June 2016
Julie-Maude Normandin, Doctorante en Analyse et Management des politiques publiques à l'ENAP, spécialisée en gestion des risques et des crises

Changer nos pratiques pour devenir plus résilient : un nouvel objectif social

When it comes to coping with natural and technological disasters, the saying that “it only happens to others” is not particularly good advice. Fortunately, major international organizations, governments, and municipalities have been making resilience a core objective of crisis management policies for the past few years.

This principle has become crucial for two reasons. First, international statistics show that the number of crises is constantly on the rise, bringing with them increasingly significant consequences. Whether a matter of extreme climatic events, pandemics, malicious acts, or accidents resulting in the failure of essential systems such as drinking water, these disasters affect day-to-day life. Second, many crises that occur elsewhere in the world can rapidly incur concrete consequences for Montreal, as the mobilization of authorities and citizens during the Syrian refugee crisis and the preparation of the health care system in the event of the spread of the Ebola virus to Canada recently demonstrated.

As a result, it has now become vital to lower our level of vulnerability, develop our capacity to adapt, and prepare ourselves to face a wide variety of crises.

What is urban or social resilience?

Just like a person who is able to overcome personal difficulties, a resilient community has the ability to face a crisis, bounce back, rebuild quickly, and learn from a disaster.

In crisis management, the principle of resilience stipulates that as effective as preventive measures may be, it’s impossible to completely stop a disaster from happening. In conjunction with preventive measures, it’s also necessary to put resilience measures in place.

This capacity must be developed both before and after an event. For example:

  • Prevention: Identify heat islands and locate green spaces there to reduce the city's vulnerability in the event of a heat wave.
  • Preparation: Establish partnerships with public authorities and community organizations to better reach at-risk populations in the event of a pandemic.
  • Intervention: Train decision-makers to take initiative in complex situations with high degrees of uncertainty and incomplete information.
  • Reconstruction: Take advantage of the opportunity to rebuild with higher standards alongside citizens.

How is resilience developed?

One of the long-held myths of crisis management is that an influential leader is able to firmly lead the crisis intervention. On the contrary, field research highlights the efficiency of a large network of players who work together through partnerships, relationships of trust, and a proper flow of information. The development of resilience is connected to collaboration on multiple initiatives on various scales, both locally and nationally.

Urban resilience is therefore based on the combination of several factors, such as lowering levels of vulnerability, the ability of public and private organizations to continue their operations and meet the needs of citizens in crisis, and the ability of citizens themselves to adapt.

Three resources to learn more:

  1.  The Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities, which includes Montreal
  2. OECD documents on resilience
  3. Issue of the magazine Téléscope on resilience and risk management