Public Release: 

Building resliency into society could mean greater reliance on dual use technologies

Arizona State University

TEMPE, Ariz. - Today's modern societies face novel challenges, including unprecedented rates of social and technological change, rapid urbanization, globalization, unpredictable natural disasters and the continuing threat of terrorism. Faced with having to make the most of their limited resources, countries often find it difficult to respond to these challenges, especially when faced with the need to implement anti-terrorism security measures while still supporting long-term goals.

But if these societies focused on a "systems approach" to meet their growth needs and keep their country secure they will be better able to accomplish both, say two Arizona State University researchers.

Brad Allenby, professor of civil and environmental engineering and the Lincoln professor of engineering ethics, and Jonathan Fink, vice president of research and economic affairs and professor of geological sciences, say that one way societies can ensure their stability is to evaluate their policies and investments systematically, treat them as a portfolio, and focus on "dual use" opportunities that not only respond to the threat of terrorism, but provide additional social and economic benefit as well.

"The range of challenges and the practical impossibility of adequately addressing each in turn argue for adoption of a more comprehensive systems perspective," Allenby and Fink write in "Toward Inherently Secure and Resilient Societies," which appears in the August 12, 2005 issue of the journal Science.

"This should be based on the principle of enhancing social and economic resiliency as well as meeting security and emergency response needs, and to the extent possible developing and implementing dual use technologies that offer societal benefits even if anticipated disasters never occur," they write.

"A systems approach identifies resiliency as a key policy focus and a principle by which a wide variety of disparate initiatives can be understood as a group, providing rational and efficient responses to the set of risks - including new ones such as terrorism - that our societies face," Allenby said.

It would allow societies to meet a number of important goals, including protection of homeland security, while stretching their scarce funds.

"For instance, the U.S. will be spending large amounts of money to assess vulnerabilities to urban terrorism," Fink commented. "This could be done in isolation, focusing exclusively on how various systems in a city would be threatened by different kinds of incidents, but if the incidents never occur, then those assessments would provide only a limited benefit.

"On the other hand, if a comprehensive analysis were conducted on how urban systems work and interact, then even if no terrorism were to occur, city managers and planners and other government agencies and businesses would have valuable new information and approaches that could contribute to more efficient transportation, communications, energy distribution and utility systems," Fink added.

The dual use approach is at the heart of the authors' idea to strengthen resiliency, and achieving it can help societies be more efficient in use of their resources. It also helps societies respond to singular events, like specific acts of terrorism, while also obtaining additional broader social benefits.

Dual use technologies - those that can be developed for two different purposes, like defense applications that also have civilian uses - are a case in point. The U.S. has been able to do this in the past, but developing dual use technologies is not a "systematic principle" integrated into U.S. policy.

"We've used it in some cases, like the civilian spin-offs from defense and space related R&D -- such as GPS systems that now form the basis for navigation systems in automobiles and consumer products like Velcro," Fink said. "However, in the immediate rush to respond to 9/11, achieving efficiency through dual use seems to have been neglected or ignored."

Examples of technologies developed for the military that now find civilian use include new jet engines that can diagnose potential failures before they occur, radio them to maintenance facilities and thus avert catastrophic failure and engine downtime. There also is the development of algorithms that help companies be more efficient in lowering their expenses and associated costs of transportation, which also provide general energy and environmental cost savings.

But these specific instances, Allenby said, come about because of customer demand and competitive pressures. "So they are individual examples of dual use, which validate the principle, but they have not been considered in this way as a class, nor have they been evaluated as part of a collection of social responses which, taken as a whole, increase the resiliency of social systems."

"The benefit of the approach we are urging is that it attempts to manage risks across the entire system, generating greater social good and efficiency than an ad hoc reaction," Allenby added. "This is critical given the scale of the challenges we face as a society, and the limited resources we have to respond to them."

Using resiliency as a general principle is particularly important when, as in the case of the U.S., shrinking Federal budgets and increased risks to society from terrorism have caused a shift in funding of research away from civilian and basic research and development, which would benefit the general economy, and more toward the homeland defense, security and the military side.

"What is at stake are large amounts of financial resources and the opportunity costs these security expenditures impose on society in general," Fink said. "For instance, the costs of the war on terrorism are cited as a prime reason for reductions in the budgets of federal research agencies like the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and NASA.

"Without these funding agencies receiving and distributing adequate funding, technological advance and the global competitive position of our society will definitely be threatened," Fink explained. "Employing dual use technologies stretches the available dollars and makes it more likely that society would derive benefit from mitigation and recovery strategies."

"The immediate challenge is using our resources as a society much more efficiently and rationally at a time when there will be far less available in the foreseeable future," Allenby added.


Jonathan Fink, (480) 965-3195
Brad Allenby, (480) 421-8734

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