How Civil Institutions Build Resilience

Organizational Practices Derived from Academic Literature and Case Studies

by Krista Langeland, David Manheim, Gary McLeod, George Nacouzi


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Research Questions

  1. What are the clear guidelines for enhancing resilience that can be applicable across different domains?
  2. What lessons can be borrowed from civilian organizations with different levels of resilience tolerance — such as hospitals, nuclear power plants, and supply-chain management — that can inform the U.S. Air Force space community?
  3. In reviewing academic literature and examining specific cases, what are the key themes of resilience building that are already in use?

In an effort to support U.S. Air Force space community resilience objectives, researchers conducted a review of the academic literature defining and describing resiliency in various domains, and case-study reports about how organizations build resilient missions. This report summarizes key findings from this review that have broad application to any organization seeking to enhance resilience, which includes the space community. This report presents the approaches taken by three different types of communities to develop and maintain resilient operations. The discussion presented in this report illustrates three methods for building resilience, each illustrated by the approach of one community; resilience through withstanding an adverse event (impact avoidance and robustness), resilience through adaptation and flexibility, and resilience through recovery and restoration. These approaches are broadly described in this report as: withstand, adapt, and recover. Communities seeking to develop more resilient operations can gain insight from applying the various methods described in the literature, and applying lessons derived from similar operational environments and how they addressed resilience. Recognizing that any given organization can incorporate all three of these approaches in various parts of an overall resilience plan, this report seeks to highlight organizations that will be most likely to emphasize one of these approaches over another.

Key Findings

High-Risk Operations Illustrate Best Practices and Lessons Learned Even for Organizations with Low Risk Tolerance

  • Resilient organizations must prepare for the full spectrum of impact, not just the most likely impact, within practical and financial constraints.
  • These organizations establish shared mission awareness by optimizing access to information, emphasizing overall mission objectives, and supporting error reporting and identification of potential problems.
  • These organizations build system-specific training programs led by experts.
  • These organizations establish a clear hierarchy for decisionmaking, but balance this with appropriate flexibility allotted to personnel.

Adaptability and Flexibility Should Be Measured and Evaluated as an Important Metric for Resilience

  • Threats can be addressed by building a systematic approach that addresses specific threats in a way that increases general resilience.
  • Increased visibility into a system allows enhancements to efficiency and can show how to mitigate vulnerability.
  • Flexibility of personnel and operations can be facilitated using standardized processes, disaggregation, and decision postponement.
  • Support of a comprehensive understanding of all operations helps to build a dynamic culture that can increase organizational flexibility and responsiveness. Dynamic cultures are sometimes built by fostering continuous communication, distributing decisionmaking power, creating passion for work, and training for disruption.

Following a Disaster, Both Prior Experience and Trained Personnel Can Help to Minimize Recovery Time

  • Evacuation procedures in response to a threat event, or full-scale exercises conducted prior to threat impact can reveal more efficient methods and time-saving measures that can be incorporated into a periodically edited emergency response plan.
  • Incorporating lessons learned from response-planning exercises, false alarms, or earlier emergencies can significantly increase the efficiency and efficacy of future response efforts.
  • During disaster response, time is critical, and the speed with which the source of the failure can be identified and addressed is a primary metric for resilience.
  • Having experienced personnel on call, supporting shared mission awareness among all personnel, and establishing coordinated reporting procedures can minimize response times during an emergency.


Common themes emerged throughout the literature and case-study reports that offer guidance for increasing resilience regardless of mission type and threat environment. The following key components of resilient organizations reflect these common themes:

  • Information sharing and shared awareness of mission can increase the efficiency and effectiveness of operations both during and following a threat event.
  • Clear reporting structures and cultures that support error reporting help allow an organization to develop more resilient operations by incorporating lessons from previous errors.
  • Appropriate balance between flexible personnel with distributed decisionmaking and specialized personnel with centralized decisionmaking facilitates better coordination and rapid responses during crises.
  • Accurate and comprehensive risk-assessment methods allow both better system design for resilience, and better planning for withstand, adapt, and recover strategies and phases.
  • Training for specific threats while maintaining flexibility in response procedures is a challenge, but meeting this challenge will help an organization to address both known and unknown threats.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    Definitions, Characteristics, and Assessments of Resilience

  • Chapter Three

    Withstand: Hazardous Industries

  • Chapter Four

    Adapt and Respond: Supply-Chain Risk Management

  • Chapter Five

    Recover: Disaster Response and Recovery-Oriented Resilience

  • Chapter Six

    Summary of Themes and Methods for Building Resilience

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by the commander, Air Force Space Command, and was conducted within the Force Modernization and Employment Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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