What is a ‘chief resilience officer,’ and why are so many Canadian cities hiring one?

Cities across the world are looking to become more resilient from disruptions, both physical and virtual, and Canada is no different.

Both Toronto and Vancouver are in the process of hiring a chief resilience officer (CRO), following in the footsteps of fellow Canadian cities Montreal and Calgary.

The position is a result of the cities’ partnership with the 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) program, founded by the Rockefeller Foundation in 2013, which is dedicated to helping cities worldwide more, well, resiliently address the social and economic challenges that have become such a major part of the 21st century.

“Toronto has been quite proactive on the notion of general resilience, but there’s always room for improvement, especially as the number of stresses increase,” Mark Bekkering, a manager in the City of Toronto’s environment and energy division, tells IT World Canada. “We see the position as a real opportunity to put in place a senior executive who has a clear mandate to build partnerships across corporate and community lines to move us even further along the path of addressing key stresses and shocks.”

Vancouver’s hiring term ended on Jan. 12, while Toronto’s wrapped up on Jan. 16. Bekkering says he hopes Toronto will have its new CRO in place and working by the end of March at the latest.

Bekkering says that the program will help the city identify its strengths and weaknesses when it comes to resilience. While physical disruptors such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and tidal waves aren’t much of an issue in Toronto, he points to climate change (with Toronto experiencing its hottest six months on record in 2016 as well as intense flooding), immigrants and refugees (more than half the city’s population is foreign-born) and housing affordability as issues he expects the new CRO to prepare for.

In terms of technology, while increasingly sophisticated cyber intelligence and disruptive technologies such as autonomous cars and on-demand apps could pose challenges, he says they will inevitably be part of the solution.

The partnership with 100RC provides two years of funding to each of the chosen cities to help with costs associated with hiring the officer and working towards a resilience goal, in hopes that over the course of those years, enough of an impact will be made that the cities will continue the project on their own.

“The 100 Resilient Cities is funding the position with a grant, although the person will be a city staff person,” Bekkering explains. “But as a condition of that grant, there is a well-developed and documented approach to moving forward that the 100 Resilient Cities program has designed based on their experiences with other cities. We’re working with that document and program organizers to implement our own strategy.”

So while the position is labeled ‘temporary’, Bekkering ensures that the Toronto City Council has already said it would evaluate the position before the two years are up in hopes of making it permanent.

100RC chose cities in three separate rounds, the first including locations such as Bangkok (Thailand), Los Angeles and New York City (US), Melbourne (Australia), Bristol (UK), Mexico City (Mexico), Rome (Italy) and Rio de Janeiro (Brazil).

Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver were chosen in May 2016 as part of the third and final round, among other world cities such as Cape Town (South Africa), Buenos Aires (Argentina), Jakarta (Indonesia), Tokyo (Japan) and Lagos (Nigeria).

Montreal was chosen in the second round in 2014, along with Boston, Barcelona (Spain), London (UK), Lisbon (Portugal), Paris (France) and Athens (Greece), and hired its official CRO at the beginning of 2016, Louise Bradette.

“I was and still am the emergency manager for the city of Montreal, and that’s how we applied for the 100 Resilient Cities challenge,” Bradette tells IT World Canada. “What we have in place in terms of emergency plans are essentially resilience strategies, we just don’t call it that, so I would like to think we have a good base already.”

Hired just over a year ago, Bradette and her small team took five months to inventory what the city actually had in place already, and survey citizens and Montreal stakeholders about what should be prioritized in terms of resilience. They are now in the process of finalizing all the suggestions into a feasible action plan. The next phase involves implementing the strategy, which Bradette is hopeful will happen by the end of 2017.

She also mentions that being a part of the 100RC program has allowed her to form relationships and meet with CROs from other cities for mentorship and advice.

“Every week we talk with the people from 100 Resilient Cities and other CROs to share what we’re doing,” she explains. “We have a partnership with them, and the network and exchange has become the greatest part of the job for me, actually.”

And just as Bekkering points to being able to form partnerships as one of the key qualities he is looking for in a CRO, Bradette highlights a similar reason she’s looking for someone comfortable with mobilization.

“A CRO needs to be able to mobilize people, that’s the most challenging thing we have to deal with in my opinion. They will need to explain to a wide variety of people that ‘resilience’ is not just a buzzword, and make them understand why we’re working towards versatility,” she stresses.

Bekkering says he has spoken with Bradette, the only Canadian project already underway, on how to tap into this network and how to take advantage of the resources that 100RC makes available. He hopes Toronto will have a strategy ready by the end of the first year.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Mandy Kovacs
Mandy Kovacshttp://www.itwc.ca
Mandy is a lineup editor at CTV News. A former staffer at IT World Canada, she's now contributing as a part-time podcast host on Hashtag Trending. She is a Carleton University journalism graduate with extensive experience in the B2B market. When not writing about tech, you can find her active on Twitter following political news and sports, and preparing for her future as a cat lady.

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