Adapting to Adversity amid a Global Pandemic

Stakeholder Insights About Progress and Next Steps for Taking Integrative Action to Build Resilient Systems

by Joie D. Acosta, Anita Chandra, Jaime Madrigano

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The devastating events of 2020 — including more than 500,000 deaths from coronavirus disease 2019, the highest-ever number of opioid overdose deaths in a 12-month period, and the highest levels of unemployment since 1948 — severely stressed disaster-response systems in the United States. The pandemic demonstrated what has been anticipated and studied for some time in resilience science–multisystem impacts from the combination of an acute crisis and ongoing chronic stressors, such as historical structural inequities, that have exacerbated it.

The multisystem failure of 2020 provided an important opportunity for researchers, practitioners, and policymakers to discuss what must be done to ensure that the United States is prepared for future challenges of this magnitude. In December 2020, the RAND Corporation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation convened a virtual Resilience Roundtable of community resilience researchers and practitioners to take stock of progress on an integrative resilience agenda initially laid out in a 2016 roundtable.

In this Perspective, the authors document the recommendations that emerged from evolving resilience literature and the experiences of resilience stakeholders actively working in their communities to create change during 2020. This Perspective has three aims: to describe the evolution of the integrative resilience research agenda first developed at the 2016 roundtable; to lift up the recommendations and concerns of resilience stakeholders that were not present in the 2016 agenda; and to discuss continued gaps in meeting the earlier roundtable's recommendations for integrative resilience, highlighted by the pandemic response.

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This research was sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and conducted within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

This publication is part of the RAND Corporation Perspective series. RAND Perspectives present expert insights on timely policy issues. All RAND Perspectives undergo peer review to ensure high standards for quality and objectivity.

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