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A resilience engineering approach to integrating human and socio-technical system capacities and processes for national infrastructure resilience

  • John E. Thomas EMAIL logo , Daniel A. Eisenberg , Thomas P. Seager and Erik Fisher


Despite Federal directives calling for an integrated approach to strengthening the resilience of critical infrastructure systems, little is known about the relationship between human behavior and infrastructure resilience. While it is well recognized that human response can either amplify or mitigate catastrophe, the role of human or psychological resilience when infrastructure systems are confronted with surprise remains an oversight in policy documents and resilience research. Existing research treats human resilience and technological resilience as separate capacities that may create stress conditions that act upon one another. There remains a knowledge gap regarding study of those attributes in each that build infrastructure resilience as an integrated system of humans and technologies. This work draws on concepts found in the resilience engineering and psychology literature to examine the dynamic relationships between human resilience and the resilience of complex, socio-technical critical infrastructure systems. We identify and organize 18 system capacities and 23 human capacities that influence infrastructure resilience. We then correlate individual human and system resilience capacities to determine how each influences four socio-technical processes for resilience: sensing, anticipating, adapting, and learning. Our analysis shows that the human and technical resilience capacities reviewed are interconnected, interrelated, and interdependent. Further, we find current literature is focused more on cognitive and behavioral dimensions of human resilience and we offer ways to better incorporate affective capacities. Together, we present a simple way to link the resilience of technological systems to the cognitive, behavioral, and affective dimensions of humans responsible for the system design, operation, and management.

Award Identifier / Grant number: 1441352

Funding statement: National Science Foundation, Funder Id:, Grant Number: 1441352.


Appendix A

Technical resilience capacities

Table 4:
Resilience capacityDescription, findingsAuthors
1. Adaptive capacityAbility to recover stability and performance and survive a disruptive event or threat(Madni and Jackson 2009; Jackson and Ferris 2012)
2. Autonomy (local)Loose coupling (H-p220) Independence among options and solutions(Fiksel 2003; MacAskill and Guthrie 2015)
3. Avoidance, early detectionForesee, detect, prevent drift toward brittleness; maintain state during disruption(Hollnagel, Woods, and Leveson 2006; Larkin et al. 2015; Dinh et al. 2012)
4. BufferingKind/size of perturbations that can be absorbed/adapted to, without compromising performance(Woods 2006)
5. CohesionStrong forces that unify or bring together; the capacity of a system to function as a whole unit amid threats and disruption(Fiksel 2003; Larkin et al. 2015; Mu et al. 2011; Jackson and Ferris 2012)
6. CompensationEngaging additional resources like buffering and reserve margin to maintain stability within a viable operating region during adaptive system failure. Adapting performance to cope with increased demand(Rankin et al. 2013)
7. ControlAdaptive capacity management in relation to tradeoffs among multiple dimensions, dynamic access to a preferred system state(Woods 2015; Alderson, Gerald Brown, and Matthew Carlyle 2014; Dinh et al. 2012)
8. CopingCapacity to sustain unexpected surprise and complexity, local and spontaneous(Hollnagel, Woods, and Leveson 2006; Madni and Jackson 2009; Labaka, Hernantes, and Sarriegi 2016)
9. DiversityVariety of system operational/functional behavior and performance; multiple products and services; alternative plant location(Fiksel 2003; Larkin et al. 2015; Mu et al. 2011)
10. EfficacyEffectiveness of system to identify and mitigate hazards, System response to specific inputs and risks(Hollnagel, Woods, and Leveson 2006; Haimes 2009)
11. EfficiencyTradeoff with brittleness at boundary conditions; maintain a viable operating level with minimal resource consumption(Fiksel 2003; Hollnagel et al. 2011)
12. FlexibilityCapacity to adjust performance in response to external changes, threats, boundary conditions, and viable operating region; lack of flexibility contributes to brittleness; exploit resilience principle(Woods 2006; Paries 2011; Dinh et al. 2012; Jackson and Ferris 2012)
13. Goals managementTradeoff between acute and chronic goals; conflicting goals pit safety against efficiency; dynamic balancing(Woods 2006)
14. ManeuverabilityAbility to regulate the risk of brittleness; ability to manage variability; continuous adjustment to conditions(Madni and Jackson 2009)
15. MarginAbility to manage boundary conditions; how close is the system operation to boundary; successful compensation(Woods 2006)
16. Pinging, early detectionProactive probing for changes in risk profile, rapid and accurate access to changes in system states(Hollnagel, Woods, and Leveson 2006; Dinh et al. 2012)
17. SurvivalAbility of system to persevere and survive while providing a viable level of service(Hollnagel, Woods, and Leveson 2006)
18. ToleranceHow a system behaves at the boundary; graceful or abrupt degradation(Woods 2006; Jackson and Ferris 2012)

Appendix B

Human Resilience Capacities

Cognitive Dimension

Table 5:
Human resilience Description, findingsAuthors
 1. Balanced perspective on experiencePersonal beliefs that promote a sense of meaning and purpose; ability to sustain effort over time; help overcome negative effect of personal, social, and economic risks; a sense of equanimity about one’s life conditions(Olsson et al. 2003; Sinclair and Wallston 2004; Skodol 2010; Dyer and Mcguinness 1996)
 2. Fortitude, conviction, tenacity, and resolvePerseverance to tasks and goals; sustained by a deeply held belief that life has meaning; beliefs that sustain motivation and effort to adapt/survive; mastery motivation; agency(Masten and Wright 2010; Olsson et al. 2003; Masten 2014a; Dyer and Mcguinness 1996)
 3. Moral reasoningInformed conscience, capacity to judge right from wrong; valuing compassion, fairness and decency; internal standards for the way things should be; based on ethical grounds; moral perception associated with faith(Kumpfer 1995; Stokols, Lejano, and Hipp 2013)
 4. Perceive beneficial/strengthening effect of stressViewing stress as an opportunity for growth; positive perception of stress; enhanced optimism, patience, and perceived value of interpersonal communications; posttraumatic growth; learning from crises(Connor and Davidson 2003; Connor 2006; Rutter 1985; Lyons 1991; Tedeschi and Calhoun 2004; Kobasa 1979)
 5. Personal/collective goalsAbility to set desirable objectives and obtain a sense of mastery when life events threaten beliefs; contribute to a sense of coherence and meaning; self regulation(Connor and Davidson 2003; Connor 2006; Rutter 1985; Mayer and Faber 2010)
 6. Self-esteemHaving a value, acceptance, and respect of oneself; sense of self-worth; positive self-appraisal of personal strengths and capabilities; enhanced by creativity(Connor and Davidson 2003; Connor 2006; Skodol 2010; Campbell, Chew, and Scratchley 1991; Rutter 1987; Kumpfer 1995)
 7. View change/stress as a challenge/opportunityPerceive stress as a vehicle of positive change; experiences of awakening to responsibility, validation and acceptance from others; able to be self-nurturing to recognize and seek-out individual needs(Connor and Davidson 2003; Connor 2006; Kobasa 1979; Skodol 2010; Lyons 1991)

Affective Dimension

Table 6:
Human resilience Description, findingsAuthors
 8. CopingThe emotional dimension of coping involves adopting new perspectives of adverse events to benefit one’s values and beliefs thereby supporting feelings of control; An emotional approach to adaptation involving the expression of emotions as a means of actively moving toward acceptance and positive re-appraisal of stressful encounters; Buffer effects of stress on psychological outcomes; Availability of responses to endure stress(Luthar, Cicchetti, and Becker 2000; Folkman and Moskowitz 2004; Stanton, Parsa, and Austenfeld 2002; Sinclair and Wallston 2004; Kobasa 1979; Skodol 2010)
 9. Faith, religionHelps integrate meaning of both individual and social disruptive life events; Religious beliefs help stabilize emotions and emotional behavior and can help promote emotional resilience; Positively influences an individual’s ability to cope with life stressors and impacts subjective well-being(Park and Folkman 1997; Murphy, Johnson, and Lohan 2003; Freud 2012; Krause 2003; Pargament and Cummings 2010)
 10. HopefulnessPositive motivation/outlook based on successful agency; associated with positive adaptation to stress(Kumpfer 1995; Olsson et al. 2003; Ong, Edwards, and Bergeman 2006)
 11. Internal locus of controlBelieving that life’s challenges are related more to an individual’s behavior rather than bad luck or some other person; contributes to effective coping; belief that one is an active participant and determinant of outcomes(Skodol 2010; Kobasa 1979; Connor and Davidson 2003; Connor 2006; Kumpfer 1995)
 12. OptimismPositive appraisal/outlook of stressful events or adverse conditions; belief that one can influence the outcome of a stressful situation; associated with coping, positive reinterpretation, and seeking support(Connor and Davidson 2003; Connor 2006; Kumpfer 1995; Skodol 2010)
 13. PatienceCapacity to accept/tolerate delay, accepting of conditions without undue stress(Connor and Davidson 2003; Connor 2006; Lyons 1991)
 14. Self-commitmentPledge to self; adherence and persevere with of intention, direction, and responsibility; ability to feel deeply involved; belief system minimizes perceived threat; vital to health under stress(Kobasa 1979; Kumpfer 1995; Connor and Davidson 2003; Connor 2006)
 15. Sense of humorAble to view the ironic and amusing aspects of stress and conflict; cognitive reappraisal to adjust perspective and reference frame of experience to evoke positive emotion/meaning; emotional regulation; defense mechanism to ameliorate stress(Connor and Davidson 2003; Connor 2006; Rutter 1985; Fraser, Galinsky, and Richman 1999; Feder et al. 2010; Skodol 2010)
 16. Sense of meaningfulness, purposeSelf-perception of values, goals, capabilities; cognitive control(Connor and Davidson 2003; Connor 2006; Kobasa 1979)

Behavioral Dimension

Table 7:
Human resilience DescriptionReferences
 17. Ability to adapt to changeAdjust behavior to accommodate environmental conditions, stressors, and negative effects; ability to anticipate and plan and take reflective actions, related to agency(Connor and Davidson 2003; Connor 2006; Rutter 1985; Kumpfer 1995; Brown and Westaway 2011)
 18. Ability to use past successes to confront current challengeCapacity to engage cognitive reappraisal to find benefit from stressors; accepting of life conditions and imperfections(Connor and Davidson 2003; Connor 2006; Pargament and Cummings 2010)
 19. Agency, action-oriented approachMastery motivation system, self-perception of positive and effective action, enact adaptive pathways, capacity to self-direct, builds confidence(Connor and Davidson 2003; Connor 2006; Rutter 1985; Masten and Wright 2010; Brown and Westaway 2011)
 20. Engaging the support of others (a.k.a. social support)Social resources (friends and relatives) promote positive adaptation; mentors and role models can alleviate stress; acts as a stress buffer; outlet for expression of feelings and assist navigating life conditions; facilitates adjustment to trauma(Connor and Davidson 2003; Connor 2006; Rutter 1985; Skodol 2010; Friborg and Hjemdal 2003; Garcia-Dia et al. 2013)
 21. Secure attachments to othersClose bonding relationships; universal process in human development that begins in infancy with caregivers, parents, and family; also involves close relationships with friends and romantic partners; threats trigger behaviors seeking contact and reassurance; provides secure base for exploring the world; supports the process of agency and mastery motivation(Connor and Davidson 2003; Connor 2006; Olsson et al. 2003; Masten and Wright 2010; Ungar 2006; Friborg and Hjemdal 2003)
 22. Self-efficacyBelief and confidence in one’s ability to achieve a goal and overcome adversity and disruptive events; self-confidence; belief in one’s ability to navigate and manage difficulties effectively(Garcia-Dia et al. 2013; Rutter 1993, 1987; Olsson et al. 2003; Skodol 2010)
 23. Tolerance of negative effectSufficient internal coping mechanisms to manage stressors; strategies for dealing with traumatic conditions(Connor and Davidson 2003; Connor 2006; Olsson et al. 2003; Smith 1999)


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Published Online: 2019-04-03

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