Community resilience is crucial to being prepared for, and avoiding, adversities, including a myriad of tragedies and trauma. Because life happens. To all of us. Trees fall. Weather rages. Fire burns. People do horrible things to one another. And when those things happen, we need to lean on others for support.
What is Community Resilience?
There are many ways to define community resilience, sometimes called community health resilience. Basically it’s the ability of a community to respond to and recover when something goes wrong. It’s more than just physical structures and whether a community has the resources to rebuild from a natural disaster or clean up after a tragic event. True resilience in a community comes from human side – reacting, not overreacting, in the face of hardship.
Components of community health resilience
- Local knowledge. What kinds of expertise are already found in the community, outside of paid employees? Religious organizations, charitable groups whose efforts are focused within the community, mental health providers, business owners who offer pro bono services, even citizen philanthropists, are all people who can offer knowledge for events which rock a community.
- Community networks and relationships. What organizations already collaborate for community services? Those who fundraise together, offer services and host events together, have established ties with one another. This creates a more expansive network of support. Additionally, where there is overlap, there is often more protection. And within neighborhoods, stronger ties enable citizens to see themselves as part of the group, as a we instead of just looking out for themselves.
- Communication. How is information disseminated to community members? Today’s technology facilitates more efficient and faster sharing of details to anyone who is interested in listening. Does the way you are communicating address cultural and language differences? Are there people available to help those who don’t have access to the most common communication types?
- Health. Do community members understand the importance of health and know how to care for themselves and vulnerable members of society? Are there a wide variety of health services available to everyone in the community? Does the community itself acknowledge when there is an issue prevalent in the community, from suicide to drug use, and explore ways to support those affected and solve the problem(s)?
- Leadership. Much of how a community feels about its future is based on the citizen’s trust in leaders. Do community leaders ask the right questions before and after events? Do they truly understand what citizens need? Is there a process for reviewing after the fact, to honestly and transparently look back on the community’s reaction to discover what works and what didn’t? Then to make changes and learn (and teach) new ways to grow more resilient. Do the leaders establish committees or other entities which they know can help the community to improve its ability to recover and thrive? Further, are stakeholders invited to create strategies for potential threats?
- Resources. What does the community have access to in terms of finances, equipment, emergency services, recovery services? Does the community support citizens’ needs, from educational services to recreational outlets and facilities to enough outlets for food and household needs?
- Investment. Has the community invested in preparing for a disaster or repeat of the event, and in the infrastructure needed to support members?
- Mental outlook. Is the community mired in fear or pain after a traumatic event? How does the community feel about its future? Does the community as a whole share positive values and messages across its citizens and cultures?
Community Health Resilience: Worth the effort
Now that you have looked at some examples of community health resilience, you have a better view of your own community. How did your community rate? No matter where you are right now, your community can get better. Here are some steps to building resilience
- Strengthen and establish relationships, between individuals, within organizations, across cultures, among leaders. The more we see one another, the stronger the bond and community spirit will grow.
- Start small. Since communities are, by nature, groups of individuals, there’s no question that building from the ground up is the way to develop strong bonds and see success. Smaller alliances beget larger ones.
- Find Natural Leaders. Growth can be painful and the conversations along the way difficult. Find those people who are willing to be in uncomfortable places; this helps build strength. There are jobs for everyone in developing resiliency.
- Advocacy helps put pressure where it is needed. Organizing around something you believe in is an amazing way for community members to find connection and power. Advocacy groups allow people to shine in the midst of adversity.
Building community resilience requires hard work, collaboration, empathy, and political will. And because there aren’t many chances to do A/B testing to figure out which of the actions is the best to take in a particular moment or to recover from a particular type of event, it’s difficult to isolate the effects of some actions and choices. Community resilience is about the health of your community. About helping people to live their best lives no matter what obstacles get thrown in their way.