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Can resilience be engineered?

Diverse schools of thought exist about the long-term viability of resilience engineering.

These hinge on the belief that certain key elements of our society – such as societal and governmental infrastructure, and their various interconnected systems – can be strengthened against future disasters by investing in specific technologies, ideas, materials and strategies. Others concede engineering solutions are not a ‘silver bullet’ but provide limited, piecemeal and temporary solutions to persistently recurring crises and emergencies.

Many earlier studies of resilience saw it as a means of assessing the ability of systems infrastructure and their related materials to withstand severe conditions and rebound. Further arguments push the concept of resilience far beyond our conventional notions of recovery and restoration to favour seeing resilience as a strategy for returning weakened, damaged or destroyed systems to an equilibrium state.

Experts disagree on what specific actions and technologies best lead to this outcome. Counterpoints to the sceptical argument identify the pyramids, the Great Wall of China and many medieval castles as proof we can engineer systems to survive and thrive long after their original design life.

With today’s projects and engineering programs, how long should we expect a skyscraper, a 40-mile bridge or a modern subway to operate unimpeded by emergencies and damaging, disruptive events?

A further fine point in the resilience engineering debate is whether 21st-century systems should be improved and upgraded against all possible hazards and calamities or simply exhibit integrity to withstand the highest risk events expected.

In turn, this drives the question of whether building systems to last flawlessly and reliably for hundreds of years (despite any known or unknown disruptive emergency) is a valid and sensible expectation.

Your task

What are your thoughts on the ability of society to engineer resilience to potential threats?

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This article is from the free online course:

Foundations in Resilience, Security and Emerging Technology

Coventry University