Many of us have come to accept the fact that disasters are an inescapable fact of our world. Indeed, we know that between climate change, and our increasingly technologically reliant world, the list of potential causes of disruption is growing. However, while it may be the case that you’ve made preparations to protect you and your immediate family in a disaster, it’s important to think a little bigger and look to the community.
Our current pandemic has served to demonstrate that surviving and recovering from a disaster can’t rely upon individual efforts alone. It takes the cooperation of the entire community. We need to help each other through, to assist the most vulnerable among us, and utilize the combined talents of neighbors and friends in a way that ensures that we not only overcome the immediate obstacles of an emergency but that we thrive afterward.
So, if a strong, prepared community is our best defense from disaster, how can we go about implementing that? What strategies should we be putting in place to ensure that, when the time comes, our friends and neighbors are well-equipped to pull together and survive? Let’s take a look at some primary areas you and your community should be focusing on.
Organize an Emergency Committee
To bring the community together effectively, it’s important to formalize the process with a dedicated committee. This helps to get everybody on the same page and makes clear what actions should be undertaken if and when a disaster occurs. Speak to your neighbors and arrange a time and place to gather to discuss this, and encourage them to in turn invite members of the community that you may not be in direct contact with.
While this emergency committee should involve all members of the community, including children where appropriate, it must be directed rather than a free-for-all. Agree together on orders of business, procedures for discussion and, where necessary, voting. This doesn’t mean there should be a hierarchy or a “chain of command.” However, it should be established early on who has relevant skills in important areas — first response, supply distribution, emergency logistics — so that the most appropriate guidance is provided in any specific scenario. Make a list of who key figures are, and circulate contact details, along with hard copies of any agreed procedures to all members.
Such committees shouldn’t be a one-and-done situation. Communities and circumstances change and develop, and so too will your plans. Each meeting can be allocated for different purposes; reach out to relevant visitors where possible. Part of the role of nurse practitioners in disaster response is to provide education and information and communicate best practices to the community. Invite a local healthcare professional to come along to a meeting to talk about preparations, and seek their guidance on your plans. It can even be wise to introduce members of the community to first aid training courses.
Gather Community Resources
As anybody who has developed family disaster preparations knows, having a solid collection of resources is vital. This is no different when approaching plans from a community perspective. Not only does the population benefit from sharing resources, but there is also an opportunity to have access to a wider range of resources than you would by going it alone.
As a community, your discussions should include:
Let’s face it, being prepared can be costly — particularly as perishables need to be replaced every so often. Discuss how this can fairly be undertaken. Don’t exclude certain neighbors just because they may not be able to contribute as much as others. Discuss ways additional funding can be raised through community events or sponsorship. Look into the possibility of emergency funding through local and federal government agencies.
Review what types of disruption are presented by different types of disaster, and prepare supplies accordingly. In natural disasters where buildings may be damaged, stockpile building and repair materials that both take care of the immediate issues and make them fit for the future. Going the sustainable route for any building materials, utilizing bamboo, reclaimed wood, and even green insulation materials can help make certain that not only can disaster damage be mitigated, but also that it has an ongoing positive impact on the environment. Be sure that all community stakeholders have access to these supplies.
Knowledge will always be one of the most valuable resources your community has in a disaster. Create fact sheets — as both digital and physical documents — that outline the recommended immediate actions for all potential emergency scenarios. Reach out to government organizations such as FEMA to obtain clear facts, explainer videos, and referrals to other organizations to provide the most accurate information that can genuinely save community lives.
Think Long Term
Too often, preparations for a disaster are taken from a reactionary standpoint. A lot of the emphasis is placed on triage and survival. However, it’s also important for your community to put long term effort into infrastructure and processes that limit the extent of disruption, rather than just reacting when it happens.
Access to food will generally be a priority in most emergency scenarios. It’s important to have supplies of canned and long-lasting nourishment, but fresh fruits and vegetables are just as vital. Arrange for community efforts for urban gardening. Those who have land can plant crops, and those who live in apartments or without land can be just as effective by creating indoor garden spaces. Get together to arrange who is responsible for different types of growth, and plan out together how this should be undertaken, including funding for grow lights and appropriate heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems. During non-emergency periods, this produce can help bring your community together in sharing fresh food.
Particularly when it comes to those communities in rural areas, it is vital to review reliance upon traditional energy resources. When disasters strike, out of the way locations are likely to be low on the list of restoration priorities. Make a community effort to transfer to renewable energy such as solar and wind power. Help each other out with acquisition, installation, and knowledge about how to use the equipment. This not only provides a backup to traditional sources, it also promotes greener living in the long run.
Going it alone in a disaster is generally not the wisest or indeed most ethical course of action. As communities, we must pull together to recover when the worst occurs. By forming committees, mutually gathering resources, and working toward long-term sustainability, we can help ensure our families and our neighbors are safe and sound.