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Blog 5: Community Resilience

Though originally used in physics to describe the capacity of material to return to equilibrium after displacement, resilience is also associated with a community’s ability to quickly return to homeostasis, or to “bounce back” from a collective traumatic experience (disaster) through specific communication strategies, it is called community resilience.

It is essential to understand two things before exploring the communication strategies used to increase community resilience.

1. Know how to interpret community resilience because the meaning of “community” has vast variations. Communities have four interdependent environments (built, natural, social, and economic) and it is through their interdependence they influence one another in complex ways. Norris explains that there are two (somewhat integrated) for community resilience; first, it prevents disaster-related or mental health problems of community members; second, it describes effective organizational behavior and disaster management.

2. Understand resilience as a theory. Resilience is the capacity for successful adaptation in the face of disturbance, stress, or adversity. Resilience is not an outcome or stability, but a process and focused on adaptability.

In his article Norris explains resilience as a strategy by giving five different strategies that relate to the interdependent environments of a community.  I found the most important strategies to increase resilience to be the following:

1. Communities must develop economic resources, reduce risk and resource inequities, and survey areas of greatest social vulnerability. During this needs must be identified and an appropriate approach must be decided upon. The key idea of this strategy is on of equity across areas of a community, it is economic diversity, which increases a community’s ability to withstand unexpected crises.

2. Social capital must be accessible because it is one of the primary resources of any community as it is vital for local members of a community to be engaged in every step of the mitigation process. The focus of this strategy is to build trust. This trust is achieved via interactions that provide individuals with actual assistance in the form of a narrative. This narrative occurs when professionals send out accurate and important information to individuals. This information must be accurate and honest about the dangers/risks and the actions the public must take. As Longstaff said,

“A trusted source of information is the most important resilience asset that any individual or group can have.”

The public is then to assess and address their own individual vulnerabilities to hazards by identifying and investing in their own networks. These professional interventions are meant to emphasize empowerment and procure mobilization for the community’s capabilities. There are parts to social capital:

  • Sense of community: bonding and trust built through shared understandings and connections
  • Placement attachment: an emotional connection to the location
  • Citizen participation: the fundamental element of community resilience where individuals participate in formal organizations because there is structure, organization, and well defined roles

3.  Communities must plan, but also plan for not having a plan. Though it sounds confusing this strategy is simply focused on understanding the inevitable uncertainty that comes along during the aftermath of any disaster. Communities must be flexible and focus on being effective by having trusted information and communication resources that function even when faced with uncertainty. In order to be effective the complexity and uncertainty of the disaster must be acknowledged and there must be rapid decision-making instead of rigid plans.

Further understanding of community resilience as applied to a public health emergency can be seen here in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WIaqZsqaCkE 

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