How 'Community Resiliency' Can Help Before And After A Storm

Sep 19, 2017

Resiliency is defined as the ability to recover from difficulties.

And when it comes to a life-changing event like Hurricane Irma, there are two different kinds of resiliency: an individual’s ability to bounce back and “community resiliency.”

Robin Ersing is an associate professor at the University of South Florida School of Public Affairs, where she studies the impact of disasters.

She says community resiliency can begin during the preparation stage before a storm hits.

"So there's a component of community resiliency that's called 'adaptive capacity,' and in order to be adaptive, you have to be able to know what your assets are, how you're going to use those assets, and then what it is that you're going to put into place to be able to make a difference so that you're going to come through the hazard stronger, in a better place," Ersing explained. 

"So adaptive capacity is really about understanding how am I able to change, what strengths do I have going for me, what strengths does my community have, my neighborhood," she added. 

USF School of Public Affairs associate professor Robin Ersing
Credit USF School of Public Affairs

In addition, she said, this ability for a community to work together before, during and after a traumatic event like a hurricane is important because the government won't be able to provide all the services an area might need. 

This was made apparent earlier this year after Hurricane Harvey, when Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Brock Long repeatedly asked people in Texas to help each other out before government officials could get there. 

"FEMA cannot do this alone, no group can do this alone," Ersing said. "These kind of massive disasters require collective effort." 

Ersing pointed to the need for what she calls 'community responders' - volunteer, citizen responders who step in when first responders can't.  

"You, me, the people next door to us, across the street from us, anyone that can come out to lend a hand, neighbor helping neighbor," she said. "We have to rely on each other to be able to help in rescue efforts, to be able to help in recovery efforts, everyone has something that they can give."

Ersing said one of the best examples of this that she's found in her research was in Volusia County, FL, where an impoverished community of immigrant farm laborers came together to help each other in 2004-2005, after a series of hurricanes rattled the area. 

"They rallied behind a leader in that community, who said let's gather up everything that we can find in our households, put down a tarp on the front lawn, put everything together and then had a plan of how they were going to go out to their community, look for families that were missed or were afraid to come out, bring them together and redistribute those resources," she said. "So that was a very grassroots effort that took place."

You can hear more from Ersing on community resilience by clicking on the play button near the top of this article.