Challenges for Implementing Resilience during Normal Time: a Human Engineering Approach

Posted: April 20, 2016 at 1:28 pm

Silvana V. Croope, Ph.D., ENV SP, Delaware Department of Transportation

In the United States, the Department of Homeland Security has identified 16 critical infrastructure sectors vital for a secure national economy, public health or safety, and security, upon which society depends. To make sure proper effort is dedicated to building resilience in these sectors to avoid incapacitation, destruction, or debilitating effects on assets, systems, and networks, Presidential Policy Directive 21 for critical infrastructure security and resilience was established. This includes actions to strengthen and maintain the security, functionality, and resilience of such infrastructure.[1]

To achieve these goals, multiple strategies are required including all levels of government, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, different political and geographical partners, and the community as a whole. In science, the different processes of the holistic systems approach and the compartmentalized approach are necessary in a broader spectrum of systems thinking to succeed in producing resilient critical infrastructure. These approaches must also include human engineering developed from data management systems embedded with an intelligent approach, as well as interactive user/operator system design and maintenance and a sensitive evolution of the human side of modeling solutions. These main components of information systems allow for changes of viewpoints related to human behavior and responses (feedbacks). This human engineering approach must be an integral part of engineering, management, and control systems, affecting productivity and systems failure, and in the production of the urban and rural space (built environment).

Remembering that systems are built for people means keeping people included and participating on comprehensive solutions with human interactions. Complex and continuous adjustment to vehicles including a growing fleet, congestion, accidents, distance, travel time, and driver’s attention time span problems are part of current research (e.g. “phone use while driving”[2] and the “driver-car interaction”[3]).

Humans’ dependency on systems and continuity of life are part of complex problems such as disasters that, considering humans’ perspectives and the need for resilience, disconnect people from family, their community, and jobs, leading to disruptions to their regular way of life beyond the capabilities of normal coping mechanisms.[4] Recognizing that civil infrastructure systems are the base upon which society exists, systems resilience adaptive capacity and other principles must relate to time systems, the return to  regular functional baseline,  system robustness, infrastructure damage, and social-economic loss. This approach consists of an analysis of a system’s dependency on other coping mechanisms and break down resilience principals to focus on the system’s resilience, time to return to baseline, its robustness, and associated damage and loss.

Human Built Environment and Civil Infrastructure System’s Resilience

Resilience is then examined in the context of complex built environment systems that enable a better and easier life, creating relationships of dependencies and giving space to vulnerabilities, including the human engineering dimension. The need to have a resilient and sustainable environment both depends on the way people can continuously work with the natural and built environments and decision-making to reach certain objectives. Building the environment with a view toward human engineering is necessary to understanding people’s importance and role in promoting and implementing resilient systems. Human engineering includes normal human behavior and altruism that impacts the implementation of strategies to build resilience of interdependent infrastructure systems. This requires a paradigm shift from issues of human failure and accident avoidance toward human nature.[5] An improved understanding of logical interdependent systems and their outcomes will result in better managed systems.

The evolution of the way humanity dominates and transforms its environment to fit its needs and convenience helps to focus the discussion of human engineering on producing more resilient systems, underscoring human ingenuity and capability. First, technological advances included inventing tools and manipulating fire, evolving into advances in agriculture and more permanent settlements. Reasoning and decision-making imbedded in actions influenced and continue to influence what and how things and the environment change. As conditions change surrounding the human capability to exercise control over the environment, the interactions among other humans, and matters in general, more elaborated processes are necessary. In this context, human engineering definitions can vary a bit.[6] My proposed conception for the current discussion is:

Human engineering is the branch of engineering science related to how people function in their working environment including the relation between workers and the broader natural and built environments in order to maximize safety, efficiency and security applying information to designing systems for use by humans. These systems include physical, psychological, sociological, biological, mechanic, environmental, political, technological, managerial and other types that contribute to simple or complex interactions that need to be managed.

The construction of systems as part of the current built environment is full of human intent and purpose. The dependent and interdependent relationships among the base systems in which society exists require a review of the way the specialization and knowledge of systems evolved. This review requires a holistic approach and the adjustment of systems by acknowledging humans as part of such systems with dedicated attention to intelligence and decision making, creating or changing outcomes to the continuous use, innovation and improvement of systems, and adverse processes and outcomes. Of particular concern to building a resilient and sustainable infrastructure, environment, and community is risk communication and management of silos. Silos can take the shape of “information gate keepers,” which sociology and psychology can help address. Experts must consider cultural perspectives that can balance a pro and con approach to promoting the development of balanced systems and interactions, including diversity, that build up ideal conditions for resilience.[7] Sustained diversity fosters adaptation of complex systems and helps cope with change and loss, as well as improve human wellbeing. While an adverse effect of diversity can be comparable to knowledge-sharing globalization that can reduce diversity on local blueprints, a positive approach is effective adaptive management governance, including diversity in decision-making processes with inputs from different institutional solutions perspectives. Managing diversity is difficult, hard to predict, and does not favor constant behavior or outcome patterns. Diversity also suggests continuous conflicts of different views, dynamic environments, and uncertain sources. Successful diversity management avoids traps of standards and sole sources, providing for expanded exchange of experience and therefore increased knowledge and capacity for tolerating change and disturbances, increasing resilient capacity-building holistically through people constructing and maintaining the existing and future built environment. This is absolutely necessary to addressing challenges of global warming, sea-level-rise, extreme events, and other global risks to critical infrastructure systems.

The built environment needs to account for larger diversity and must evolve in terms of resilience. Practice reveals that different periods of construction under different building codes has changed at the impact of disasters, among other factors. This produces either stronger, more robust structures or less resilient infrastructure, shaping the built environment that is composed by diverse resilient assets through time. The human engineering participation in this context is present in the outcome by making building codes more flexible or more rigid, part of the decision options driven by a perceived need for resilience over time by stakeholders in authoritative positions and invested with the social and organizational recognition necessary to influence or make decisions. This takes place at Local, State, and other levels defining the future of individual or network assets.

Human Engineering, Interdependencies and Resilience Operationalization

Science for resilience of civil infrastructure systems evolved, with assessments now including state, condition, performance, or health of systems. However, operationalization of resilience is not a direct application of proposals to build or enhance system resilience requiring inclusion of human engineering factors.

Human nature includes biological, social, and environmental factors that impact how people think, feel, act, or behave independent of culture that impacts on ethics, politics, theology, norms of conduct, ways of life, historical demography, and production of the built environment.[8] Human nature is a fundamental part of human engineering as it directs what, how, when, who, and how much must be done to answer to the call and needs of its own nature, as well as what is normal to its existence, survival, continuity in all different, simple, and complex ways. The definition of normal behavior[9] , and altruism as part of normal behavior, is of such importance it can be seen participating in defense- and disaster-related discussions such as:

  • Personalities impacts on decisions to purchasing weapons;[10]
  • Food Security and Social Cohesion;[11]
  • Hurricane and Coastal Building Codes.[12]

Normal or abnormal behavior are social constructs of standards that change over time and fit under certain social parameters, which despite being subjective and relative to each other, helps to identify what is abnormal (e.g. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – DSM-5).[13] In general, society tends to see abnormality as bad, resulting in exclusions, stigmatism, discrimination, and exacerbated problems. This is why it is so important to distinguish the problem of expected stress reactions and individual dysfunctional behavior when fostering implementation or operationalization of resilience. Stigma problems, social disapproval, and judgment revealed as prejudiced attitudes, and discriminatory behavior creating isolation and even violence[14] impact operationalization of resilience, despite the United States having laws against discrimination such as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and The Americans with Disabilities Act.[15] Further research will aid the goal of finding a path through normal business process and normal times as State and Local governments are responsible for building the infrastructure and processes that can make the difference in building a more resilient infrastructure and community.

Final Remarks

Diversity, human engineering, building codes, interdependencies and resilience discussed are types of elements that can be examined under logical interdependencies accounting for human decisions, public policy, and economic impacts. Implementation of resilience can include compassion and altruism either for wellbeing in times of stress or for normal periods of activities. Decision-making processes for the implementation of resilience at the Local and State level need to address all of these factors, including complementary discussions at the Federal level for the continuous adjustment and evolution of policies. Research and policy have to evolve into greater understanding of operationalization of resilience researching use of closed systems; accounting for the human element in frameworks for disasters; evaluating and promoting ideal paths to dealing with hazards as a commitment versus denial; and providing for effective implementation and performance evaluation. Further research is needed on human engineering profiling focused on improving Local and State processes to implementing resiliencies.


[1] “Critical Infrastructure Sectors,” U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Accessed November 20, 2015,

[2] Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, Cellphone Use & Driving, Virginia Tech, July 24, 2014,

[3] Jacob Demmitt, “Virginia Tech Lab Researches Driver-car Interaction,” Roanoke Times, Aug. 2, 2014,

[4] HS Disaster Human Services Concept of Operations. (Washington, DC; United States Department of Health & Human Services, 2014), available at

[5] Maia Szalavitz, “Is Human Nature Fundamentally Selfish or Altruistic?” Time, Oct. 8, 2012,

[6] “Human Engineering,”, accessed Sept. 18, 2015,

[7] Ben Ramalingam, “Is Diversity the Key to Resilience in Complex Social-Ecological Systems?,” Aid on the Edge of Chaos, Nov. 11, 2009,

[8] Springer International Publishing AG, “Human Nature: An Interdisciplinary Biosocial Perspective,” SpringerLink, Accessed Sept. 30, 2015,

[9] Fredric Neuman, “Determining What Is Normal Behavior and What Is Not,” Psychology Today, May 1, 2013,

[10] Michael Hoffman, “Will Personalities Determine How the Pentagon Buys Weapons?,” DoDBuzz, July 13, 2015,

[11] Cliff Love, “Disaster Researchers and Disaster Management Professionals: Food Security and Social Cohesion,” Disaster Researchers and Disaster Management Professionals LinkedIn Group Discussion, July 2015,

[12] The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, “Hurricane Katrina Led to Bog Improvements in Coastal Building Codes,” Carrier Management, Aug. 23, 2015,

[13] Cardwell C. Nucklos, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), Accessed Sept. 2, 2015, available at

[14] Boundless, “Defining ‘Normal’ and ‘Abnormal,’” Boundless Psychology, April 15, 2016, available at

[15] Ken LaMance, “Federal Anti-Discrimination Laws,” Legal Match, last modified Mar. 5, 2014,

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