In this episode, I’m talking with Daniel Aldrich, the professor and director of the resilience and security studies programme at Northeastern University in the USA, and we’re talking about Social Capital: the foundation for building national resilience.
I connected with Daniel a couple of years ago when he was invited to a small group conversation where Daniel was the guest speaker in Sydney. It was then I first realised how important his research on social ties is to all communities.
At C2C we are honoured to have Daniel as an Advisory Committee member of our national approach – the Resilient Australia Alliance – which you’ll be hearing a lot more about in the coming months. I’m so excited to have Daniel on the episode today to share his focus on bonding, bridging and linking ties.
A little bit about Daniel...
Daniel P. Aldrich was born in upstate New York and spent his childhood (and much of his adult life) travelling and living abroad. While living in Tokyo, Japan, he began to wonder how Japan – the only country to suffer the effects of atomic weaponry – could have built up such an advanced nuclear power program. He wrote up his observations in the book SITE FIGHTS published by Cornell University Press. In 2005 he and his family had their home, car, and all of their material possessions in New Orleans destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and began studying what makes communities and neighbourhoods more resilient.
He published BUILDING RESILIENCE to share these insights on the role of friends, neighbours, and social cohesion after a crisis. After Japan was hit by the devastating triple disasters of an earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown in March 2011, Aldrich wrote BLACK WAVE about the factors that helped people and communities bounce back.
I like to start with where we met...
I had heard a lot about Daniel from a previous visit he made to Australia and was intrigued to hear more about this (so called) ‘social capital’ concept.
It wasn’t until I was kindly invited to a small group conversation where Daniel was the guest speaker in Sydney – a couple of years ago – that I saw and heard first hand how important his research and focus on social ties is.
Given C2C is 100% stakeholder led it was (on my part anyway) a case of people resilience love at first sight.
I’m so excited to have Daniel on the episode today to share his focus on bonding, bridging and linking ties. I’m really honoured to also say that Daniel is an Advisory Committee member of our national approach – the Resilient Australia Alliance – which you’ll be hearing a lot more about in the coming months.
Now if you haven’t read Daniel’s books or watched a YouTube video on his three areas of social ties you need to put down whatever you’re doing right now and buy or view it – or maybe wait until after you’ve listened to our conversation!
Here are some questions I asked...
1. So Daniel, can you share a little more about your role at Northeastern, and the road you’ve taken to become (what I and many others refer to you as) the global expert in social capital?
So, I really love my job. I’m very lucky. I’m the director of the program on security and resilience and I helped design the curriculum for undergraduate and graduate students studying these topics. And of course, got to be a professor and work on things that are really critical to me, but also critical t people around the world. That all began for me now, almost 15 years ago. I was just on my first job as an academic after my PhD was done. We had driven down from Boston where we lived with my wife, who had to go to graduate school and we went to New Orleans, Louisiana. We were there for about six weeks. Unfortunately for us, we picked the time to move right before Hurricane Katrina arrived. And that arrival meant that our neighbourhood, (we lived in a place called Lakeview) and indeed our house became Lakeview as we had 12 feet of water in our house. So, everything that we had just purchased, new car, new clothing and stuff for the kids were all destroyed. We were really lucky in the sense that we were saved, not because of our foresight or our wisdom. In fact, we were dumb enough to think we could stay that was our plan to stay to the hurricane in a one-story house. We were saved because a neighbour, Kathy, one of the people we just met a few weeks ago, came to our house at midnight, knocked on the door and said, ‘Daniel, you guys got to get out this is not safe.’ And her coming to our house or her showing that level of interest in us got us out of there. And that really began for me thinking about this broader question. We were not good planners, not very wise and had no insurance. So, at the time we had no job because my job was suspended. We had nothing left because our house was destroyed. Our two young kids were with us in sitting together in a small hotel in Houston. What’s going to happen next?
I had this vision of disasters and recovery as coming from maybe two different places. You know, one of them was going to be from the government, the government will come to save me. And the other was the idea that some other free market would save me. Maybe we had some quiet insurance we forgot about or maybe my parents had insurance and, and of course, it turned out that FEMA rejected all of our attempts at getting money for months- over half a year. And of course, we didn’t, we didn’t really didn’t have insurance. But what did save us though, what helped us the most were our friends or friends or friends, people we’ve never met, but they were in our networks. And that began really a long journey for me to think through – Okay, well these shocks like Hurricane Katrina, these aren’t that uncommon. So is my story, a story of a family that got through not because we were smart, not because we were wise, or because we had a house 20 feet off the ground. We were saved because a neighbour knew who we were and told us to get out. And then we were saved, because friends of friends said, ‘if you need a place to stay or need school for your kids, we have spaces for you.’ So that that kind of began a long process.
So I wrote a book, not long after called ‘building resilience’, which was my attempt to understand how these disasters that happened in North America, in India and in Japan, I worked on another book on disasters in East Asia, then I worked on a broader book on how communities can recover. And just about a year ago, I finished up my most recent book, which was called ‘Black Wave’, focusing on Japan’s 311 triple disasters. And all of those have the same story, my wife would say, they’re just telling the story with different covers, which is that I, you know, always go and talk to people. I just talked to people who survived. I talked to family members who had relatives who didn’t survive. I talk to NGOs and Mayors and asked the same questions. What happened here? How is it going to get better? And, you know, the stories seem to coalesce around this idea that our networks, the kind of connections that we have, are so critical often in ways we don’t think about during peacetime.
Yes, so true. I love that your story is kind of the same as mine. I was actually on the last plane allowed to land on the east coast of America on September 11. So, I found myself funnily enough, in Boston, where you are now, as a complete stranger for two and a half weeks, I couldn’t get out. These strangers became my community because I didn’t know anyone there, and they were there to help me get through. I love that your experience, and mine, it sets off that passion in the belly, for wanting to research more and do something more about it.
2. Now, for those who have not heard about the term of social capital, I often refer to your three types of social capital. So bonding, bridging and linking ties. Can you just explain it a bit more? For those who haven’t heard about it?
Yeah, of course, you know, we all recognise that we have things that matter. Our friendships or connections, perhaps during COVID-19 even more, right, the things that we miss, getting hugs, going to concerts, praying together, eating together with people, having that time together with people, and social scientists divide those ties into what we call bonding, bridging and linking ties. Bonding ties are the connections that are the most common between people who are very similar. So, for example, the kind of ties you and your family would share would be bonding ties. People that look like you sound like you went to the same schools, same ethnicity, caste, religion, race, all that stuff, those are bonding ties. And those are probably the most common, all of us hopefully have some of those. Those are different than bridging ties. Bridging ties connect us to people who are different, different ethnically, religiously, their thoughts are different. Maybe they’re Democrat, you’re Republican. M maybe they’re wealthy and you’re poor. Maybe you’re a person of colour, and they’re white. So those ties are less common but really critical. And actually, part of the fun stuff that we do with our lab, is trying to understand how these different connections play a role at different times. So those bonding ties are really, really helpful during a shock. Someone has a heart attack in your apartment complex, or somebody has a fire. Actually, a few months ago, there was a fire in the house behind us. So, all of us in the apartment complex where I live immediately mobilised to help each other out. Those are all horizontal connections, the bonding and bridging ties.
In contrast, if we’re lucky, we have vertical ties called linking social ties. Those between normal people like me, and someone in power – maybe the mayor of Boston or the governor of Massachusetts, or maybe the president, somebody who has the authority and can do something. So, if you think about it, those bonding, bridging and linking ties can bring very different things. First of all, the vertical ties can bring resources. If everyone in my neighbourhood got hit by a flood, but the governor can bring down relief money or a tent city or assistance, that’s a really powerful tie to have. At the same time, bridging ties can bring new information, as well as new procedures and new ways of thinking about the problem. So maybe my bonding network, the way they solve solutions might be quite similar to mine. Their approaches may be the same. But if I have a really broad network and I’ve got more diverse ties, I can handle new problems in different ways. And that’s what a lot of our research backs up. There is a very strong body of evidence that basically the broader kinds of connections, the more of these bridging ties you have. And the more linking ties vertical ties you have, the better off you’re going to be than just having, for example, great friends and family. Hopefully, all of us have good friends and family. But it’s really getting beyond those, mom and pop and auntie connections that really help us during shocks.
And I guess when you when I talk about the disaster space, I find that a lot of the organisations or government departments, have their traditional networks, their traditional partnerships and collaborations. But it’s really about evolving out of those and having more of those bridging and linking ties so that we can all get to know each other and build those relationships before. So that when disaster strikes. They’re ready to go.
Can I ask, what’s been your experience from the work you’ve done around the world in terms of gaining funding or support for social capital-led resilience programs and outcomes? Now, in the disaster space, traditionally, I find there’s been a lot of focus in Australia on infrastructure. So, when it comes to resilience, it’s building bridges and buildings and roads, because that can be funded and fixed in front of our eyes. They get a lot of the main focus. But, gaining funding or awareness on the social capital or the people aspect of resilience, it has been a pretty hard slog. I’ve got to be honest because it hasn’t really been on the radar until maybe the late part of 2020 when the bushfires and COVID kicked in. I must say that, in my opinion, I think there’s a long way to go in building social capital across Australian communities.
3. So, can I ask what’s been your experience from the work you’ve done around the world in terms of gaining funding or support for social capital led resilience programs and outcomes?
I think much similar to your experiences, it’s been a hard uphill battle in many cases. One of my favourite stories is there is this amazing program that began in Japan, after the 111 disasters. We were so happy and so proud of this process. And the simple reality was that all the funding came from outside Japan. The money came from the Japanese government. None of the money came from the local government. The money came from an American aerospace supplier that had to help that by doing its corporate social responsibility. Their money gave the seed money for this program. Now, this program was so successful that it actually spread from Japan to Nepal and the Philippines. It’s called the EBA show. But I think that story, right with the money for an incredibly successful social capital program that is helping build ties, isn’t coming from the community itself, it’s not coming from the government is pretty normal.
We’re doing a project right now that I’m working on a new book. Looking at these different investments – you mentioned bridges and roads – we call that physical infrastructure. And that’s a big contrast to this social infrastructure. The ties that we have to each other, these binding, bridging and linking ties, and we just measured so far in two different places. The one is the national budget in Japan, how money in disasters is spent. Is it spent on physical infrastructure or social infrastructure? And our first cut shows that 95% of the money being spent in Japan in disasters, is completely on physical infrastructure – walls, hardening buildings, raising up roads, all that kind of stuff. And I wish I could tell you that here in Boston, it’s different. But I’m sad to say, we’ve tracked so far 85 projects in Boston, over the past 15 years, almost exactly the same ratio. Over 90% of the money being spent in what I think is a progressive, modern city, full of really smart people. And unfortunately, the same ratio is that so much of the money has gone into sea walls and sea barriers, and all this kind of stuff to slow the arrival of the ocean. And very little money has gone into things like setting up citizen science trust, zoning and engagement, or civic engagement, getting people to get to know their neighbours, all the stuff that we need during these shocks. So it is, I think, a universal problem for governments, especially local and regional governments. Where they only want to build something that’s visible, and building those roads and bridges and dams and ports. You can point to people and say, ‘look what I built.’ It’s much harder to say, ‘we built a program where people are feeling trust in each other and the government, or a program where people now have more friends or a program where people engage more in civic engagement. Those don’t sound, I think, as good to a politician. And that’s really what the political will, right. Much of the budgetary, budgetary stuff that happens is really far removed from local communities. It’s in the hands of a few people who often think in terms of re-election.
100% and I have to say, I would love for you to include Australia in your research for this because I think the numbers would be exactly the same and I think it’s staggering. To see how much is put into building roads or bridges or something that can have a red or blue tape that gets cut at the photo opportunity. It’s the people who build resilience. We don’t need necessarily all the buildings if the people are not going to be there to be resilient as well.
4. So, over the years, I’ve copied and shared so many of your quotes, and I’m going to share some of my favourites if you wouldn’t mind us expanding on them a little bit in terms of why they’re so important. Connected communities are more resilient than affluent communities.
Yeah, this is funny, you know, a lot of times, people will talk to me and say, ‘you know, what, I’m sure this is all about wealth, right? You know, it’s really about having the money having the income.’ And the funny thing is actually, this is true around the world, oftentimes communities which don’t have huge amounts of material endowments, a lot of money, a lot of insurance. They’re exactly the ones that recognise the power of this kind of stuff. They’re the ones who can build these kinds of connections because they have to. Because at some level for them, it’s almost like a substitute. But that deep bank account or big pockets, or having your spouse who’s a banker, or whatever, that’s often the case. So, what we found, for example, (and this is some of my records in Japan) some of the poorest communities and the most vulnerable ones are the ones where these kinds of ties are really servicing the most and doing the most good. To the degree, you can imagine Donald Trump, you don’t really need your neighbours to know you. You have people you can hire to do your work for you or, or maybe you’re so removed from the kind of day-to-day shocks that most of us handled like COVID-19, for example, or whatever else is going on. It doesn’t even matter. You don’t need to mitigate those kinds of things. So, building up those social ties may not even be on your agenda. Maybe you see people as threats and you prefer not to have to build those kinds of ties or I think that somehow wealth is the most important thing.
A really cool study that we did, of the community of Fatwa, which used to live right next to nuclear power plants that melted down in Japan. And there we tracked them for about five years after the Fukushima meltdowns to understand their mental health processes. How things were going for them. And again, we thought the wealthiest residents who used to live there had to evacuate, of course, they will do better. They can hire therapists, they can move away further, they can get a new job, but they’ve got didn’t even need a job. The simple reality was having wealth wasn’t a shield against mental health anxiety. What really helped the most for everybody- poor, middle class and wealthy the like, we’re having social ties. So yeah, over and over again, we’re seeing that wealth is not enough. And of course, the irony is if your house is flooding, or there’s a heart attack, wealth is not going to help you. You need someone nearby to step in and intervene. In the long term, let’s say, build ties to decision-makers who decide what are we spending our money on in society. Are we going to, build houses up the hill? Are we going to try and get people in the community that are vulnerable to stick together?
5. I love that one. Now, another one I really like is social networks. And in fact, I say this in a lot of people stare at me like I’m making it up. So as soon as you confirm it, then I’m going to post it out to a lot of those people. Social networks matter more than bottled water and batteries.
Yeah, so this is another thing I get a lot -So Daniel, ‘I’m a hoarder, I’m a prepper, whatever phrase you have, I’m the person who has all this stuff right in my house ready for the next shock. I met a family of very nice people, they had drilled into the hill behind their home, about 30 feet. They had filled that cave with food, bottled water, all that kind of stuff, which is great. But the simple reality is, during a shock, your network needs to have those things. You don’t need to have this. I’ll give you an example – I lived briefly in a place called Silver Spring, Maryland, which is outside Washington, DC. I was working for the government at the time. And for some reason, the power grid in that city just did not stay up, it would go down for a day or two at a time. And of course, we have kids who ate ice cream. And every time that the power would go off, my wife would say, ‘quick go to the neighbour’s house’ as they were really nice neighbours and had a generator. And every time the power went off, they would tell all the neighbours, we have a huge freezer, bring your stuff over here. Now, that’s a very nice, simple, nothing complicated example. But that’s the kind of thing I mean. You don’t need to have every technical device, a satellite phone, a pickaxe or whatever, none of the stuff. I need to know someone who has those things. My grandmother, for example, when she was alive, didn’t necessarily have everything, but she knew everyone in the community who did. So if I came to said ‘can I borrow some things?’ She pointed me in the direction and say, two doors down to the left – he has what you need. That’s the kind of thing social connections can bring in that wealth can’t necessarily get us. All those weird nooks and crannies or borrowing sugar, whatever else – so absolutely right. It’s not about you having every single thing on that preparedness list. It’s not even having weird things like satellite phones and a pop-up tent. It’s being in a network that has a sense of community that can work together collectively.
One more example is the company from Kobe in 1995. After the earthquake, there were communities’ side by side, Mondo and Mika, literally side by side – same size communities. A fire broke out between the two of them. And one of the communities watched as the fire burned their homes and businesses down. And the other put it out with a bucket brigade, literally running to the nearest river and passing buckets of water back to where the fire was. You have to ask yourself, why didn’t both communities do that? Both of them had access to buckets and the river. Well, I interviewed people and they said very simply – In one community they worked together regularly, they trusted each other and they’d spent time together. They didn’t need to have the fancy operating pumps. They needed to have the ability to work together to trust each other. If I say, ‘I’m gonna grab the buckets, you go grab Mrs Smith, and we’re gonna make a line,’ we’re all going to be there. If you don’t know who I am, if we’ve never met before, if we’ve never worked together before, it’s going to be really hard to organise a bucket brigade as that fire was coming, because you’re thinking about yourself. So batterie and bottled water, those are great to have. But again, if you don’t have them, I would say social networks might be a little more important.
100%, I’m sold – you don’t need to sell the conversation to me.
Now, as you know, at sea to see one of our social enterprise solutions that we offer to communities is co-design grants. And this is where we collaborate with communities to identify some projects that will deliver to their needs. And then we submit for some grant funding as a collective. Last year, we submitted four projects – and we’ve included in all of them a really important role for you, which I’m so hopeful that we’ll get the grant funding, for now, the communities we’ve been collaborating with are really excited at the possibility to have your knowledge and help in building social capital should we be successful. Because it is something that is kind of not really talked about, and a lot of communities don’t really know how to do it. So, what’s been so great is that just by leading the process of bringing some community organisations and people together to create the actual grant submission, is that we’ve actually built connections. So rather than all these different organisations and people submitting different grants, they’ve come together to think of a community-wide benefit and submit these grants. I think is a massive, just organic step, even before any funding is given out.
6. So, Daniel, can I ask what are some of the simplest forms of building social capital that you’ve seen in communities?
One of my favourite examples actually comes from a neighbour of yours from New Zealand, from the city of Wellington. The Wellington Regional Emergency Management Organisation (REMO for short). A few years back, and they knew they had a large community there who spoke English as a second language. So hard for them to read complicated signs, many of them have just arrived as migrants where the country is everything from Afghanistan to Syria. And they were thinking, Well, look, we have these shocks where we have earthquakes. And we have the possibility of a tsunami, a real possibility here. How can we get everyone on board and get into a safe place, even if they don’t necessarily have complicated radio instructions or big signs? They did the opposite of what I would normally do – rather than brainstorming on their own, they went into the community and they sat down with local residents, people who spoke both languages and said, ‘okay – if we have a shock how can we tell you what’s going on? What can we do? And out of those community-based brainstorming sessions, came the idea of painting safe areas in Wellington blue. There are these really beautiful blue parts on the streets, and I used to think, Oh this is so nice. No, that’s a tsunami safe zone. You don’t need to speak English, even kids can recognise right, how far up the hill you need to go to be in a safe zone.
First of all, the process itself of getting it done was a bottom-up community-driven process, right? It wasn’t from some smart person with a PhD, it came from the community. Then the solution itself is also community-based. You don’t need to have a central authority on Facebook or someone sending out radio messages or whatever. Literally, there in the community are the signs you need to be safe. I think that’s, that’s one really good example.
The other one I really like is the Evac example in Japan. This was a program started by the local community. And they said we’ve all been evacuated from different communities to this new resettlement area. We don’t know anybody at all. How can we build ties in a way, not just me running into you, you know, on the way to the bathhouse or on the way to the garbage. How do we do this deliberately? It’s hard. We just need a physical space. You know, we have all these basically FEMA trailers, you know, aluminium trailers, 20 feet long, 10 feet wide. There’s no space for having guests over or meeting outside. Let’s get a space. And that’s what they did. I mentioned they worked with a few academics like Emmy Kyoto, who was one of the founders of that organisation. They fundraised from a North American organisation and built space. No complicated things there. But that space was multipurpose. So, some days, they’d have yoga classes, some days they had cooking classes or the days they’d have a seminar for young kids on how to make origami. And the next day they’d have a library reading day. And then they’re just trying to make space in the community. Again, nothing complicated here. They thought about it. It was a bottom-up idea, not some expert based in Tokyo telling them what they needed, but rather the community itself thinking through it. And the solution was very straightforward. Again, nothing complicated. We don’t need a flowchart and the other complicated technical stuff. I know what people get excited about new apps, and you know, this and that other web-based whatever – no. Just a physical building where people could sit together. And in the flexibility of that space, you have the chance to do it, whatever you need to do. So it wasn’t something complicated, especially by the way for the elderly, right for whom an app might be the end of that conversation. Telling my parents right now, actually, my wife has managed to secure COVID-19 shots for a number of our elderly friends. Because for them, simple apps are not within the realm of what most want to deal with right now in their 70s and 80s. So again, a simple solution. A physical space, multipurpose, run by the community, blue lines drawn on the ground. And these are the kinds of things that work.
I’ll give you one more example – this is from the neighbourhood empowerment network (the NEN) in San Francisco. They wanted a way to build connections. We can’t retrofit all the buildings in San Francisco against the earthquake that is coming, but we can try to build social ties. So how can we do that? Everyone likes a party. So were going to give every community that proposes a party idea, $5,000 to hold that party. To block off traffic, to have a bounce house for the kids and barbecue for the adults or, you know, a flagpole to run around. Whatever it is it’s going to be unconditioned, no one is excluded. They have at least one small table when they talk about working together, They have to plan the party themselves, get the permits themselves. The way the parties might look is going to be completely different. Now maybe you have a rave with electronic dance music and strobe lights. And another community will have classical lute players outside – whatever it’s gonna be. But again, the community has to plan the party together. Even the working together process itself helps them build those kinds of connections. And again, it’s a bottom-up process. The city hall is not telling community X and community Y you both need to have the same party. No, community X has their loot festival, and community Y has the EDM, and both are happy.
I love that. It’s the process that I guess can build so much more in terms of social capital and the connections than it is the actual event as well. Now, I mentioned in the introduction, that I’m so privileged to have you on the advisory committee for the resilient Australia Alliance, which is C2C’s national focus on building community resilience capabilities in every business across Australia. So that’s our big aim for 2021 and 2022. Now, I often say businesses are communities, and particularly in regional and remote communities. And by building connections or capabilities in businesses, we can build it across communities too.
7. What’s the biggest opportunity you see from the resilient Australia Alliance and how business communities can build community resilience?
I think people forget the key role that businesses can and should play in every aspect of resilience from before the shocks, to during to afterwards. I’ll just give you a few quick stories. One we’ve seen regularly is that businesses are the anchors of the communities that hit by shocks. Businesses are the ones who’ve been there – they know who comes in. They’re a natural node in those networks. And in fact, one of my colleague’s has written a little bit about this. How these local businesses themselves, especially long-term entrepreneurs, are really the core network members during shocks. They can help us get tied together. So that’s the first thing – to recognise the role they should play. And then, more broadly, what is it that they should be doing? Well, first of all, those businesses hopefully are engaging the community. They’re supporting local five K’s and they’re putting up signs for the newest event that’s happening nearby. And they’re encouraging people to use their stores for meetings, policy or a kind of rally. Right now, local businesses really are the beating heart of communities. We’ve seen this during COVID-19 right now, so many are really ailing. My dad actually said to businesses, ‘That’s peril behaviour. This is the critical stuff to keep us healthy economically, but also keeping us connected.’ So, I would say first of all recognising the role of small businesses as well, but even large ones, we know that Walmart, for example, was much more successful in bringing down bottled water to New Orleans after the shock of Hurricane Katrina, then the federal government was. They have the logistics in place. They had the stores and the trucks ready to go. So whether you’re a small business on the corner or a large one with a national distribution network, both of those kinds of businesses are really key components. In Japan, for example, after the shocks, businesses give out free cell phones and free Wi-Fi to people so they could get in touch with their loved ones. And these are all things the government cannot do. We need business partners to be part of what they were doing as an overall process. And also, of course, they live there. Many local businesses are embedded in the community. They opened their business because they saw a need there. So again, it’s a bottom-up process. They saw the local need and they know the people and what’s going on. Many business owners want to be engaged in building communities – building strong communities.
We think about it this way, if you have a strongly connected neighbourhood where people feel safe and connected and can walk around – local businesses benefit. When they’re not afraid of going outside, not afraid of crime, there’s a nice walking path and near the ice cream store which is near a supermarket which is near the post office which is right near a library. Those kinds of ecologies of businesses are what we need. What you don’t want to have is a community, whatever size large or small, where people don’t feel comfortable. If they’re worried about crime or worried about going outside those are the places where businesses don’t do so well. So, businesses should be engaged and motivated to be involved in the process of building these kinds of community ties. And, also being so involved in the processes of disaster recovery. Again, they can see in a much better way, what the business needs. Rather than someone based, you know, 1000 miles away in the central government.
So true. I’m so excited about a few of the initiatives we’ve got coming in this space. As well as the resilient Australia Alliance, we’re also leading an initiative called the Disaster Giving Collective, which is to set some national guidelines around good disaster giving. Which is inclusive of and considerate to the small businesses in those communities that get really impacted by not only the fire damage or whatnot. But the help that’s coming in, puts these businesses out of business. I think businesses have such an important role in communities to build resilience and to connect communities. And it’s a really good time now to take a different approach to think about the businesses and the role they can play.
Now, I could literally talk to you for hours but I’m not going to. So, my final question is always the same…
What 2 things would you like to be done differently in the disaster space?
This is my favourite rant to give. Okay so first, let’s just talk about knowing what we have here in terms of ties. So being able to map out clearly communities that are vulnerable to shocks, whether it’s a coastal community or community of colour in North America or a community that may be poor and vulnerable in another society. First of all, it’s about having enough knowledge of what’s going on. I speak to so many disaster managers and the people involved who often come in without that kind of data. We have so many easy ways to collect information nowadays. We have more cell phones -you know the computing power of my cell phone is better than the computers that send people to the moon, right back in the 1960s – that’s my cell phone by itself. We have geographic spatial information. So, my first pet peeve is we need to do so much more about regularly measuring and mapping social ties and communities. We need to have this as public information – not something private that a firm or the government holds. The community itself should be interested in doing this. There’s great work going on in Puerto Rico, for example, especially after all the disasters, both electrical grid disaster and the hurricane disasters down there. To have local residents have a role in mapping out their strengths, their communities, their vulnerabilities and their social ties. It’s such an important thing. So that’s one big area – we should really be thinking about, ‘Do we know our own community?’ Do we have not just my intuition, but well mapped out and a clearly defined understanding of where do we have the strongest connections, and the weakest ones. Those areas that we know to have weaker social ties, that’s where we need the investments. It’s not that the communities with the best social ties need everything. The other ones do too. This gives us a chance to think through look, maybe starting to train in this area, or having more bus services over here, or putting a library nearby or putting a food distribution centre. Those are the kinds of resources we should be distributing not based on things like wealth but rather based on social ties. That’s the first thing.
The other would be just our overall wave investing, as we discussed briefly, ready, so much more money in our societies around the world, Japan, maybe Australia, New Zealand, certainly North America is pouring into physical infrastructure. Because we think we know what kind of shocks are coming. This is often the case of fighting the last war. I’ll give you a quick example from Japan in the 1960s, after a series of tsunami, some Japanese communities built really high sea walls, like 1520 metre sea walls. That’s huge. And they spent the summer went bankrupt building these walls, and they thought they were safe. And they were. In the 1960s it worked well and kept all the bad stuff out -all the tsunamis, all the huge sea walls, nothing came in. But in 2011, the tsunami was so powerful that not only did it go overtop the wall, it also destroyed it. And then the remnants of the wall trapped at the water in the city for days afterwards. So, what they thought was a solution to all the problems in the future. This obvious, clear, 2.2 easy to construct over time, the visible symbol was, in fact, not the way to save themselves. What would have been a much more powerful way would be community-based evacuation methods, recognition of the signs of a tsunami. They couldn’t even see the tsunami coming as the wall was so tall initially. So those are the kinds of things we prepare, we invest in this physical infrastructure – not thinking through where is the best return? And we have several papers on this now, and actually several books too. The importance is these social infrastructure ties. These ties between us. They save lives, in ways that it’s hard to think about until we don’t have those connections. It is so important that we begin thinking through early. Why are we investing money again in the seawall, why are we building this higher highway or bridge or whatever? Does the community nearby have a say in this? Are they part of the conversation? Are we including them? And, are they getting pride of place? Are they the ones that we’re building for, or is it just some kind of national project that we just happened to find funding for? So, I think those two areas – mapping out, knowing what we have, and then investing really strongly in social infrastructure, I think those are the two things we should be doing.
I could not agree more. I love both of those. And I have to say that both of those actually fit into some of the grants that we’re waiting for, and also some other initiatives that we’re currently talking with the government and hoping to include you in as well. It’s so simple, though, isn’t it? Remove one big building and reinvested it into the people and then the outcomes will be priceless in many ways because it is saving lives. And, then also as we like to look at it – It’s saving livelihoods.
Daniel thank you so much. I am so grateful to have you on. I’ve been talking to Daniel Aldrich the professor and director of the resilience and security studies program at Northeastern University in the States. And very luckily for C2C, he’s a member of our advisory committee for the Resilient Australia Alliance. Daniel’s been talking to me about social capital – the foundation for building national resilience. Thanks so much for Daniel can’t wait to talk again.