Defining community resilience: where to begin?

community resilienceArticle by Paul Barnes, The Strategist – commentary and analysis site of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, an independent, non-partisan think tank based in Canberra.

Australia’s new Defence White Paper has plenty to say about a ‘secure, resilient Australia’.

Paragraph 3.6 states: ‘Our interest in a secure, resilient Australia also means an Australia resilient to unexpected shocks, whether natural or man-made, and strong enough to recover quickly when the unexpected happens’.

Establishing a definition of ‘resilience,’ particularly as it applies to communities impacted by natural disasters, is a hard nut to crack. Like many trans-disciplinary concepts, its meaning and usage has been debated by many professional and regulatory groups.

The growing prevalence of official strategies, policies and published national and international guides focusing on disaster resilience highlights the significant interest in the concept, especially as it applies to disasters and their impacts on communities. Not having clarity on the underlying principles of community resilience is problematical for good policy and disaster planning practice.

We need to understand better the underlying principles of what constitute a cohesive and resilient community—and from this develop effective measures of resilience and resilient practice.

The experience of living through a disaster challenges the wellbeing and sense of safety of all those impacted and is particularly disruptive to community cohesion and viability. Those experiences are always personal and can be difficult to understand and engage with institutionally as they cut to the core of an individual’s sense of safety and profound dislocation and loss.

So while ‘community resilience’ is referred to in many reports and institutional strategies, a relevant question is whether ‘resilience’ as a practical concept is understood well enough to support and nurture its regrowth in devastated communities.

Generically, resilience can be described as the capability of an organisation or institution to withstand the impacts of disturbances (from external or internal sources) while maintaining some acceptable degree of functionality or service delivery and when able, regain any lost capacity.

While recovery is often complicated, its focus is on the return of a community to a semblance of normality. Physical damage to essential lifelines, loss of housing stock, and the difficulties caused by evacuation can all add significantly to community-wide and regional impacts.

The Australian National Strategy for Disaster Resilience (NSDR) affirms the benefit of coordinated efforts of people working together to prepare for, withstand and recover from natural disasters it also states the importance of building the resilience of our communities. Disaster mitigation includes improving the safety of community members, reducing damage to property, rapid recovery, and a reduction in overall costs to national, state and regional economies. The NSDR provides high-level policy guidance and sets a clear mandate for coordinating national thinking on readiness and resilience needs, but doesn’t establish clarity on the underlying principles of community resilience. To read more click here.

The 5th Australian and New Zealand Disaster and Emergency Management Conference will be held at Jupiters Gold Coast, QLD on the 30-31 May 2016. The Conference theme ‘EARTH, FIRE and RAIN’ will continue to examine issues that impact preparedness, resilience, response and capability.

To register for the conference CLICK HERE. Early Bird Registrations Close: Monday 18 April 2016 so be quick to receive a discounted rate.

Delegates may also wish to attend the 2016 Australian and New Zealand Search and Rescue Conference (ANZSAR); Land, Sea & Air which will follow the Disaster and Emergency Management Conference on 1st June discussing the issues and challenges in Search and Rescue and continue the support of professional development in new training, techniques and requirements.

Special discount rates are being offered to those that wish to attend both Conferences.