play and identify best practices.
  • Developing an Analytical Framework for Assessing Community Resilience: ISPL researchers are focused on identifying the way in which resilient systems are understood across multiple disciplines (social sciences, engineering, biology) in a policy context.
  • Fostering Individual Resilience: In collaboration with the Campbell Institute, Maxwell School Citizenship and Public Affairs, ISPL is studying individuals’ and families’ understanding of their responsibilities in the event of a community-disrupting event.