Resilience is “ability to face up to the unexpected”

The city of Paris is subjected to a large number of risks everyday. Without in any way wanting to be alarmist, it is important to recognize that it is by no means the only one while terrorism is the single greatest threat. The massive strikes and blockades in recent weeks, with the “gilets jaunes” (or “yellow vests”), remain a hot topic in the news. Moreover, climate risks such as heatwaves and the Seine’s floods have become increasingly real and, unfortunately, chronic issues. The summer of 2003 springs immediately to mind. While more recently, the hot summer of 2018 was also challenging. Despite it caused only a tenth of the deaths reported in 2003 (source: Le Monde).

Faced with these new challenges, cities have an obligation to adapt and to come up with innovative solutions that are designed to protect today’s population for tomorrow.

The six highest priority challenges facing Paris

According to Sébastien Maire, Head of Resilience for the city of Paris, a resilient community is one that is well-organized in response to a number of dangers:

  1. Social, economic and regional inequality
  2. Risks of terrorism and the overall security situation
  3. Climate change
  4. Air pollution (a priority health issue)
  5. The River Seine and associated risks
  6. Local governance issues.

The local government has to be resilient. i.e it must be able to face up to the unexpected via effective infrastructure, competent authority personnel, and well-trained citizens.

Equipment : the “cementing resilience”

Infrastructure provides physical protection from dangers. It means that it is more effective to anticipate risk (especially flood-related risks) to reduce the region’s vulnerability. We may consider to rebuild infrastructure. Nonetheless, the less costly approach of improving what is already in place is mentioned just as frequently.

Good training starts with the public administration

The Greater Paris region also has a major role to play in the debate around resilience as well as issues of mobility. Indeed, rural communities and the region’s institutions must work together collaboratively to achieve their overriding objectives. In the event of a crisis, the continued functioning of public institutions is vital. Heatwaves have led to the formation of a volunteer network of around a thousand retired officials who have the skills to manage situations of this kind.

One of the first challenges faced by the resilience strategy is to train new public sector workers. An own specific training is  forecasted in response to the risks that each job faces.

The role of the citizen: from volunteering to independent survival

Let’s take the major floods that Paris has experienced over the last few years as an example. The City of Paris has experimented with a concept of a volunteer citizens’ network. They are trained to respond in the event of floods and heatwaves. And they are also skilled to reach out to the homeless population. These citizens are trained in crisis management and in dealing with underlying issues. However, crises are where the greatest problems occur. This is what is known as a risk culture. Indeed, populations use to give in to panic when they lack information and are unprepared.

The american dream

Here, the volunteers act as intermediaries, but the wider population is also expected to take an active role and to mobilize in response to a crisis. A lack of understanding, combined with fear and speculation, never works well. However, looking at the other side of the Atlantic, resilience strategies have already been tested in cities like in San Francisco. There, the inhabitants have been trained to survive, fully independently, for 72 hours. This process tends to take the strain off the emergency services, who are often the first to be approached in the event of an incident or disaster.

Some approaches for discussion have been launched, and participatory workshops have been set up to encourage dialog. Even though resilience is intended to benefit the public, the public is still involved at each step, as communications are an essential aspect of risk prevention. In any event, this is the challenge that the City of Paris has set for itself.

To read: Population alert: what are the active devices in the world?