What is Resiliency?

Resiliency is a word that is used in myriad ways and contexts, and like many other terms (e.g. green or sustainable) can mean different things to different people. To complicate matters, resiliency is often confused with other activities; disaster preparedness, emergency management, and climate change mitigation are all distinct from resiliency, though they are all components of activities that contribute to becoming a resilient community. It is therefore important to establish a clear and concise definition of resiliency to have a common understanding.

Key Term Definition
Quality of Life Because of Colorado’s climate, natural beauty, recreational activities, and economic growth outlook, Coloradans have a high quality of life, and the state consistently ranks as one of the best places to live in the US.
Healthy Growth Colorado is expected to increase by 2.7 million by 2040, which is likely to put pressure on housing prices, existing infrastructure, and future resource needs.
Durable Systems Government services, businesses, community organizations, and built environments that can withstand and function during high levels of pressure and stress such as natural hazards and economic shocks.
Conservation of Resources Protecting critical resources – including water, agricultural lands, watersheds, and forests – that impact public health, economic output, and healthy ecosystems.

The State of Colorado defines resiliency as follows: “The ability of communities to rebound, positively adapt to, or thrive amidst changing conditions or challenges—including human-caused and natural disasters—and to maintain quality of life, healthy growth, durable systems, economic vitality, and conservation of resources for present and future generations.”

Adaptability is a critical part of being a resilient community. It is a cliché to say that change is the only constant, but there is truth to it. Economies can grow or shrink; population growth can fluctuate; changing climatic conditions can result in new weather patterns or an increase in the number and intensity of major weather events. By being flexible and adaptable to known and unknown changes, communities can thrive in adverse situations. For example, a community that has a diverse economic base will be more likely to withstand a shock to the local economy compared to a community that has only one or two major industries as economic drivers.


Systems and feedback are also important for resiliency, as economic, social, and environmental systems are all interconnected. As an example, drought can impact agricultural productivity and output, negatively impacting the agricultural economy. At the same time, long term drought conditions can increase the risk of wildfires, threatening the lives and property of those in the wildland-urban interface. These examples of interconnected systems and feedback processes demonstrate how they can threaten community resiliency.

Lastly, it is important to understand that a community improves its resiliency by addressing its vulnerability to shocks (acute events) and stresses (underlying, long term conditions). Hazard mitigation plans can help a community address its vulnerability to wildfire exposure, a type of shock; resiliency planning can address conditions within the community (stresses), be they household income, education attainment levels, language barriers, vulnerable populations, etc, that if unaddressed can worsen impacts from shocks.

How is Resiliency Different from Hazard Mitigation or Emergency Management?
Resiliency is often confused with hazard mitigation, and emergency preparedness and management. While there are similarities between these fields, there are significant differences that distinguish resiliency from them. Hazard mitigation uses planning tools and strategies to reduce a community's risk to natural and man-made hazards. Emergency preparedness and management deals with having plans in place for communities to respond when a disaster or emergency happens in order to protect lives and community assets. In contrast, resiliency planning goes beyond traditional hazard mitigation or emergency management in that it explores and addresses the underlying causes to hazards and vulnerabilities. For example, hazard mitigation may address a community's exposure to a specific hazard, but resiliency planning looks at the long-term underlying factors and condition that put the community at risk, e.g. weakened infrastructure, lack of affordable housing, high long-term unemployment, etc. Resiliency planning links together the environment, social, and economic sectors to holistically improve communities by being adaptable to changing conditions. 

Why Does Resiliency Matter?

All of this begs the question, why does resiliency matter? If communities are working on hazard mitigation plans or disaster preparedness, why should they care about resiliency? Are they not just duplicating efforts? Resiliency matters because it takes a holistic approach towards protecting and improving a community, and leads to better planning and decision-making for meeting long-term community goals and aspirations.

Four trends emphasize the importance of increasing the resiliency of Colorado's communities:

Disasters. Disasters have greatly impacted Colorado communities, especially in recent years. As you can see from the Examples of Major Disasters in Colorado’s History chart, Colorado is not immune to natural disasters, and will continue to experience them in the future. Properly addressing the risks and vulnerabilities associated with disasters like these will help save lives, and minimize short- and long-term impacts to Coloradans.

Examples of Major Disasters in Colorado's History
Disaster Communities Impacted Disaster Impacts
1965 Floods Colorado Front Range (South Platte and Arkansas basins). 21 lives lost; $540 million in damages (1965 dollars); resulted in construction of Chatfield and Bear Creek reservoirs.
Big Thompson Flood (1976) Primarily Larimer County between Estes Park and Loveland. 8 Inches of rain in a one-hour period; 145 lives lost; 418 houses destroyed.
2002 Drought and Wilfires Statewide. Major fires included Hayman, Coal Seam, Missionary Ridge, and others. Hayman Fire burned 137,000 acres; Missionary Ridge burned 70,000 acres.
2012-2013 Fires Statewide. Large fires in Larimer, El Paso, and Fremont counties, as well as in the San Luis Valley. More than 1,100 homes destroyed. $1.2 billion in insurance claims.
2013 Floods 24 counties impacted. 10 lives lost; 1,800 homes destroyed; $3.9 billion in damages.

Population Growth. We know that living in Colorado is fantastic, and it is safe to say that people from outside of the state are recognizing that, too. Significant population changes lie ahead for Colorado. Colorado is expected to add 2.7 million residents by 2040 - that’s a 54% increase from the 2010 population! Unless we properly prepare for and manage this growth, it will likely put significant pressure on housing prices, existing infrastructure, and future resource needs. 

Colorado Population Projections 2010 to 2040


Changing Conditions. Here in Colorado, climate change will prove to be an ever-growing challenge. As noted in the Colorado Climate Plan, we’ve seen average temperatures rise by 2°F between 1977 and 2006, with a predicted rise by an additional 2.5 - 5°F by 2050. This may not seem like a significant increase, but it will have dramatic impacts to our state:

  • Summers will become hotter;

  • These warmer temperatures will increase the rate of evaporation for rivers and reservoirs, which could impact potable water availability, agricultural activities, and recreational opportunities;

  • Snowpack is likely to decline;

  • And runoff will shift to earlier in the spring, which will lower summer stream flows.

Hotter, drier summers can put Colorado communities at greater risk for wildfires and flash floods. Warmer winters with reduced snowfall can impact revenue from ski areas that is critical for the economic vitality of mountain communities.

Preserving and Enhancing Quality of Life. Colorado is well-recognized for its excellent quality of life. As evidenced by the projected increase in population, Colorado attracts people from all over the world because of its natural environment, climate, recreational opportunities, health and wellness rankings, and educational opportunities.

For more info on Colorado's Climate Plan:
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For more on Colorado's Demographics:
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Population Current and Projected -- Statewide and Select Counties
Jurisdiction 2010 Census Estimated 2013 Estimated 2020 Estimated 2040
State of Colorado 5,029,196 5,264,890 5,924,692 7,752,887
City and County of Denver 604,879 648,978 734,079 867,545
Morgan County 28,196 28,317 30,232 39,017
Larimer County 299,630 315,728 356,900 471,612
Mesa County 147,112 148,293 162,034 215,237
La Plata County 51,441 53,407 61,785 85,770