Recognizing Resilient Communities

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This month, we’ve seen two regional disasters – the leak from Freedom Industries in West Virginia, and the snow-induced traffic tragedies around Atlanta.  In both cases, the media and those involved are still playing the Blame Game.  If some simple “cause-and-effect” were at play then some good could come out of that.  We might be able to identify the guilty party and make sure he or she goes and sins no more.

But both of these are too complicated for that.  Ferreting out who’s to blame may be fun (and a guilty pleasure for the uninvolved!) but it does nothing to erase the suffering each of these has caused.

We know that a resilient community takes pains to either prevent or mitigate disasters.  But how should we look at our own communities to gauge their resilience (Aside from the obvious of looking under every rock to see if the community has considered every possible combination of bad things that can happen.)?  What are the characteristic “tells” that can give us confidence that it won’t happen here?

I think there are three places we should look:  the community’s culture, its connections, and its flexibility.

Res orgsThe community’s culture determines how it decides what to do.

Is there a unity of purpose in the community?  Lack of this unity means that different parts of the community are likely to see the same problem in very different ways.  Bounded rationality will abound.

Is the community’s leadership effective?  Ineffective leadership indicates a lack of trust and communication.
Are decisions made in a fair manner, based on what’s best for all members of the community?  Hidden agendas hinder sound decison-making.

Does the community plan for its future or merely bounce from crisis to crisis?  Sound planning means anticipating the good, the bad and the ugly that the future may bring.

Is the community innovative in its approaches to its problems?  Creative solutions are a hallmark of a community that is learning from past mistakes.

The community’s connections reflect how the community goes about doing things.
Is all the relevant information available within (and outside) the community used?  Leveraging information leads to more efficient use of limited resources.

Have partnerships been formed in the community?  Leveraging resources can lead to solutions to a community’s problems better than any one part of the community could have achieved on its own.
Are the community’s bureaucracies balkanized?  Preventing silos from forming – or tearing them down when they have formed – is a key to effective action.

Is the community a “small world?” If all members of the community are closely connected to each other it becomes much easier to take action and to help one another.

The community’s flexibility determines how it responds to surprises and crises.

Is the community proactive?  When faced with a crisis, a community should respond as rapidly as possible, not waiting for some outside entity to tell it what it should do.

Does the community have significant resources of its own?  If it does, the community will not have to wait on someone else’s largesse to begin taking action.

Does the community have good awareness of its current situation, and of any trends?  Early warning provides the greatest chance for an effective response to a surprise.

Does the community stress test its plans?  For example, simply working through different community “surprises” – snow storms, floods, economic downturns – provides everyone with valuable training for when the real thing happens.

It seems a lot to expect, and yet scores of communities manage to “live resilience” every day.  Do you recognize your community as resilient?  If not, what are you going to do about it?  It’s your community, after all, and your family and friends who may be harmed when a crisis comes.  In following posts, I’m going to examine each of the recent disasters in more detail, and suggest how those involved might become more resilient.

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