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Examining Methods to Improve Disaster Risk Reduction

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

By LaMesha Craft
October 6, 2020

Two years ago, in early October 2018, I had regained access to my former home in Conway, South Carolina to survey the devastation left by the post-Hurricane Florence flood. My family and friends worked during daylight hours to salvage what little personal items we could. Although, I had previously conducted research on the potential impacts to community resilience following a disaster, I never expected to bear witness (as a survivor) to the raw emotions of a community responding to and attempting to recover from a disaster.

Examining Disaster Risk Reduction

Often the examination of disaster risk reduction includes exploring the role of human capital and social capital in societies. Inherent in social capital is the notion of social trust, social connections and social interactions at the individual and community levels. Scholars often discuss three types of social capital: bonding, bridging and linking. Bonding social capital includes trusting relationships between members of a community or network of people who usually have shared identities. Bridging social capital describes a network of diverse individuals who recognize their differences (e.g. age, race, ethnicity, education and possibly socioeconomic status). Lastly, linking social capital describes the extent to which people build relationships with organizations and individuals that have power and influence. It is important to note that all three types of social capital are likely to influence the environment before, during and after disasters.

Community Resilience: Finding Balance

Literature over the last 20 years suggests there is a general consensus at the local, state and federal level that community resilience is a key policy issue and is critical to national health security and national preparedness. Social science research on disaster-prone communities often includes examinations of social capital and community resilience as methods for improving emergency management. However, less clarity exists about what and how communities can build and maintain resilience before a man-made or natural disaster. A review of current literature indicates the need for further exploration of the balance between the delivery of public service by government organizations and the responsibility and capability of the community in building and maintaining resilience.

Developing a Roadmap: Improving Local Community Resilience

Enhanced community resilience is considered critical to mitigating vulnerabilities, reducing negative health consequences and rapidly restoring the functionality of the community following a crisis or disaster. Experts with the RAND Corporation recommended developing a roadmap for building local community resilience that included eight levers (areas in which communities may need to build capacity): wellness, access, education, engagement, self-sufficiency, partnership, quality and efficiency.

Additionally, in April 2020, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) published a public notice for the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) grant program. The program is the result of amendments made to Section 203 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Stafford Act) by Section 1234 of the Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018. The BRIC grant is a significant paradigm shift in the way the federal government has dealt with disasters. It changes the focus from reactive disaster funding to a pro-active strategy of shared responsibility and partnerships. The stated mission of this grant program is to empower states, local governments, Tribes, and Territories (SLTTs) to identify the resources needed to develop strong mitigation projects and build community resilience that is unique to the respective state, local government, tribe or territory.

Concept into Action: Developing Local Resilience Planning Groups

The development of Local Resilience Planning Groups (LRPGs) in Aberdeen, Scotland, serve as a case study for how the BRIC grant program could facilitate building capacity and capability to develop the aforementioned eight levers of community resilience in disaster-prone areas. Specifically, LRPGs are beneficial in communities that already have an active civil society because it can be used as a platform to deliver education and training opportunities. Inherent in this platform are opportunities to address social and economic issues that are directly related to a community’s ability to prepare for and respond to disasters.

The incorporation of stakeholders and an honest evaluation and improvement phase is also necessary. To put it simply, any approach to improving community resilience should include a clear delineation between what citizens can affect in their community as well as what is beyond their capability and power of influence. In that same vein, the LRPGs should focus their strategies on social innovations and place-based solutions. Focusing on place-based solutions enables the LRPGs to do things such as: build and assess their own capacity as well as develop their own forums and community response groups. Increased participation empowers the citizens to help define and assess their community’s state of readiness and resilience.

As a proponent of social change, I have published research articles exploring methods to improve local community resilience and develop educational programs to empower local communities and improve disaster risk reduction. This graphic provides a crosswalk of how the recommendations to improve local disaster risk reduction will support several United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and priorities within the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR).


Author: LaMesha “MeMe” Craft, Ph.D., is a faculty member at the National Intelligence University and an adjunct professor at Tiffin University. Her research interests include community resilience, disaster risk reduction, leadership, impacts of disruptive technology, alternative futures, and postnormal times. She may be reached at [email protected] or @DrLCraft20

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