Resilience > defence

Emergency response by Jon Tandy

There is a great conversation between Sam Harris and Julia Kayyem about what makes us safer.

Julia is a homeland security and counter-terrorism expert who suggests that one of the most important things for us to develop as societies is resilience. She says that defending against specific terrorist threats is a fool’s errand and we, as a society need to accept that living in an open, democratic and free way will carry a certain level of risk.

Shit happens, you can’t stop it from happening, but you can improve how you respond when it does happen. She says that if you spend money defending airports, and the attack happens somewhere else, or the attack is a hurricane and not a bomb, then you’ve wasted your money. This is where resilience comes in.

Kayyem argues that in addition to accepting that risk is part of life, we should stop trying to defend against specific, unlikely threats, but we should improve our response to more general ones. We can do this by funding things like emergency response; things which work well when shit happens. Things which help us respond quickly and bounce back no matter what flavour the shit is. This is something the excellent Bruce Schneider has also been saying for a long time.

This works on at a societal level, but it’s also super-useful at a personal level as well. Shit happens, but how’s your emergency response? Can you stay calm, together, focussed and flexible when the shit hits the fan? What’s your strategy for dealing with different flavours of shit?

We can spend a lot of time defending against specific threats in our own lives (and sometimes that’s fully warranted), but it’s important to maintain a broad emergency response as well – anything which serves us well in the face of adversity no matter how it manifests.

We need to develop our own, personal resilience.

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