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New center seeks to help communities rebuild

September 25, 2019   /   by Ryley McGinnis

“The idea is to support resilience so that when something happens you can withstand the disruption, and not just bounce back, but bounce forward better.”

— Kathryn Laskey, Director of C-RASC

When disaster, natural or man-made, hits a community, volunteers and community members often rush to rebuild what was lost. They search for family mementos in the rubble and try to regain a sense of peace and security in the crisis.

Systems Engineering and Operations Research Professor Kathryn Laskey is director of a new trans-disciplinary Center for Resilient and Sustainable Communities (C-RASC) that aims to help communities with this rebuilding process, as well as with the preparations to reduce the impact of disasters.  

“Pressures from migration and climate change are accelerating, and it creates really difficult social situations that are going to cause difficult social challenges and political unrest,” says Laskey.

In collaboration with faculty from the Schar School of Policy and Government, College of Science, School of Business, School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, and the College of Health and Human Services, the new center aims to research the best practices to target and support locally-led community groups who can help build resiliency in the community before, during, and after a crisis.

Because they focus on locally-led groups, Laskey says this helps ensure that the solutions they are building will actually work for the people in that location. “It doesn’t work to go into these communities in a paternalistic sort of way and tell people how to run their society.”

And with a transdisciplinary approach, Laskey and the rest of the faculty involved hope that they can really make a difference in communities in Virginia, the United States, and the world.

“We want to do common good for the Commonwealth,” says Tonya Neaves, director for the Centers on the Public Service in the Schar School and one of the faculty on the C-RASC leadership council. “And emergency management takes more than one viewpoint.”

The C-RASC model follows a feedback loop of developing local solutions, producing the local capacity to build and maintain a resilient community, and then learning from those solutions, adjusting if needed, and hopefully carrying the lessons learned from one community to the next.  “The idea is to support resilience so that when something happens you can withstand the disruption, and not just bounce back, but bounce forward better,” says Laskey.

The next step for the center is to begin conducting case studies to see the model in action, refine the framework as needed, and apply the evolving framework to additional communities both locally and globally. In addition, says Laskey, “to make our center itself sustainable, we need to hire people to do the work, and attract funds to support our work.” In the coming months, the center will be hiring an assistant director to support and build its research portfolio.

Eventually, they hope to develop a multi-scale research framework and reach a global audience so that they can help communities and fellow researchers worldwide.

“Mason’s vision is research of consequence, and if this center is successful, then this will make a difference in people’s lives,” says Laskey.