In May, leaders from 34 nations and over 30 private sector partners gathered in Norfolk to discuss how the military, business, and civil sectors can work together to build urban resilience. The gathering was NATO’s first-ever Interdependency in Resilience Conference designed to create a blueprint for sector collaboration to strengthen NATO’s ability to respond to new types of threats including cyber warfare and attacks on critical infrastructure.
Norfolk was chosen by NATO to co-host this important conference because of its long history of resilience. For over 400 years the city has endured and adapted to shifting stresses and shocks, from war to sea level rise. In 2013, Norfolk was one of the first cities to join the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Network. For the past four years, the city has assumed a leadership role by creating and implementing one of the world’s first urban resilience strategies. For Norfolk, that strategy includes redesigning itself as a waterfront community that embraces the water, even as it rises.
As the home to the largest Naval station in the world, NATO’s North American Command and as an economic engine for the Commonwealth of Virginia, understanding the intersection of the military, civilian and private sectors is not simply an intellectual exercise, but a way of life. During the conference, Norfolk Mayor Kenneth Alexander reiterated the city's commitment to strengthening the connections between these sectors. General Mercier, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, acknowledged Norfolk’s unique role as a living laboratory for building urban resilience.
The panel discussions surfaced four key themes. First, resilience building starts with a critical self-assessment of strengths and vulnerabilities and the understanding of the potential consequences of not mitigating those vulnerabilities. Second, resilience should be viewed as a process and capacity to absorb shocks, adapt to the changes in the environment and transform to withstand emerging and future challenges. Achieving it requires a common vision, shared sense of responsibility, knowledge transfer, strong leadership and champions who can encourage innovation and drive change.Third, developing shared awareness through exercises and education enables the collaborative and inclusive dialogue necessary to build trust and reveal the mutually supporting tools and mechanisms necessary to build resilience. Finally, expanded experimentation, modeling and training with partners that replicates the realities of the complex contemporary environment is key to surfacing interdependencies and points of failures across the sectors.
As a result of the gathering, NATO and Norfolk agreed to take the next step in understanding the interdependencies that build urban resilience by conducting a joint tabletop exercise designed to understand how external stresses impact a city’s functionality. In short, Norfolk will use its role as a resilience laboratory to drive innovation.
Watch the video from the conference here