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The Many Faces of Resilience

3D spoke network, illustration

Credit: Peter Crowther Associates

Qualitative definitions of resilience are abundant in the literature, which says resilience is the ability to resist stress and recover from faults. Essentially, a resilient object is like the timepiece that "takes a licking and keeps on ticking." However, a more rigorous definition is needed for purposes of measuring and protecting critical assets, such as a nation's infrastructure. If we cannot quantify it, how do we know if we have enough?

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When my garaged automobile fails to start in the morning, it is of little consequence to anyone but me. However, if it stalls in the middle of a busy freeway, the consequences can be large. It risks tying up traffic and delaying perhaps thousands of commuters. My automobile becomes more important as a component of a (traffic) system. The traffic system's ability to deal with the stress of a stalled automobile is a kind of resilience. Thus, resilience is a property of a system.


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