Learning from Hurricane Sandy: What Is Resilience?

November 15, 2012

Students create a web and define the word "resilience," read a blog about the resilience of one Brooklyn school community that was hit by Hurricane Sandy, and consider what being prepared and resilient might mean at their own school.  


Ask a few volunteers to respond to the following Ben Franklin saying: "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

Resilience Web

Ask students for their associations with the word "resilience" and record their ideas graphically on a web chart. Making webs often stimulates creative thinking. To make one, write a core word, in this case "resilience," in the center of the board or on chart paper and circle it. Student associations with the core word are written so that they radiate out from the center. Related ideas can be grouped.

Encourage associations while energy is high. Ask open-ended questions to simulate groups that are having a harder time to get or keep going. As energy tapers off, ask students to read what's on the web and ask some or all of the following debrief questions:

  • What do you notice about the web? 
  • Are there generalizations we can make about what's on the web? 
  • Based on the words in this web, can you come up with a definition for the word "resilience"?? 

Definition of RESILIENCE according to Merriam-Webster online

1: the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress

2: an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change

Ask about stories of resilience students have experienced or heard after Hurricane Sandy and the nor'easter that followed it less than two weeks later.


Check Agenda

Check agenda and share with students that today you'll be looking at one community's response to Hurricane Sandy and the nor'easter that hit the east coast ten days later. 



Hurricane Sandy & Resilience

Ask students to read this blog post by Will Johnson, a teacher in Manhattan Beach, a shoreline community in Brooklyn, NY, which was badly hit by Hurricane Sandy. 

Discuss as a full class community some or all of the questions below:

  • What are your thoughts and feelings about the blog we just read?
  • How is the school community in the piece resilient?
  • How does the writer feel about city government?  Why?
  • What does the writer want us to see clearly?
  • How do you think the school community feels right now?

Microlab: Informed. Prepared. Together.

According to the Informed. Prepared. Together. website, (a project funded by the European Commission),  "Rebuilding homes, businesses and cities is a difficult challenge. Rebuilding the lives of survivors, the bereaved and the wider community is no less important. Emergencies and disasters are about people. Supporting individuals and communities to prepare for and develop their ability to cope with an emergency will increase their resilience." 

The Informed. Prepared. Together. definition of resilience is more expansive than the other definitions used in this lesson plan so far.  It reads: "Resilience is the ability of an individual, community or country ... to cope with and to ‘bounce back' from the effects of adversity. It is a process of adaptation, and also a set of skills, capacities, behaviors and actions that can be developed in each individual."

In small groups discuss the idea of resilience and what it would look like in your classroom and school community.  Think about, for instance, the possibility of a fire at your school:

  • What would being informed look like? What would it feel like? Are we informed?  What would need to happen for us to be informed?  
  • What would being prepared look like? What would it feel like? Are we prepared? What would need to happen for us to be prepared? 
  • What would being together look like? What would it feel like? What would responding together and working together look like?  What would need to happen for us to be able to respond in that way?



Ask students after today's lesson, once again, to share their thoughts to the Benjamin Franklin saying: "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."  



Homework:  the long-term view

For homework, have students consider the idea of prevention by either reading:

a) two articles on political expedience and resilience, or 

b) three written responses to climate change and hurricane Sandy



Ask students to read the following two articles for homework, while keeping the idea of resilience in mind.

Have them write brief responses to each of the following questions in preparation for a class discussion the next day:

  • What did the different New York politicians say about how to respond to Hurricane Sandy and possible future disasters?
  • What does the Mother Jones article say about the electoral rewards for disaster preparedness? 
  • How do these articles relate to the idea of resilience we discussed in class?
  • What are your thoughts and feelings about that?



Ask students to read the following three comments on climate change and Hurricane Sandy for homework, while keeping the idea of resilience in mind.

Ask them to write brief responses to each of the following questions in preparation for a class discussion the next day:

  • What did the different politicians (academics, experts and media presenters) say about how to respond to Hurricane Sandy and possible future disasters?
  • How do Norman Girvan and Dr. Neville Trotz feel about this and what kind of response do they advocate?
  • How does this relate to the idea of resilience?
  • What are your thoughts and feelings about that?

Dr. Norman Girvan is a research fellow at the UWI Graduate Institute of International Relations at the University of the West Indies in St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago. Dr. Ulric Trotz is a ?Science Adviser at ?Caribbean Community Climate Change Center in Belize. 


Dr. Norman Girvan on November 1, 2012, at 11:45 am 

"I just watched (11//1/2012 11:15 AM) a CNN item on global warming and Sandy. They played clips of Governor Cuomo of New York and Mayor Bloomberg of New York, and interviewed a Professor from Columbia University and a meteorologist. All of them were saying that global warming/climate change contributed to Sandy, and that these events will continue. None of them mentioned the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and the ongoing stalemated global negotiations to do so, due in large part to US intransigence. Furthermore, all of the speakers, including the presenter, spoke as if this was a purely an American problem-no one mentioned that "global" in the cause must imply "global" in the response. Finally, both Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg seemed to be putting their faith in improved sea defenses. As the presenter remarked skeptically-"But you can't stop the sea!" The Columbia professor was equally skeptical, but even he, who surely knows better, said nothing about cutting GG emissions. When you have political leaders, academics, experts and media presenters ... in this degree of denial and/or obfuscation, you begin to realize what we are up against.?"


Dr. Neville Trotz on November 1, 2012, at 1:32 pm

"This response is something I have been concerned about for some time. If like NY [and] you have resources you do not think of mitigation (cutting GHG emissions) but rather grandiose and expensive adaptation options e.g. the flood risk barrier on the Thames. Let us face it: this is more politically and socially acceptable to our developed country partners. No haggling about closing coal plants, moving away from fossil fuel and stirring up the wrath of the all powerful oil lobby!! ... What a frightening scenario if they come to the realization that economically it's cheaper for them to adapt than to mitigate!!! It is certainly the case that it is politically and socially expedient to do so given the prevailing political environment in the U.S. However this may not happen as there are other voices being raised. A recent excellent piece by another prominent American scientist, Bill McKibben [in Rolling Stone] has labeled the oil industry as public enemy number 1 and is trumping up a global outcry to draw attention to its flagrant disregard for human safety. Let us hope!!"


Dr. Norman Girvan, The Trinidad Express editorial, November 1, 2012?

"For small island states like those in the Caribbean, the price to be paid for damage to the eco-sphere will be disproportionate to our actual responsibility for it. But we cannot simply throw up our hands and assume that the large industrialized nations will generously agree to carry the cost of reversing the trend.? ... Notwithstanding our small size, we must recognize our power as part of a global alliance in defense of the planet and ourselves. For this, we need a public education drive that promotes greater understanding of how individual action and behavior are directly connected to community, national and global environmental phenomena."?