Engaging the Community in Emergency Preparedness

About a year ago, my boss asked me to research “resilience” and determine whether it was a trend our municipal government needed to heed.

Resilience seems to be the term du jour. Depending on the author and audience, the term may mean system redundancy, emergency preparedness, risk mitigation, climate adaptation, psychological well-being… Every field has its own definition for resilience.

Across all these disciplines and varying meanings, it became clear that resilient people and organizations 1) identify trends, threats, and opportunities in a  timely manner, and 2) acquire and utilize available resources efficiently. By doing these two things well, resilient people and organizations adapt to, respond to, withstand and/or recover quickly from adverse events and chronic stressors. As I wrote in the one-page white paper I wrote summarizing my research, “resilient communities have well-honed foresight, responsive feedback mechanisms, sufficient organizational capacity, strong community leadership and all of these pieces work together in synchronicity.”

In resilient communities, citizens contribute to the emergency preparation, mitigation, response and recovery efforts. For example, Knoxville’s Neighborhood Emergency Preparedness Program equips neighborhoods, such as homeowners’ associations, to perform their own emergency preparation, mitigation, response and recovery. The program publishes a guide for creating your neighborhood emergency plan and provides training opportunities. While not a substitute for professional response, this program helps neighbors to fill the gap until first responders arrive.

Citizens’ engagement in these traditional emergency management functions allow resilient communities to rebound quickly and more strongly from challenging trends, be it a highly disruptive adverse event–such as hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes–or one of the many chronic stressors that tend to siphon away a community’s economic potential, such as climate change, health epidemics, and structural economic changes.

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