In the 14th century, Venice was in many ways still a world power in its own right. The days when it could topple kingdoms using commerce were behind it, but it was still an important trade destination. In that period, trade meant ports and ports meant the Bubonic Plague in 1347.
When it hit, some tried prayer, some tried hunting vampires, but then officials quickly began to utilize what we would now call resilience management: rather than trying to target a poorly understood risk, state authorities focused on managing physical movement, social interactions, and data collection for the city as a system.
This included a system of inspection, lazaretto - quarantine stations - on nearby islands, quarantine periods, and wearing protective clothing. Those actions were too late to stop the disease's initial devastation but with that earned knowledge, Venice continued to flourish, experiencing only sporadic episodes of plague thereafter, while in Greece and southern Europe, similar epidemics raged for centuries.
That has lessons for concern/planning/hysteria over ebola, says Dr. Igor Linkov of the US Army Engineer Research and Development Center, and a visiting professor of the Ca Foscari University in Italy, lead author of an article on resilience management in Environment Systems and Decisions.
As the world grapples with the current outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, Linkov and his colleagues see opportunities to learn from the Venetians in resilience management. In the case of Ebola, economic and cultural factors make risk management difficult. While it will take time to transform deeply rooted traditions that contribute the spread of the Ebola virus, health experts and national leaders may be able to realize improvements by bolstering the ability of other parts of the system to respond to re-emergence of the disease.
Resilience management addresses the ability of a complex system— such as a city or community— to prepare, absorb, recover, and adapt to unexpected threats.
"Resilience management can be a guide to dealing with the current Ebola outbreak in Africa, and others like it, as well as other issues like population growth and the impacts of global climate change," believes Linkov. "Similar to what the officials of Venice did centuries ago, approaching resilience at the system level provides a way to deal with the unknown and unquantifiable threats we are facing at an increasing frequency."