No matter the hazard, preparedness and mitigation are the keys to improving community resilience in the face of disaster. That said, it can take years to develop and establish well-organized and actionable emergency plans. As part of the preparation, multi-level partnerships and community relations must be forged to ensure necessary capabilities and capacity are present throughout all phases of an event. Equally challenging, besides learning how to identify risks, coordinate resources, and communicate effectively, stakeholders must also work to create social capital and build trust on all levels.
Along these lines, first responders can act as a conduit for powering community resilience. Not only are they experts in planning for and managing emergencies, they’re also well-versed in disaster management concepts, such as the National Incident Management System (NIMS), Incident Command System (ICS), and the National Response Framework (NRF).
Most important, because first responders are often members of the communities they serve, they already have an established rapport and comfortable familiarity with other residents and neighboring agencies. Therefore, they are in a prime position to inform and motivate the community to remain proactive, vigilant, and engaged.
With this in mind, let’s explore some simple steps an emergency responder can take to contribute and support disaster resilience in their community.
From cultivating awareness of disaster management programs to hosting fun and informative public events, emergency responders can translate the topic of disaster resilience into a community conversation that generates real results. As far as the content and structure for these events, the possibilities are endless.
For instance, your agency could host a monthly community meeting to openly discuss ideas for mitigation or review plans for addressing specific hazards and concerns inherent to the area. To switch the topics up a bit, why not invite local businesses, utility representatives, insurance agents, and contractors to explain how their products or services can benefit the community during an emergency? Aside from supporting neighboring businesses, these meetings can help community members better assess their preparedness levels and act early to address potential issues.
Going further, emergency agencies can request local experts in emergency planning, structural engineering, and federal grants to address disaster preparedness and recovery options available to both the community and individual residents. Likewise, volunteer agencies and non-governmental organizations can be a great source of information. Not only can these complementary agencies help drive home the message of long-term resilience, but they can also inspire residents to find creative ways to get involved and help others.
Workshops, classes, and Q&A sessions can also help community members gain the knowledge and skills they need to become more self-efficient during an emergency or disaster. For example, why not host a workshop on how to assemble a household emergency plan and go-bag? Or a class that can demonstrate various ways residents can stockpile emergency supplies over time. Even better, informal question and answer sessions can also spark insights from both sides.
Similarly, emergency responders can create programs for school-aged children that explain how to stay safe during various emergencies. Adding to the fun, these programs can be delivered in a game format to include giveaways like flashlights or wearable emergency beacons.
Further still, if space or schedule is a problem, any of these events can be hosted online or posted as webinars on an agency’s website and social media channels. Remember, there are no limits to the level of creativity or engagement. The point is to generate momentum before disaster strikes. Often proper guidance and a gentle nudge are all community members need to get more involved in shoring-up their family’s safety and future security.
While many emergency responders possess inherent leadership qualities, not everyone is comfortable taking charge in adverse situations. And while this thought-process is normal and acceptable in many instances, the fact remains—learning how to step-up and lead during an emergency can help save lives.
With this thought in mind, emergency responders can help coach and instill leadership qualities in every member of their community, including senior residents and those with fundamental needs. In these instances, modified tabletop and scenario-building exercises can help give introverted and hesitant residents the confidence and courage to take action or speak up and vocalize their thoughts on navigating the event. Better yet, tabletop exercises are a great way to address misconceptions and encourage higher public autonomy and accountability.
What’s more, these exercises can also function as a springboard to identify which disaster assistance services may be needed in the community. For example, suppose several participants express anxiety over the ability to evacuate their families without assistance. In that case, emergency responders can forward these concerns to public officials as proof of the need to implement better public outreach and evacuation programs.
While this post isn’t an all exhaustive list of all the ways responders can help, we hope it will serve as an idea well moving forward. As the last decade has presented us all with unsurmountable challenges in the emergency services and disaster management sector, it’s essential to empower our communities with the knowledge and skills necessary to help themselves and others before, during, and after a crisis.