Globally, development initiatives (like transportation infrastructure development) face complex challenges. From Climate Change to population growth, globalization to the energy crisis, and from food insecurity to economic challenges, the approaches we must use to address these problems require a multilayered approach and innovative solutions. The solutions should also account for and make use of existing and regionally available capacities, knowledge, resources, and technology. One of the current leading areas of research in development today is the concept of resilience. Resilience is generally defined as the ability to recover or resist the impacts from any disaster or hazard. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) defines resilience as “the ability to counteract (quickly recover from) or withstand (absorb) the impact of a shock,” whether that is a natural disaster, hazard, or crisis. The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine defines resilience as “the ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, respond to, recover from, and more successfully adapt to adverse events.”[1]According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is “adaptation in the face of adversity.”

A community’s ability to respond and adapt to natural disasters—its resilience—depends on many factors, including its vulnerability. Vulnerability is generally defined as “the degree to which a system is susceptible to, or unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change. The three components of vulnerability include exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity.” The UNDP indicates that a community’s vulnerability is often correlated with its level of poverty, especially in situations where governments have limited financial resources and institutional capacity.

The UNDP indicates that investing in resilience has many possible outcomes. Investing in resilience will…

  • Optimize existing resources by investing in more durable solutions and avoiding parallel mechanisms;
  • Strengthen infrastructures and national capacities that are more sustainable over the long term;
  • Strengthen the capacity of individuals, host communities, and states to cope with and recover from possible future shocks;
  • Reduce the cost of the international response in the medium term;
  • Support a process of transformation leading to self-sustainability, improvement, and growth;
  • Support employment generation and livelihood opportunities;
  • Ensure that women play a greater role in the achievement of growth and sustainable solutions; and
  • Improve environmental performance and provide a cleaner, healthier, and more productive environment to the population.


But how do these definitions relate to transportation planning? How does MHA Nation define resilience, and how do we continue to build more resilience for our transportation systems, people, culture, livelihoods, and communities into the future?

Transportation systems and infrastructure are critical in emergency situations. They act as a lifeline for emergency services, evacuations, and access to food, water, and other essentials during natural disasters. While bridges, tunnels, and roads are designed to accommodate harsh weather systems, extreme weather events due to Climate Change create challenges in predicting future risk and economic investment. According to the Transportation Research Board, “adverse weather events have increased in frequency and intensity in the past decade.” Climate Change increases the unpredictability, frequency, and intensity of extreme weather events. In some regions, this results in severe heat waves and drought; in others, higher levels of precipitation and more intense storm surges emerge. Climate Change tests the resiliency of transportation infrastructure in several important ways. For example, severe heat causes pavement to soften and expand, creating ruts and potholes. Extreme floods and snow impact roads and bridges by washing out (or freezing) and eroding the soil and bedrock that support bridges, tunnels, and roads. Climate Change will impact the world’s most vulnerable communities first. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, over 7.9 million people in South Asia were displaced in 2015 alone due to Climate Change related disasters. In many countries, infrastructure is inadequate as it is, and extreme weather events will continue to demand larger investments. But what kind of investments? Resilient investments.

Transportation infrastructure is extremely expensive to build, maintain, and replace. We’re talking about a minimum of $2 to $5 million per mile depending on where you live. This has huge implications for Tribes who are generally responsible for building, maintaining, and replacing their own roads on-reservation. Of course, it differs from place to place and it depends on the counties in which the reservation resides, but the amount of assistance for Tribes to maintain roads is generally small. We have certainly seen the repercussions of this on Fort Berthold, exacerbated by the immense amount of pressure from oil and gas related traffic over the last decade.

How does a community build resilience?

The short answer: there are no quick fixes. According to the Transportation Research Board, resilience is not found by reacting to an emergency when it arises, but by being proactive in planning and preparing for all possible outcomes. Projected growth for the number of vehicles using our transportation networks continues to grow, and across the United States road systems and infrastructure are in need of vital repair. For example, a study conducted in 2016 by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association determined that 10% of the 600,000 bridges nationwide are “structurally deficient.”[2] Resiliency in a transportation infrastructure system can be more than simply repairing existing infrastructure, however; it can also be expressed through redundancy—having multiple transportation options in the face of road closures due to maintenance or bad weather.

Transportation is essential for our everyday lives. It impacts all aspects of our wellbeing; from access to vital services, to emergency response and law enforcement. Planning is the first step in building resiliency into a transportation system to secure our future. With strong leadership and community support, the Fort Berthold Plan will continue to reflect the priorities of our communities and help and ensure our long-term commitment to make Fort Berthold a safe, prosperous, and culturally rich place to raise a family, have a business, and revitalize our region. No plan is perfect, and there are many ways to accomplish the same goal. But imagine how things will be in twenty years if we don’t collect the information and start planning today. Ask yourself, do we want to be reactive or proactive in building our future?








[1]TR News Issue 311, September-October 2017