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A Citizen’s Eye View of Public Preparedness

New British Report, “Resilient Nation,” Offers Guidance For U.S. Community Resilience

April 21st, 2009 · No Comments

I just read an interesting new study, “Resilient Nation,” by Charlie Edwards from the London office of the think tank, Demos. Resilience is a concept that has been talked about a good deal here in the U.S., and this report is a very useful addition to that discussion. Though the majority of the case studies/stories in “Resilient Nation” are from United Kingdom, much of the study’s research, analysis and recommendations are transferable to the U.S. 

The report argues that the U.K. will become a more resilient nation by increasing citizen and community involvement:

We live in a brittle society. Over 80 per cent of Britons live in urban areas relying on dense networks of public and private sector organisations to provide them with essential services. But our everyday lives and the national infrastructure work in a fragile union, vulnerable to even the smallest disturbances in the network. And both are part of a global ecosystem that is damaged and unpredictable. How does Britain protect against these risks? Much of our infrastructure is outmoded and archaic. And with their narrow focus on emergency services and institutions, so are the policies that underpin it.

This pamphlet calls for a radical rethink of resilience. Instead of structures or centralised services, it argues that citizens and communities are the true source of resilience for our society. Using numerous case studies it highlights what policy makers can learn from people’s resourcefulness and points to new tools that can transform our ability to respond when disaster strikes. Resilience is an everyday, community activity. It is people’s potential to learn, adapt and work together that powers it. Only by realising this potential will we succeed in building a resilient nation.

The report recommends the government adopt an approach to community resilience based on the “4 Es – Engage, Educate, Empower and Encourage”: 

Engagement strategies are based on dialogue and feedback. Central government, local authorities, emergency planning officers and the emergency services can no longer simply communicate with individuals and communities; they need to engage with them. Engagement must go beyond the ‘fire alarm’ approach of handing out specific information to communities and instead involve listening to individual and community concerns, and focus on helping to shape and influence their decisions…

…Education is crucial to ensuring that people build individual resilience. However, educating individuals and communities about resilience must be embedded into their everyday lives and must connect with them, whether in the classroom, at work or shopping. The balance is to ensure the
approach is subtle, connected to current activities (rather than standalone efforts) and reflects the context and demographics in each location…

The emergency planning bureaucracy and the focus on the response and recovery phases are a central plank in UK resilience but a balance needs to be made that allows communities to feel empowered to act. As the flood wardens in Walcott demonstrated in November 2007, communities have the relevant experience and skills to be resilient. They must be empowered to act and given the tools and resources to do this. Training and public exercises are one approach – examples in this pamphlet and elsewhere demonstrate the valuable role they play…

Finally, formal and informal institutions and organisations need to encourage individuals and communities to play a role. This encouragement can take many forms but ultimately it is about realising the potential communities have and taking time to support and influence their actions. There will never be a single template for this activity and every initiative and idea will be different across the country…

And the report concludes:

How should central government, local authorities and emergency services realise the potential to become a resilient nation? The scale and nature of the exercise in front of them looks vast. But as this pamphlet has argued, it need not seem so. The UK is covered with multiple dense networks of volunteers,
community and faith groups, clubs, societies and voluntary organisations, and small, medium and large businesses. Include governance networks that contain parish councillors, ward councillors, local authorities, regional government structures and central government departments and agencies based in Whitehall and beyond, and you immediately see the potential across the country. The difficulty for individuals within this system is where
to start. It is precisely because of the complexity of all these networks that we tend to opt for blanket approaches, which include community risks to individuals, families and communities. But increasing the number and complexity of these networks demands a new approach, which is both surgical in its initial attempts and then helps influence the message across other networks of actors.

Community resilience may be best managed through existing neighbourhood watch schemes; in other areas of the country schools and education initiatives may present a more obvious route. In rural areas farm networks can be employed by local authorities, while in major cities supermarkets may offer an innovative way of nudging individuals to become more resilient. There can be no one-size-fits-all approach to community resilience. What works in Birmingham may make no sense in Bristol, while initiatives that work in Northumberland may fail to take root in Newbury – community resilience activities will always have to be developed from the bottom up.

The full “Resilient Nation” report can be downloaded here.

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Tags: British Preparedness · Preparedness Lessons · Preparedness Reports

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