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In a new study, Sally McConkey, a retired Illinois State Water Survey engineer, and Eric R. Larson, a professor of natural resources and environmental sciences at U. of I., examined countywide measures used for national assessments to determine whether communities are prepared to withstand and recover from natural disasters such as floods and fires. McConkey spoke to Diana Yates, Life Sciences Editor of the News Office on what they found.

What is Community Disaster Resilience?

Researchers have offered many definitions of resilience. In general, resilience is a measure of a community’s ability to “bounce back” after a disaster. Ideally, this recovery restores it to a comparable – or better – condition than before.

How can authorities determine community resilience before a disaster occurs?

There is no direct measure of community resilience. Research has shown that many factors contribute to resilience. These include economic, social and institutional capacities. City-wide, a risk and resource assessment conducted by emergency managers, floodplain administrators and elected officials provides insight into the strengths and resources needed. Acting to address these needs and gaps will improve the resilience of communities to disasters. At the national level, measures and indices have been developed to give a relative measure of resilience at the county level. The parameters used to create these indices and their effectiveness are the subject of our article.

What are the key elements of community resilience?

Many qualities seem to indicate resilience, but the relative importance of each factor is still unknown. These qualities can be categorized into social, economic, institutional, infrastructure, community capital, and environment. Our study assessed ways to measure community resilience over time. How do you know if a community is becoming more resilient to disasters? To do this, we tried to identify the components of community resilience that adequately reflect changes or improvements in resilience over time, and which could also meaningfully inform local decision-making about community resilience. resilience.

What is missing from current assessment approaches?

Top-down assessments such as the Basic Resilience Indicator for Communities that we explored in our article are used at the federal level to identify geographic areas (in this case, at the US county level) that may be less resilient and may require greater support in the aftermath of disasters. However, these assessments are limited by the types of data that are routinely collected at the national level. Bottom-up assessments can provide more detail, allowing communities to design specific actions to improve their own resilience. However, these assessments require the expenditure of resources that many locals do not have. Additionally, these assessments are unique to each community and generally cannot be used for comparative study.

What recommendations would you give to communities wishing to assess their own resilience?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency released the National Hazard Index in 2021. It is a rich resource of national data presented on a geospatial platform at the census tract level. Support data can be downloaded. It is an excellent starting point for anyone wishing to explore their relative risk and drill down into specific data on economic and demographic parameters, social vulnerability and risk of harm. Emergency managers, floodplain administrators, and elected officials can start with this data and deepen their understanding of their local conditions. A first step can be adopting up-to-date building codes, which have been shown to ensure a more resilient future.

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