Resilience: History, Questions, and Volcanic Risk Mitigation in the Summa-Vesuvius Built Environment

Resilienza: storia, domande e mitigazione del rischio vulcanico nell'ambiente costruito Summa-Vesuvio

Maurizio Indirli
ENEA, Bologna (Italy)

This work wants to present an excursus through the ages and a brief “state-of-the-art” regarding resilience, pointing out potentialities and inconsistencies of the current debate among researchers of different disciplines, authorities, and institutions working in the fields of hazard mitigation, risk assessment, and disaster prevention.

In Latin (Liotta et al., 2010), resilire (rĕsĭlĭo, rĕsĭlis, resilui, rĕsĭlīre; resilĭens -ĕntis) means the act of rebounding, i.e. to rebound/recoil, from “re-” back + “salire” to jump, leap. It can be found for the first time in some Latin authors: architecture (Marcus Vitruvius Pollio), natural sciences (Titus Lucretius Carus, Gaius Plinius Secundus Maior), law and religion (Lucius Annaeus Seneca Maior, Marcus Tullius Cicero), literature (Publius Ovidius Naso, Gaius Petronius Arbiter), history (Titus Livius), giving the description of daily experiences in tangible or metaphorical sense (rebounding, leaping, shrinking, drawing back, retreating).

Then the concept passed through the medieval culture until intellectuals who strongly contributed to the birth of the modern scientific method. Both in Latin and English, Francis Bacon uses resilience and derivatives ( Novum Organum and Sylva Sylvarum) to describe physical properties and natural phenomena. The 19th century British encyclopedists Thomas Blount, Edward Phillips, and Ephraim Chambers employ the words resilience/resiliency/resilition/resilient in their three books (respectively: Glossographia; The New World of English Words, or, a General Dictionary; Cyclopaedia, or, an Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences). The first definitions of resilience in engineering (timber and iron properties) can be found in Thomas Tredgold (English engineer, known for his early work on railroad construction, Practical essay on the strength of cast iron, and other metals; Elementary Principles of Carpentry). But a fundamental watershed is given by the first quantitative formulas of William Rankine (Scottish mechanical and civil engineer, physicist, mathematician, founding contributor to Thermodynamics with Rudolf Clausius and William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin ‘Lord Kelvin’, see A Manual of Applied Mechanics).

More recently, the concept extended to psychology, anthropology, and ecology, with the fundamental Holling's contribution (Holling, 1973). Powerful and charming, due to its undeniable metaphoric strength, the word resilience, acting as a prism scattering rapidly its original background into different directions, catched the forthcoming and transversal attention of scientists, institutions, and citizens. In the last decades, the concept expanded quickly into social-ecological systems, disaster/risk assessment, sustainability, and adaptive capacity to cope catastrophic scenarios. Nowadays, resilience is largely used by multi-disciplinary scientists and representatives of public/private organizations, but with increasing ambiguity about its properties and attributes (Alexander, 2013).

Finally, some ideas are presented about the mitigation of the volcanic risk the Summa-Vesuvius area. In fact, the question of Vesuvius risk mitigation is being intensely debated for decades in the scientific community, by the civil protection, the regional/local authorities, the population involved, and in particular about lack of prevention measures and unreliability of the current Emergency Evacuation Plan (EEP), presence of strategic facilities inside/outside the “red” danger zone, robustness of infrastructure, uprooting and dispersion of more than one million people all over Italy and beyond, etc.; the scenario of a Plinian/sub-Plinian eruption represents both a potentially enormous threat and a crucial challenge to be faced (Dobran, 2007).


Alexander, D.E., (2013) Resilience and disaster risk reduction: an etymological journey. Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 13, 2707-2716.

Dobran, F., (2007) VESUVIUS 2000: Toward security and prosperity under the shadow of Vesuvius. In VESUVIUS: Education, Security and Prosperity, F. Dobran (ed-), Elsevier, Amsterdam.

Holling, C.S. (1973) Resilience and stability of ecological systems. Review of Ecology and Systematics 4(1), 1-23.

Liotta, G., Rossi, L., and Gaffiot, F. (2010) Dizionario della lingua latina, Latino Italiano. HACHETTE Livre, il capitello, Torino.