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Collaboration Needed For Community Resilience

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Christine Springer
May 1, 2015

In 2013, the cost of weather disasters reached a record high of $41 billion, internationally. A resilient community is one that is able to effectively and quickly prepare, respond and recover from the impacts of a natural, intentional or technical, disaster with a focus on repairing the social, physical and economic infrastructure. To do so, usually requires leveraging or enhancing resources among federal, tribal, state, local, nonprofit and private sector partners to achieve a state of “normal” or the “new normal.” 

Hazards include natural events like hurricanes, tornadoes, pandemics and floods as well as human-caused events like war, terrorist attacks or economic calamities. Ultimately, these events disrupt a community’s normal functions and are characterized by human casualties and damage to or destruction of the environment and/or ecological resources. For example in 1947, the community of Woodward, Oklahoma and its 15,000 residents was decimated by a tornado. On April 17, 2012, another tornado of similar size demolished 89 homes, 13 buses and killed 6 citizens.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, community resilience is defined as creating structures and procedures to ensure its capability to continue to operate critical systems such as communications even during the disaster and to rapidly restart all essential systems that allow a human society to be supported and continue based upon key mission areas: anticipate, prepare, mitigate, respond, recover, learn and readjust.

Some managers shine during a major crisis. Others don’t. As a strategic manager, one must follow a comprehensive protocol that includes teams, systems and tools to build public awareness and processes to respond to a crisis. It also requires having an action plan in place to react quickly, manage rumors and respond to victims and stakeholders truthfully. 

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It starts with being willing to ask and answer important questions like: What is the worst that could happen? Then, addressing how to plan for and avert crises by securing the workplace. It also involves proper management of both the workplace and community infrastructure and effective communications.

Today, this means developing community and organizational resilience through collaboration. The concept of resilience has been well documented for more than 30 years in the fields of engineering, biology, psychology and social science. In biology, it means perseverance of organisms and life systems. In psychology, it means perseverance of human beings during crises and their interaction with social systems. 

Today, effective community resilience programs:

1) Engage stakeholders across the social and political spectrum of the community.

2) Obtain buy-in from local leaders and initiate effective leadership relationships and strategies.

3) Communicate and coordinate across and among interdependent organizations.

4) Conduct ongoing planning, preparation and training that extends from anticipation and reduction through response and recovery.

5) Keep plans flexible to enable agile responses to the unexpected. 

In a community like Memphis, Tennessee—with an urban area spanning six counties and three states (Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi) and 1.2 million demographically, economically and politically diverse residents—engaging stakeholders is key to building resilience.

Effective and trusted collaboration is vital to preparing for and responding to a disruptive event and it is equally important at all levels of government. In Shelby County, Tennessee, local mayors have collaborated to create ReadyShelby which partners with public, private, faith-based and nonprofit organizations to share guidelines for preparedness, regular training and exercises. In addition, a series of public preparedness messages are broadcast monthly. 

As extreme weather events are predicted to increase dramatically in the near future due to climate change, investment in community resilience is increasingly important. As Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey noted June 14, 2014, Community resilience from extreme weather is going to be a long-term project for our country.”

Based upon flooding alone, a recent report by the Federal Emergency Management Agency predicts a 50 percent increase in river and coastal flooding with 70 percent attributed to climate change. Those risks are even more important as there are 34 nuclear plants in 16 states that are currently at risk due to their location in floodplains. 

Since 2010, community and organizational resilience has made great progress but more needs to be accomplished. In the future, we should document and share measureable outcomes intergovernmentally regarding: 

1. How to make multilevel governance work through higher levels of governance so as to facilitate not simply manage how resilience strategies are developed and delivered.

2. How to effectively engage citizens in understanding risks and how to prepare for them.

3. How to successfully facilitate rapid learning and situational awareness on the part of all decision makers through the use of modern technology.

4. How to improve international cooperation so as to better understand how international institutions can better lend a hand before, during and after a disaster.

5. How to determine the price of resilience because at times the opportunity costs may exceed the benefits.

Author: Christine Gibbs Springer is the director of the Executive Masters Degree in Emergency and Crisis Management at the University of Nevada- Las Vegas. She is founder and CEO of a strategic management and communications firm, Red Tape Limited. To contact Springer, email [email protected].

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