What is Resilience? A Framework for Weathering Stormy Times

As our world has become more complex, so too have the solutions for weathering chaotic times. The concept of resilience—bouncing back quickly from disruptions—has always been part of strong design planning.

A resilient organization or community will survive, adapt, or grow after any disruption. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the awareness of external risks (pandemics, economic disruptions, climate change, security risks, infrastructure failures, social stressors, and natural disasters) that have the potential to disrupt. The importance of using a resilience planning framework as an integral part of the design process has grown amidst the compounding risks of COVID-19, climate change, social unrest, and economic uncertainty.

We work with clients to forecast potential risks, assess the likelihood and impact of each risk, and plan for resilient mitigation strategies. As the current pandemic has proven, there are no easy answers. But by opening a dialogue around resilience with clients across diverse industries, we are implementing solutions to better prepare their organizations for the unknowns that lie ahead.

Watch a breakdown of HGA’s resilience framework below.


Planning for resilience considers factors such as building type, business operations, and geographic location. Each building type requires a targeted approach to forecasting risk. Government buildings needing high-security measures face challenges different from hospitals that must remain operational 24/7 to deliver life-critical services. Yet each benefit from a strategic process that evaluates potential internal and external risks.

The first step toward a resilient future is forecasting risks, which tend to fall into a few categories, including but not limited to: health and wellness (ex: the current pandemic), natural disaster, climate, security, and infrastructure.

For example, to forecast natural disasters, building owners must identify the potential for floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, or other natural phenomena that could disrupt operations. This information is available through FEMA or a local municipality’s hazard mitigation plans.

Climate change, on the other hand, may pose a potential risk from rising sea levels for one building owner, and more extreme weather events or temperature variations for an owner in a different region. To forecast climate change risks, we recommend using climate projection data specific to the project site, which will also inform architectural and engineering decisions later in design.


After forecasting risk, the next step is to assess the likelihood, severity, and impacts of those risks. What is the likelihood of a risk becoming a reality, and what magnitude is probable? A ½-inch per hour rain event will be far less severe than a 3½-inch per hour rain event. What are the potential impacts, both short- and long-term? Will this risk impact human health, safety, or well-being? Will business continuity be threatened? What are the cost implications? Consider how prepared the organization is to respond to this risk, both in terms of existing mitigation strategies and internal response processes in place.

Finally, evaluate what the response might be from outside services. For safety risks, will fire and police respond quickly? Would utilities aim to minimize downtime in response to an infrastructure failure?

The goal of assessing risks is to put information in organizations’ hands, so they can make informed decisions about how to plan for risk. Ultimately, the most severe risks will become clear, which typically become the focus of the next phase.

Plan and Design

In this phase, leaders prioritize and allocate resources to implement resilient strategies. Planning does not eliminate risk, but rather anticipates and prepares for potential disruptions, minimizing their impact through mitigation and adaptation strategies.

If climbing temperatures and dew points are a likely risk, the design team may focus on optimizing building system performance. Should power failures be a primary concern, strategies for mitigation may include redundancies to ensure critical systems stay online. Planning measures in response to security risks for a public building—such as an airport—could require heightened screening against acts of terror; an office building may screen employee and visitor traffic; and an academic building may balance check-in procedures with classroom lockdown policies.

Strengthening relationships with outside agencies and community members is equally important to designed mitigation strategies and internal process improvements. All organizations are part of a greater system—community, campus, city, county—and the stronger the relationships within that system, the more resilient it will be.

Exploring opportunities for innovation at this stage takes the planning conversation to a level far beyond business continuity. The primary risks to an organization can spark a greater discussion around business and service models or organizational processes. Planning for resilience can help an organization see themselves holistically at a higher level. This new perspective may spotlight things that aren’t working, new opportunities to leverage, or adjustments to their business model that could expand their reach.

After forecasting, assessing, and planning for risks, organizations will monitor for signs of disruption on an ongoing basis. When a disruption does occur, strengths and weaknesses of the mitigation strategies will become clear. Will the organization survive and quickly return to business as usual? Will they adapt and become better prepared for a similar disruption in the future? Or will the organization thrive and grow with agility and innovation?

By integrating this resilience framework into their organizational planning, including building projects, our clients are better preparing for the only constant—change.