The Concentric Circles of Resilience

Visualizing Resilient Action to Empower Californians

By: CWI Communications Consultant Amanda Monthei

Most of us who work within or adjacent to organizations that utilize the resilience framework have a pretty firm solid understanding of the term “resilience”. Yet, as events like Wildfire Preparedness Week bring this concept to the public consciousness, it’s worth considering how approachable that concept is to the greater public, and especially to those who are most vulnerable to a changing climate and increasingly destructive wildfires.

We explored this idea last week on our social media, as we played with the idea of visualizing resilience. The ultimate objective here is to bring people in and show them their own place within “resilience”—to show them what taking part in resilience actually means and what it actually looks like at an individual, community, and state or federal level.

Resilience Framework

Tahoe-Central Sierra Initiative

We’ve promoted the idea of resilience as a series of concentric circles moving outward from a central commonality, with that commonality being individual action. We highlighted actions that can be taken in each subsequent circle, while rooting into the fact that these layers—from community action to policy work—are all spurred by individual action, even if it may not feel like it. It takes individual action to create and sustain collaborative action, and it takes collaborative action to create lasting societal and legislative change. 

We believe the measures we take in our own backyard do cause a ripple effect that ignites action at the greater neighborhood and communities levels, and beyond. 

So what are these concentric circles, and how do we bring what we learn in the center—in our own lives, backyards and properties—into the preceding circles where our actions are more oriented to community, county, and state resilience? 

That first circle, where all of us sit as individuals, is made up of what can feel like obvious risk reduction in many fire-adapted communities, but is likely less obvious for communities that have not had the momentum or resources to prepare for the threat of wildfire. These actions include things like building defensible space around your home by clearing brush, vegetation, low branches, and non-native trees near your home. There are also home-hardening techniques like choosing a more robust mesh to place over any vent openings, springing for a metal roof over other non-metal alternatives, or generally using more fire-resistant materials when building or remodeling. 

Less tangibly, our individual responsibility within the resilience framework should also include a certain amount of acceptance of change—understanding, for example, that keeping our landscapes, homes, and lives as they are is resisting the very action that will lower our vulnerability to wildfires and other climate-related processes. In this way, being a staunch community or even neighborhood advocate for wildfire mitigation, resilience, and adaptation work is critical to this framework’s ultimate success.

Visualizing Resilience—Climate and Wildfire Institute

There are countless other actions that can be taken at the individual level, and we would encourage you to learn more from a CAL FIRE resource called Ready for Wildfire

Beyond the actions we can take in our own backyards, though, are the actions that we can take to ensure that our neighbors and communities are as prepared as possible for the threat of wildfire—in other words, as resilient as possible. A nice bonus in adapting yourself and your community to fire is that wildfire resilience goes hand-in-hand with other types of climate resilience, including being more adapted to potential flooding and debris flows. 

This piece from UC Davis provides some helpful action items for building community resilience at a very tangible level—things like ensuring that evacuation routes are established and known, improving emergency shelters, investing in prevention and mitigation measures at the community scale, and other steps. Community Wildfire Protection Plans fall squarely into this category, and are a growing movement amongst fire-adapted communities that have the resources to assess their risk and implement measures to prepare for and mitigate potential impacts from wildfire. All of the above efforts can be bolstered by policy and legislation that supports more available funding and resources for climate resilience work. This is where CWI comes into play. 

As a conduit between science, policy, and practitioners, CWI is committed to ensuring that new resilience policy is informed not only by research from some of the world’s leading institutions, but by what’s happening (and needed) on the ground. Our place in all of this is almost as a rock skipping between each circle, or each silo; while we are deeply rooted in research, one of our biggest goals is to ensure that that research remains informed by voices on the ground. 

Ultimately, we work amongst the folks who work in each preceding circle—ensuring that the homeowners and land managers in the first circle are being heard by the folks in the third circles, those who reside in academia and policy. Our policy projects encompass this goal, though our California’s Year in Fire project (formerly called the Fire Season Scorecard) is especially prescient to this objective. 

The California’s Year in Fire project will quantify resilience measures that are happening on the ground by ensuring they are effectively cataloged, creating a two-way street that ensures that critical data both makes it from academia to the ground, but also from the ground to policy makers and others. 

You can learn more about all of our policy projects here, or you can learn more about the California Year in Fire project by watching this video from the March 30 California Wildfire Task Force meeting. 

Wildfire Preparedness Week may have ended a few days ago, but we cannot allow the resilience conversation to be limited to only a week a year. We hope that you, your organization, and community are taking the lessons learned from the past week and the past handful of fire seasons to continue having productive conversations about adapting to a new era of wildfire and climate change, and most of all, are encouraging folks to move beyond just individual action in the fight for resilience. 


Written By: Amanda Monthei

CWI Communications Consultant; Writer