Developing Community Resilience

Co Monaghan was lucky to escape the worst effects of  last week’s storm that hit the whole country.  Developing community resilience is now regarded as important in helping deal with various types of emergencies that affect communities.

Floods at Lough Muckno

While we had a few fallen trees and slates from the recent storm, there was  unfortunately  the loss of of person’s life in the Midlands. For some people in other parts of Ireland there were power outages for a few days while others were left with no telephone or broadband services.   The utility companies and some local authority and emergency services staff had to come out in the adverse weather to respond to the urgent situations that had arisen.

So what happens if communities are faced with emergencies be they from a natural or manmade diaster.  A lot depends on the level of ‘community resilience’. ‘Cultivate’, the practical sustainability organisation, which is based in Cloughjordan, has been working on ways that community resilience can be developed.  Davie Philip of Cultivate defines community resilience as the capability of communities to hold together, learn, adapt and maintain their ability to function in response to change. These changes can be sudden or slowly evolving. Davie sees the biggest challenge being our mind-set. Most of us don’t realise that we are never more than three days from running out of food – except you might only have a few days extra in your cupboard.   Co-sufficiency rather than self-sufficiency is advocated. He sees the GIY (Grow it Yourself) movement and the increasing number of allotment projects as very welcome as they are examples of ways in which more people can have their own local food and also the skills to produce it – and so be more resilient. Developing community resilience can also be an enjoyable experience as people come together to share various skills and enjoy the fun and celebrations that form part of community projects.

The online UK book ‘Exploring Resilience in times of Rapid Change’ is a useful resource for communities looking at community resilience. It draws on the experience of emergency responses such as in the case of Hurricane Katrina in the US and explores the development of four key features of resilient communities: (1) healthy and engaged people. (2) an inclusive culture creating a positive sense of place.(3) a localising economy – towards sustainable food, shelter, housing shelter etc. (4) strong links to other places and communities.  In recent years the use of social media has also been found to be extremely useful in helping communities in emergency situations.

In emergencies, individuals and of course our national and local authorties also have  important roles to play. In a severe storm,  individuals and families can be without power for many days.  Heating and cooking become impossible or at least challenging for many of us. If we have a gas cooker or solid fuel stove (with no back boiler) it means we can boil some water. In order to be prepared for a storm it is advisable to have roof slates checked and also to a arrange for a professional assessment of tall trees that are near the house or roadside to see that  they are not likely to be blown down in a storm.  There are useful tips on tree safety in the ‘Roads / Severe Weather Information’ section of the  Cork Co Council website www.corkcoco.ie. Detailed guidance on flooding can be found at www.flooding.ie while  www.winterready.ie has useful guidance on dealing with adverse winter weather in the following contexts:  home, road safety, health matters, schools, farming community and businesses.  Businesses are directed to the Forfás document on ‘Business Continuity Planning in Severe Weather’.

The national authorities and volunteer support workers also play a major role in responding to emergencies. The website www.emergencyplanning.ie details the Irish Government’s plans for dealing with major emergencies. In the North East there is an inter-agency Regional Steering Group that has been formed for the Major Emergency Region of the North East.  Monaghan Co Council has details on emergency planning on its website (under Fire & Building Control Section) including the ‘Preparing for Major Emergencies handbook’. In relation to the threat of a nuclear incident the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland’s website (www.rpii.ie) describes the National Plan for Nuclear Emergencies.

The ‘Emergency Planning Society’ (www.the–eps.org) is an international organisation of emergency planning professionals and it has a branch in Ireland.  Here in Ireland we also have our Civil Defence which in emergency situations supports Government agencies and the Emergency Services. It is a volunteer based organisation with 4,500 volunteers. For further details or to enquire about enrolling see www.civildefence.ie.

At various levels – be it at individual, family, community, business, local authority, national or international there is a need to have certain preparations in place to deal with emergencies. There are certain situations that we cannot prepare for. However there are ones, be they unexpected or slowly developing, that we can have certain strategies, plans, expertise, skills and resources in place to help our response ‘in the event of an emergency’.

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