BOOK: Futureproof: How to Build Resilience in an Uncertain World, by Jon Coaffee

Futureproof: How to Build Resilience in an Uncertain World
Jon Coaffee, Yale, 2019


Every day is a good day to talk about preparing for the future. But yesterday is always the best time to start. To suggest that the idea of forward planning is new would be ridiculous - especially to the resilience community. But that’s not the premise of this book.

Whilst its introduction provides a potted history of risk, uncertainty and society’s way of dealing with them throughout the ages and across geographies and cultures (including the obligatory Lloyd’s Coffee House story; what book on risk is complete without it?), author Coaffee uses it to set out his stall early on.

To understand fully where the author is taking us, one has first to take a look at where he has come from. Jon Coaffee is Professor in Urban Geography at Warwick University in the UK’s Midlands. The focus of his work is on the interplay of physical and socio-political aspects of urban resilience, a topic to which he is clearly deeply committed and on which he has been widely published – with a particular emphasis on the impact of terrorism and other security concerns on the functioning of urban areas. Also relevant to the thrust of this book is his position as co-lead of the University’s Global Research Priority in Sustainable Cities.

So, Coaffee’s areas of focus, study and interest are specifically urban security, the politics and practices of resilience, counter-terrorism, political geography and disaster management. That is, physical disasters such as those borne out of natural or man made catastrophes – from hurricanes to terrorism. And it is specifically these topics that he explores in Futureproof.

In seeking to mitigate risk, the author posits that the traditional approach of planning for specific, known disruptions should be reinforced by anticipating unknown future challenges, and by developing the capacity to adapt to entirely new threats. This, he says, would enhance our ability to bounce back (using our tried and tested traditional methods), and give us a further ability to ‘bounce forward’.

That’s the ‘what’, so what of the ‘how’? In its nine chapters, one is dedicated to the topic of organisational agility, which looks at such notable developments across the resilience spectrum as the emergence of the doctrine of UK resilience as a response to the fear of terrorism post-9/11, and the appearance around five years later of the notion that resilience might even bring about competitive advantage.This all seems like a long time ago, and indeed the message has permeated far and wide since then.

Just as well, as fast-forward 15 years, and Coaffee believes we now stand at edge of an age of permanent adaptation – one where ‘new normal’ levels of uncertainty and volatility will
compel us to become better able to adapt “in order to cope when everything around us is in flux and find new pathways to navigate our deeply changeable world”.

It’s at once exciting, terrifying, reassuring and nervewracking.

What you won’t find in this book is anything on the topic of pandemic planning. Which might be a relief to some readers - not just because we can’t go anywhere without reading about COVID-19 (can’t go anywhere full stop?), but also because ‘other’ risks don’t cease to exist just because the ‘big one’ is dominating the front page. Every day.

This not the only book going by this title; there are lots of others - in fact a handful were published in 2019 alone. One in particular, Futureproof! 13 Things Your Parents Can’t Tell You About Tomorrow, struck me as worth a look for readers with inquisitive teens. Now is as good a time as any to get children acquainted with the concepts of risk and resilience, and how they affect lives and livelihoods today and tomorrow. (You’ll have to tell them the Coffee House story yourself, though, as it skips that part.)

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