A Framework to Improve Resilience Planning for Urban Communities

Historical Approaches to Deal with Hazards

Hazards and Risk

The United Kingdom is fortunate in that it is not considered a hazard-prone area from the perspective of natural hazards. Hazards have a social basis and of these the greatest risks are posed by the ones that damage the infrastructures of the industrialized/specialized society we rely on for our economic well-being.

Historically, architects and planners have focussed on the physical impact of hazards on the urban environment. Hazards were classified according to:

  • Areal extent

  • Speed of onset

  • Duration

The focus was generally on single large events and a lot of work went into the development of methods to quantify the risk of these occurrences. Hazards were resolved down to a percentage figure of risk that remained fixed. As research and understanding developed, planners became increasingly aware that the focus on large events with statistically low frequency obscured the fact that much damage is caused by smaller but more frequent events.


During the 1980s and early 1990s the concept of vulnerability became a bigger issue and efforts were made to incorporate this into the planning process. But vulnerability is a difficult concept to measure, as it draws on wide-ranging and often dynamic socioeconomic factors in society.

Studies in vulnerability also gave rise to the concept of hazard ecologies, which give greater emphasis to the smaller and more frequent disasters.2 At the same time, the media was becoming increasing able to report up-to-the-minute news on a global scale. Large-scale disasters were widely reported and people's perceptions of the risks they faced altered. They became more aware of the consequences of disaster.


During the late 1990s studies in vulnerability grew to include environmental issues that led to the concept of sustainable development emerging as a strong point of focus for development planners. Governments across the world adopted the aims and objectives of sustainability, including the UK where much work was undertaken forcing planners to expand the range of factors they consider.

Among these initiatives was the Local Government Act 2000 which placed a duty on local authorities to produce long-term community strategies to improve quality and sustainability in the local area. They are required to do this by involving local partners including the public, private businesses, community groups and voluntary organizations. The Earth Summit 2002 in Johannesburg placed additional pressure on local authorities to adopt sustainable development practices and will, with little doubt, lead to further planning guidelines.

The Concept of Resilience

The amalgamation of all the above historic developments in the urban planning process has given rise to the concept of 'resilience'. This concept has a focus on disaster and addresses the ability of the community to recover following the impact of a disaster.

It is possible to translate this more specifically in terms of the planning process:

  • For a community to improve its resilience to a disaster impact, it must first undergo a process of hazard identification

  • All risks associated with hazards need to be quantified in order to assess priorities for further investigation and dedication of resources

  • Examining socio-economic factors allows vulnerability to be mapped in relation to the risks and hazards faced by the community. This is a particularly important process because vulnerability can be considered the root cause of disaster

  • Environmental considerations ensure that sustainability factors are equated.

    All of the above can be done prior to the disaster impact.

Actions to improve resilience following the disaster impact include:

  • Develop procedures to assist the community in meeting all its immediate survivability needs

  • Implement long term plans which will allow recovery to happen as quickly and as efficiently as possible

  • Incorporate any lessons learned as a result of the disaster.

These are all considerations architects and planners must take into account in order to build resilience into the urban environment. Practitioners should also be aware that this is a task requiring a wide range of skills, experience and technology.

Resilience, by this definition, requires a multi-sectoral responsibility and individuals that can fully comprehend the issues, develop plans and implement measures to tackle its reduction (adapted from Lewis 1999).

A Framework for Improving Resilience

Any framework for improving resilience should seek to incorporate the issues and elements described in the foregoing sections. In addition, the framework should incorporate other similar methodologies from which it may draw on for support. An examination of these related methodologies reveals how 'indicators' have been used for development, guidance and measurement purposes.


    Audit Commission 2002

  • Quality Indicators (local level)

      Within the UK, the Audit commission created a set of quality/sustainability indicators with thirteen theme areas in four broad categories.

  • European Sustainable Cities and Towns Campaign (ninety Local Authorities)

      The European Union has developed a second set of indicators with a slightly wider, perhaps regional focus. They identified ten indicators with six areas of concern.

  • UN Commission for Sustainable Development (National)

      The UN has developed a set of fourteen national level indicators within four broad categories.

For a framework dealing with resilience to mesh with these related local and national frameworks, a specific set of indicators needs to be developed to consider: physical infrastructure; social infrastructure; economic infrastructure; environmental management; community involvement.


At this point the framework is presented as a series of stages in a planning process. The intention being that each stage should produce outputs valuable to one or other of the follow-on stages. Stages in the framework:

    1. Vulnerability assessment and risk mapping

    2. Survey of traditional systems to deal with risk and vulnerability

    3. Evaluation of traditional system performance in the face of disasters

    4. Consideration of modern techniques to reduce vulnerability

    5. Development of disaster response plans to include emergency and long term redevelopment

    6. Education of industry practitioners

    7. Strengthening of inter-agency arrangements

    8. Development of community participation schemes

    9. Instigation of environmental monitoring systems

    10. Performance evaluation

    11. Dissemination of evaluation results

    Within the framework it is possible to identify areas where expertise from different sectors may play a more prominent role.

    1 & 2 - rely heavily on local planners and architects

    3 & 4 - benefit from academic and international input

    5 & 6 - utilise skills of emergency planners

    7 & 8 - are multi-sectoral based

    9, 10 & 11 - benefit from independent and specialist observers

Assessing Compliance with the Framework

Assessment is useful in the developmental stage of creating a framework as it allows indicators to be refined, permits the identification of gaps in stakeholder input, enables team creation and the determination of existing levels of compliance. Once the framework is established and operational, the assessment can be used to establish local and national norms, strengths and deficiencies. There are a number of assessment methods but the FEMA Compatibility Assessment for Readiness (CAR) methodology offers a model most suited to this framework.

The CAR methodology makes use of the indicators described above, but they are referred to as attributes. The method relies on a self-assessment undertaken by participants after appropriate training and guidance provided by the monitoring authority. FEMA experience shows that training of participants is essential to ensure continuity in interpretation of ability and thereby provide greater validity to the results.


The development of a framework for improving resilience of urban communities is a topic receiving much attention within the UK, as illustrated by the Emergency Planning Review in August 2001. The activities of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat (CCS), the development of the new Civil Contingencies Bill, and developments within the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies (RUSI) also demonstrate the growing concern for improving resilience in urban communities.

On an international level, the need for such a framework has been established within the field of post-disaster reconstruction and commitments have been made to develop the framework further. It is hoped that this paper will serve to generate further ideas within individual readers' sphere of operation and that potential new collaborations in research and development may occur to tailor the framework to the needs of the UK.

With reference to the latter point, the author would welcome approaches from interested parties.

Andrew Fox is Senior lecturer in Disaster Relief and Development Engineering, Coventry University, Centre for Disaster Management


    1. A. H. Perry, Environmental Hazards in the British Isles (London: George, Allen & Unwin, 1981).

    2. J. Lewis, Development in Disaster Prone Places (London: ITDG, 1999).

    3. Quality of life indicators - Public Sector feedback paper, Audit Commission, London, 2002.

    4. Lewis, op. cit.

Other Sources Consulted

  • Capability Assessment for Readiness, 1997, FEMA,


  • Indicators of Sustainable Development, 2001, UN-ESA,


  • I-Rec Conference, 2002, Improving post-disaster reconstruction in developing countries, Universite de Montreal, Canada,


  • Towards a local Sustainability Profile - European Common Indicators, 2000, European Sustainable Cities & Towns Campaign, Expert Group on the Urban Environment,


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