The term resilience is increasingly being used to capture the challenges involved in managing in ‘hard times’. This article aims to provide one of the first empirical studies of the term’s application to local authority interventions around emergency planning and climate change: two areas in which resilience has been particularly emphasised in local policy making. Drawing upon research undertaken in the north east of England, the article considers how local managers have understood and applied the term, the extent to which it has been developed as a coherent policy agenda, and its strategic significance. In reframing the debate on resilience in terms of discourses of ‘recovery’ and ‘transformation’, the article examines how, in addition to informing policy realities on the ground, resilience is also a normative, politically laden term, within which conservative narratives of uncertainty, vulnerability and anxiety compete with a more radical focus on hope, adaptation and transformation. The study reveals concerns over the term’s longevity, tensions between the different interpretations of resilience, and the lack of a coherent strategic framework within which the different discourses on resilience could be considered and reconciled. However, the article also captures the growing importance of a resilience narrative that is seen to add value in a period of austerity, integrate key features of climate change adaptation and emergency planning, and act as a ‘strategic lynchpin’ in relation to other policy areas, such as economic resilience.