Applying the Concept of Resilience in the United States Virgin Islands

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    Lloyd Gardner

    Resilience is often discussed in relation to hardening of structures affected by natural and man-made events. The health or state of the affected entity (person, institution, structure, system, or community) also contributes to post-event regenerative capacity

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    Miguel Quinones

    As Hiroyuki Murakami, Thomas L. Delworth, William F. Cooke, Ming Zhao, Baoqiang Xiang, and Pang-Chi Hsu described on their “Detected climatic change in global distribution of tropical cyclones” paper, the frequency and intensity of storms is increasing with the passage of time. In bringing up the term resilience the author stops short from making recommendations on how the implementation of the concept can help Virgin Islanders overcome the catastrophic impacts of natural disasters and accelerated by climate change.

    It turns out that after every disaster there is a rhythmic dance between order and chaos due to entropy, the degree of disorder or uncertainty in the system. The repeated trajectory between the two states is resiliency. The author points out that social and geopolitical factors also negatively affect the Virgin Islands, there are many other factors but I’ll summarize by describing them as the ever growing level of complexity in our daily lives. In a world dominated by technology we are at the mercy of the weakest link.

    Unwilling to surrender to the current circumstances I propose we embrace resiliency make the conscious decision and commit spiritually and as a cohesive community to an ever changing future. The past is full of stories of island civilizations who didn’t make it, due to bad leadership but mostly because of poor of ecological understanding. Being aware of the geography, geology, topography, history, and ecology, allows us to use the practice of systems thinking applied to the resilience principles to prepare for what’s ahead.

    The first lesson is to learn from the natural systems. In nature there is no linearity, there is a cycle of life where the residues from one process feeds the next and there is no waste. The Circular Economy is based on those premises and relies on three pillars: Design out waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use, and regenerate natural systems. Not only will this approach make the Virgin Islands more resilient, it’s also profitable.

    The second lesson about how resilient systems can provide for human survival, we can learn from the residents from the small Pacific island nation of Tikopia, who have survived the impacts of typhoons for 3000 years living in wooden huts with thatch roofs without external intervention. They don’t have access to running water, electrical grid, wastewater systems, or a banking system. In spite of all that they have been able to thrive. Their apparent demise may come as foreign currency, access to the media, and the internet have taken root as the cruise ship tourists started visiting a few years ago. These newly introduced factors increase the complexity of their system and entropy will threaten their way of life.

    The third lesson we can learn from the military and Don Quixote with the proverb “’is the part of a wise man to keep himself today for tomorrow, and not venture all his eggs in one basket.” The idea here is that we have to sacrifice some frugality and build redundancy and diversity into our lives and our community. More specifically, Virgin Islanders should embrace on site electric systems with enough diversity and redundancy that they could survive a disaster at least partially.

    The fourth lesson is to cultivate local resources for those times when the supply chains are disrupted and the access to imported food and materials are limited. Increasing local food production is essential and can create good jobs if we can develop combine the research and development from UVI with farming, fishing, and urban food production.

    The fifth lesson has to do with simplicity, flexibility, low tech, passive, and manual systems that won’t need experts and complex procedures to repair them. Examples include rainwater harvesting, FRS or GMRS two way radios for when cellphone towers are down, wood fired grills, axes, and other tools and systems which are versatile.

    The sixth lesson is to promote cooperation in the community, build back the sense of neighborhood support structures, and get involved with the implementation of the UVI’s Hazard Mitigation and Resilience Plan.

    The seventh lesson is to maintain buildings and infrastructure so they perform as they are intended in case of disasters. Buildings which fall in disrepair have a shorter life span and are more costly to operate as they don’t run as efficiently.

    The eight lesson is to look at adaptation with a positive attitude and take incremental steps in anticipation of vulnerabilities.


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