Harnessing the resilience of the American spirit

From braving the Atlantic Ocean to exploring America’s unknown fron­tier, the country’s first set­tlers met risks head on with a sense of strength and resilience, said polit­ical sci­ence pro­fessor Stephen Flynn, codi­rector of Northeastern’s George J. Kostas Research Insti­tute for Home­land Secu­rity.

“Over­coming adver­sity is a cen­tral nar­ra­tive of the Amer­ican story,” Flynn told more than 80 stu­dents, fac­ulty and staff in a lec­ture in West Vil­lage H last Thursday. “It has fueled our sense of opti­mism and the sense that we have the power to shape our future for the better.”

Unfor­tu­nately, Flynn said Amer­i­cans today try to elim­i­nate risk and assign blame once a cat­a­strophe man­i­fests itself, rather than learn to manage, cope with and adapt to the sit­u­a­tion. Nat­ural dis­as­ters or the failure of com­plex man­made sys­tems, such as telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions net­works, are facts of life, he said.

He expressed hope that America has the capacity to return to its more resilient roots. During his lec­ture, Flynn showed a video that recently pre­miered at a summit he orga­nized in Wash­ington to com­mem­o­rate the 10th anniver­sary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Nar­rated by actor Tom Hanks, “Boatlift” doc­u­ments the spon­ta­neous effort of hun­dreds of boaters to surge into New York Harbor and evac­uate nearly 500,000 people trapped in lower Man­hattan after the attacks.

Emu­lating the resilience depicted in “Boatlift” can both honor those who per­ished on Sept. 11, 2001 and serve as a blue­print to over­coming adver­sity in the future, Flynn said.

“We could have a com­pet­i­tive advan­tage over every other country in the world by har­nessing that capacity,” he declared. “People will live and invest not in places that are risk free — because there aren’t any — but in places that cope with it well. That’s what we need to do.”

Flynn said the Kostas Research Insti­tute, which opened in Sep­tember at Northeastern’s campus in Burlington, Mass., will help Amer­i­cans cope better with risk by addressing crit­ical home­land secu­rity chal­lenges through use-​​inspired research.

Resilience, he noted, is a highly inter­dis­ci­pli­nary field; it relates to every­thing from how build­ings are engi­neered to mit­i­gate earth­quake damage to how busi­nesses are con­fig­ured to with­stand finan­cial ruin.

He said resilient sys­tems are less likely to be ter­rorist tar­gets because of the dimin­ished impact. “As a country], we haven’t had a place yet that has brought all this idea sharing together across many dis­ci­plines,” Flynn said. “North­eastern is the per­fect place for that to happen.”

– by Greg St. Martin

Published On: November 9, 2011 | Tags: ,,
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