Community Resilience: What Does It Mean?

On June 17, 2014

David’s daily wrap-up of the World Conference on Disaster Management.

Today’s keynote panel session discussed the concept of community resilience. Part of the initial discussion was to define resilience.

The panels’ view was that resilience is the ability of a community to retain is functionality at both a municipal and individual level during a crisis or disaster, as well as its ability to bounce back afterwards. It can also mean learning from past events to plan for the future, enabling a community to build its resilience.

A community’s resilience relates directly to community culture and this is heavily influenced by strong local leaders and the organisations that operate within it.

In a community with strong resilience, authorities need to be able to step back and hand control to community leaders. This may mean reducing the focus on regulations and allowing the natural flow of the community to take over after a crisis.

Volunteerism is a key part of a strong communities and its ability to bounce back. Emergency managers can only play a limited role in the recovery, as the ability to pull through rests within the community and its leaders.

This brings the focus to local government and its key role in building community awareness and leadership in advance of a crisis.

When this happens, two phenomena occur. The first is emergent community groups, that didn’t exist before the crisis, but develop as individuals form groups to fulfil a need in the recovery efforts. BlazeAid in Australia is an excellent example of this.

Some emergent groups perform lifesaving functions and become an untrained army of volunteers who can respond immediately and adapt as the situation changes. In the earthquake in Mexico , 10 per cent of the population helped to find survivors.

The second phenomenon is called organisational extension. This means organisations that have never played a role in disaster recovery, become actively involved by extending their services into a new areas after a crisis. A good example of this would be a local pizza shop giving away free food to people who were left homeless and hungry after a disaster.

How do we use this knowledge to enhance resilience?

  • Expect emergent groups
  • Gain expertise in network management not command and control
  • Increase the capacity to improvise through cross training
  • Prepare to relax bureaucratic requirements

Resilience needs a shift in our thinking. It is about leadership and empowering communities to be part of the solutions and not be solely reliant on welfare to aid recovery. Governments can’t make communities resilient; they have to help communities to become resilient themselves.