Community Resilience

Resilient communities are capable of bouncing back from adverse situations with minimal downtime to restore basic community, government, and business services. Resilient communities are those that adopt and enforce strong building codes and encourage even stronger protections, take proactive steps to mitigate risks, engage in sustainable land use planning, pay particular attention to vulnerable populations, maintain critical infrastructure, and take emergency preparedness seriously. By doing these things, a community can reduce loss of life and injury, protect property and livelihoods, and create a culture that is focused on long-term economic health and social welfare:

How Resilience Affects the Community

  • While everyone wants their home to escape damage, few would want to live in the last house standing in a community destroyed by natural disaster. That is why comprehensive property mitigation efforts are critical to maintaining community vitality.
  • To ensure disruption after a disaster is short term, residents and businesses require rapid recovery of critical public capabilities and services, including working utilities, passable roads and bridges, and operational schools.
  • Even if a home is undamaged by a storm, a homeowner still may be forced to leave their community if their employer is no longer open for business. Conversely, a business may be fully prepared for a disaster, but unable to remain open or re-open post-catastrophe if the homes of employees sustain so much damage that they have no place to live. That is why community resilience includes attention to homes, businesses, and community services.
  • Following a large- or small-scale disaster, the response process should transition as quickly as possible to rebuilding a stronger community at every level. For this to happen, the community must understand its potential risks and prepare response and rebuilding plans for speedy mobilization.
  • The rebuilding and recovery processes afford unique opportunities to strengthen property and the fabric of communities, provided that concrete guidance and realistic plans and public priorities are in place to promote this type of recovery.

Community Resilience in Action

The National Institute for Building Science (NIST) Community Resilience Planning Guide identifies a six-step guide to help communities become more resilient:

  • Form a collaborative team that identifies leaders, key team members and stakeholders.
  • Frame and understand the situation and circumstances, such as the social dimensions and built environment.
  • Determine goals and objectives, including long term goals, metrics, hazard mitigation, and define success. 
  • Develop plans to help achieve goals, evaluate gaps, and implement a strategy. 
  • Prepare, review and approve a plan that is well documented, incorporates feedback and is approved through an open process. 
  • Implement the plan and ensure robust maintenance, periodic review, and modifications. 

Disaster Preparation

Every community faces disaster risk and therefore must support community resilience through preparation, response, and recovery programs. Taking steps to prepare helps increase the ability of communities to recover quickly. These programs should be available to all residents—including elderly and disabled individuals, low- income residents, non-English speakers, and other vulnerable populations—and help people identify important steps to protect themselves and their families from harm. For example:

  • Federal, state, and local emergency managers believe that residents may need to survive on their own immediately after a disaster if outside assistance is unavailable.  Community based outreach programs can be used to help educate individuals and families on how to a disaster essentials kit that includes food, water, communications tools, and other supplies in sufficient quantity to last for at least three days.
  • Aid agencies, community based organizations, and local government programs should encourage residents to develop an emergency evacuation plan not only for disasters, but also for fires or other incidents in the home. The plan should include physical evacuation routes from the house and the neighborhood. 
  • Community planners should develop evacuation plans that include effective means of moving and sheltering people without cars, those with physical limitations or medical needs, large families and pets. Such a complex undertaking requires significant advance planning, ready resources and well-thought-out contingencies.
  • Consistent with community resilience, local businesses should have business continuity plans in place so that they can continue to operate in the event of natural disaster or other loss. IBHS’ Open for Business® is an example of a business continuity tool kit that should be part of broader community planning efforts.
  • Finally, to help reduce damage from disaster in the first place, homeowners should take steps to protect their home and assets from hazards by relying on long term solutions to strengthen their home against disaster. 

Land Use Planning and Local Responsibility

Land use planning is the process communities use to identify appropriate and compatible uses for land within their jurisdictions. While all levels of government must play a coordinating role, local engagement and land use planning are the cornerstone to success for achieving community resilience. Cities, towns, counties and districts should consider:

  • The effects of fire, floodwaters, ground shaking, wind and other hazards when administering development regulations, as well as long-term risks/costs associated with development and redevelopment. 
  • The potential effects of climate change, so that homes and businesses are not at risk of sea level rise or other weather-related problems.