Integral Review

A Transdisciplinary and Transcultural Journal For New Thought, Research, and Praxis

Being Prepared to be Unprepared: Meaning Making is Critical for the Resilience of Critical Infrastructure Systems

John E. Thomas, Thomas P. Seager, Thomas J. Murray, Scott Cloutier

Abstract: Infrastructure is essential to provision of public health, safety, and well-being. Yet, even critical infrastructure systems cannot be designed, constructed, and operated to be robust to the myriad of surprising hazards they are likely to be subject to. As such, there has been increasing emphasis in Federal policy on enhancing infrastructure resilience. Nonetheless, existing research on infrastructure systems often overlooks the role of individual decision-making and team dynamics under the conditions of high ambiguity and uncertainty typically associated with surprise. Although evidence suggests that human factors correlating with resilience and adaptive capacity emerge in later stages of psychological development, there is an acute need for new knowledge about the human capacity to comprehend increasing levels of complexity in the context of rapidly evolving technological, ecological, and social stress conditions. Sometimes, it is this developmental capacity for meaning-making that is the difference between adaptive and maladaptive response. Thus, without a better understanding of the human capacity to develop and assign meaning to complex systems, unquestioned misconceptions about the human role may prevail. In this work, we examine the dynamic relationships between human and technological systems from a developmental perspective. We argue that knowledge of resilient human development can improve system resilience by aligning roles and responsibilities with the developmental capacities of individuals and groups responsible for the design, operation, and management of critical infrastructures. Taking a holistic approach that draws on both psychology and resilience engineering literature facilitates construction of an integrated model that lends itself to empirical verification of future research.

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