Poster Paper: Resilience, Sustainability, and Vulnerability: Multi-Scale, Dynamic Interactions within Complex Systems and an Integrative Assessment Method

Friday, November 4, 2016
Columbia Ballroom (Washington Hilton)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Leslie Gillespie-Marthaler and Katherine S Nelson, Vanderbilt University

The concepts of resilience, vulnerability, and sustainability are widely used in assessing the quality or state of a variety of systems (social, ecological, engineered, and coupled social-ecological/human-environmental). There is increasing interest in understanding the relationship between these concepts and how they can be combined to better assess quality and performance of complex systems.  Anthropocentrically speaking, the quality of a system is a measure of its ability to serve society. The ability to deliver desired services (meet performance objectives) is a function of system quality (in this case, a relative measurement of current and projected resilience that is impacted by changes in vulnerability and sustainability across a set of interdependent systems).    

Although resilience, vulnerability, and sustainability assessment frameworks are typically used to examine different aspects of system quality (e.g., equity of impact distribution, ability to resist disruption, or expected lifetime of the current system state based on critical resources), they share many terms and attributes associated with a common foundation in risk assessment, management, decision making, and communication. Understanding the interdependence of performance-related measurements at multiple scales, such as systems susceptibility to climate variability and extreme events, ability to provide adequate services to support changes in population and changing needs across sectors (residential, commercial/industrial, agricultural, natural, etc.), and ability to maintain and adapt supporting physical infrastructure over time is paramount. Evaluation and assessment of how these systems perform relative to both themselves and to other systems under various scenarios is critical to improving overall system resilience.

While approaches for combining aspects of resilience and vulnerability, or resilience and sustainability frameworks have been developed, to our knowledge a framework explicitly combining all three concepts has yet to be proposed.  We present a critical evaluation of framework linkages and interdependencies based on classic definitions of each concept, identify areas of conceptual overlap that require additional analysis, and specify gaps in the literature requiring a new framework that integrates the concepts of resilience, vulnerability, and sustainability via a dynamic assessment process. We define the integrated framework and illustrate how the framework may be applied to the assessment of a complex system with the goal of guiding decision-making processes of governing bodies and institutions towards more resilient, equitable, and sustainable operations.