Effective community response to disaster: a community approach to disaster preparedness and response.

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Effective community response to disaster: a community approach to disaster preparedness and response.
Cantrell, Randall
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Effective Commu n ity Response to Disaster: A Community Approach to Disaster Preparedness and Response 1 M.A. Brennan R.A. Cantrell, M. Kumaran, and M. Spranger 2 This paper is part of a series of discussions on the impact of community action in response to natural and other disasters. Introduction The dramatic and tragic events of Hurricane Katrina in August, 2005 that devastated communities in the Gulf of Mexico; Tropical Storm Debby that impacted communities in the Florida panhandle in June, 2012, and Hurricane Sandy that ravaged communities in New Jersey in October 1012 highlighted the need for coordinated community based volunteer efforts -to prepare for and respond to -natural and other disasters. The se events underscore the problems and shortcomings associated with coordinating outside logistics and show a clear need for local volunteers to serve as the first line of response to such catastrophes. For example, this was most obvious during the first weeks after Hurricane s Katrina and Sandy whe n volunteers and active community residents were the rescuers, caretakers, and in many cases, the final comforting companions to the dying. They were the first, and often the only, line of response that would exist for we eks. Government officials have immediately called on local citizens to volunteer their time, money, and sweat equity in addressing these massive and unprecedented natural disasters. Such disasters will to occur again. The routine threats from h urricanes, tornados, flooding, and other natural disasters to the southeastern US and elsewhere are well documented and predicted. In particular, given the trend of increased storm intensity, the likelihood of the impending threat of severe hurricanes (Cat egory 4 or 5) requires careful crisis and emergency planning strategies. Similarly, the possibility of terrorism remains an ever present threat. Individual homeowners can do much to prepar e for these natural disasters. ( Berns Cadle, 2013). However, w hen these disasters occur, citizen groups and coordinated efforts of local volunteers can respond to lessen the impacts T he process of organizing local residents must take plac e before, during, and after such catastrophic events occur (Berke et al., 1993). This factsheet identifies and suggests methods for linking local organizations, recruiting volunteers, and implementing coordinated action plans prior to, and after, the impac t of natural disasters. Importance and Role of Community in Disaster Preparation and Recovery In recent years considerably more emphasis has been placed on the role of community in disaster recovery and on the importance of local knowledge, action, participation, and control in determining the nature of disaster response. It is logical that the community wi ll be the first line of defense in preparing and responding in the event of a disaster. Local residents and groups are in a position to best identify their immediate needs, coordinate preparations, supplement official response efforts, implement eme rgency response programs, and contribute to local decision


making for future events. Similarly, local communities can provide a sense of connection (Cantrell & Stafford 2013) and decrease the isolation and abandonment that is often felt among residents during times of disaster. Such capacity for providing these community services does not always exist, but can be cultivated encouraged and empowered. In all communities, a variety of groups exist with diverse skills and abilities combin ed with personal and professional experiences that are essential to successful preparation and response to disasters (Independent Sector, 2001). Included are resident groups with needed professional and trade skills for damage control and assessment (engin eers, environmental scientists, architects, contractors, and skilled laborers); disaster preparedness and response training (VFW, retired military/national guard/police); medical, psychological and social service delivery experience (health practitioners, counselors, religious/civic groups); and long time residents who have witnessed previous responses to natural disasters. Effective community responses connect these diverse groups and develop action plans to meet common needs. Successfully linking local o rganizations, citizens, and leaders provides a strong network for local citizens and groups to become actively involved in local preparedness and response efforts. T his capacity building process is most effective when it occurs as part of a pre disaster planning process ( Cantrell, Nahmens, Peavey, Bryant, & M. Stair (2012). and continue s during and after such catastrophic events. Cooperative Extension and other change agents can help facilitate this process. The Role of Cooperative Extension in Community Responses to Disaster To facilitate such citizen involvement, training at a variety of levels is useful. First, community development/civic engagement training is pivotal to all success ful community based disaster response programs. Such trainings provided by Cooperative Extension and other community development educators would provide an understanding and framework for including broad based local representation in long term emergency response and other local ef forts. These trainings include skill development such as asset mapping, assessing local power structures, needs assessments, conflict resolution skills, management methods, and community profile development. Such training would also inform active citizens that their involvement is essential to local development well beyond times of disaster. Similarly, more general grassroots mobilizations can plan for, respond to, and rebuild in the aftermath of disaster. Included would be active efforts to bring together diverse local groups, the formation of local groups for planning, establishment of formal long term visioning and goal setting for disaster preparation/recovery, and recruitment of experienced local citizens to take direct action. Similarly, the e stablishment of alliances between local groups could set the stage for a more effective sharing of resources and responsibilities during times of crisis. Such alliances can include the identification of organizations or individuals to serve as liaisons bet ween local grassroots efforts and more formal structures (state and federal response organizations, military/national guard, emergence response agencies). Cooperative Extension programming and trainings can be a valuable resource in facilitating all of th ese activities and skills.


Ways Community Volunteers Can Help The following community and volunteer response s can help in a number of ways before, during, and immediately following the after math of a disaster because they are able to: coordinate a more successful evacuation and transportation effort provide structure and order in times of chaos aide in organizing resources for distribution before and after disasters decrease the isolation and sense of abandonment that quickly engulfs disaster victims in the affected areas contribute to local connections and interaction that signals resiliency within the community Conclusion Local volunteers and community level action is essential to effective natural disaster preparation and response. They are particularly important because citizens are in many cases the first responders and thus, may have the greatest chance to save lives and provide support in the hours and days immediately following the after math of a disaster Certainly, an effective community response can serve to diminish some of the suffering and loss that occur s during and after disasters. Community and volunteer coordinators have an obligation to help facilitate community organization and preparation to aid e fellow citizens i n times of such great need. The only thing that is certain in these times is that local residents will be the first people capable of respon ding. In these disaster settings, local volunteers and community organizations are presented with an unprecedented opportunity to make a measurable impact on local well being. The quality and extent of this response may hold the key to minimizing disaster effects, maintaining order, increasing hope, and maximizing recovery efforts. In the end, facilitating local involvement in disaster preparedness and response is about far more than the provision of basic and logistical needs. It ensures that local voices are heard, local struggles are recognized, and the dignity of local people is respected. With this capacity established, local citizens can respond and recover in a manner that improves local life. The response and rebuilding process will belong to the fro nt line of disaster responders community volunteers who will reinvest in their communities. References and Suggested Reading Berke, P. R., J. Kartez, and D. Wenger. 1993. Recovery after Disaster: Achieving Sustainable Development, Mitigation and Equity. Disasters 17(2):93 109. Berns Cadle, H., Cantrell, R.., Carnahan, L., Fetzko, R., Hwang, D., Kilcollins, R.F., Spranger, M., (2013). Florida Homeowners Handbook to Prepare for Natural Hazards. Gulf of Mexico Alliance. Gainesville, FL: ShorterChilds.


Cantrell, R. and A. Stafford (2013). The Introduction and Development of the Community flow Measurement Instrument, Journal of Community Development. ( t/yajxtqwKGgKWQ22Y5wmK/full ) Cantrell, R.; Nahmens, I; Peavey, J.; Bryant, K.; and M. Stair (2012). Strategy for Establishing Housing Production Facilities Outside Disaster Areas, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Policy Develop ment & Research and the Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing, Washington, D.C. (February), 71 pages. ( ng.html ) Flint, C. and M.A. Brennan. 2006. The Rural Context of Disaster: Exploring the Role of Community Emergency Response Teams. Rural Realities Florida Department of Community Affairs, (2010). Post Disaster Redevelopment Planning: A Guide for Florida Communtiies. Tallahassee, FL. Brennan, M.A., C. Flint, and R. Barnett. 2005.Community Volunteers: The Front Line of Disaster Response. Journal of Volunteer Administration. 23(4): 52 56. Useful Web Sites 1. US Citizen Corps, corps 2. Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), emergency response teams 3. National Citizen Corps Council Partners, 4. Corporation for National and Community Service, http://www.nationals 5. US Citizen Fire Corps, 6. US On Watch Neighborhood Watch Program, 7. Medical Reserves Co rps, 8. Volunteers in Police Service, http://www.pol 9. Citizen Corps Affiliate Programs and Organizations, Footnotes 1. This document is FCS9254, one of a series of the Family Youth and Community Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date July 2006. Reviewed: Janua ry 2009 and June 201 3 Visit the EDIS Web Site at 2.


M. A. Brennan, former faculty member ; R.A. Cantrell, Assistant Professor; M. Kumaran, Assistant Professor, and Michael Spranger, Professor Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, 32611 The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and o ther services only to individuals and institutions that function with non discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions o r affiliations. For more i nformation on obtaining other extension publications, contact your county Cooperative Extension service. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A. & M. University Cooper ative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, Dean.