The minutes, hours, and days immediately following a disaster are the most critical for saving lives. In times of crisis, local communities are first to respond. It’s up to each of us to make sure our communities are resilient and can bounce back from disaster. We do this by being prepared to help ourselves and those around us.
“[Reducing the risks of disasters] begins at home – in our schools, places of work and worship, and throughout our local communities,” says a United Nations report. “It is here where we will either save lives – or lose them – depending on the steps we take today to reduce our vulnerability to tomorrow’s hazards.”
But what makes a community more resilient? It starts with you.
Save yourself, save others
In an emergency, we often look to trained responders in our community to come to the rescue. But we can’t always look to others to save us in times of need. Earthquakes and floods can wipe out roads, cutting off neighborhoods from outside help. Widespread devastation may overwhelm services, and trained responders can’t be everywhere at once. Most of all, help from outside will take time to arrive, and time is precious following a disaster.
Experts are not the only people who can – or should — take action. Each of us has the power to save lives. And by being ready to help yourself or others, you become part of the solution instead of the problem. All it takes is knowledge, planning, and practice to create a more resilient community.
Make a plan for yourself and your family
Resilient communities are prepared. Plan for your own home. Do you have an emergency kit? Does everyone know where to meet if you get separated? Have you practiced what to do, especially if you have children? Have you accounted for your pets and for anyone who may have special needs?
Do you know where your nearest hospital is and how long it takes to get there? What about the nearest emergency shelter – is it in a school gymnasium, stadium, or community center? What are the evacuation routes for your community?
Start by making sure you have the answers to these questions.
Learn about your community
Resilient communities are connected. Get to know the people around you. Start by meeting your neighbors. Attend a religious service. Go to a PTA meeting. Volunteer. Reach out.
Find out what organizations are already in place in your area, and how to connect with them. Get in the habit of serving your community. Help your local food bank or other charity – ask how you can contribute to the effort, so that help is nearby when you need it most. Find out what the specific needs are around you; every community is different.
Get it together
Together, you can make a plan and set goals. Remember to track your progress as you work toward your goals, and celebrate your successes.
Once you have plans, practice putting them into action. Have a fire or tornado drill at your school or office. Practice getting to your designated meeting place, and make sure everyone knows how to text message, which can be a more reliable way to communicate in an emergency.
Resilient communities are knowledgeable. Know your resources, and stay aware of what’s happening around you. In addition to watching or listening to local news and talking with neighbors, resources like CDC emergency and FEMA’s mobile app can help you stay informed when disaster strikes and/or you’re away from home. Many local governments use emergency notification systems to notify residents of severe weather, evacuations, etc. Use them – both to get and to give information.
By spreading knowledge before, during, and after emergencies, you can make sure that “everyone, from a local school child to a village grandmother to the municipal mayor, knows how to protect him or herself,” says the UN report.
Remember, all disasters – and all responses – are local. Even if an emergency is widespread, it is local communities who suffer the impact of the disaster and must bear the responsibility for the initial emergency response. How a community reacts, survives, and rebuilds following a disaster will depend largely on the resources it has put in place beforehand.
When every minute counts, the more of us are prepared, the safer we all are.
Learn how you can get involved in your community:
- Citizen Corps
- National Safety Council
- Community Emergency Response Teams
- Fire Corps
- Medical Reserve Corps
- USAonWatch/Neighborhood Watch
- Volunteers in Police Service
- Office of Safe and Healthy Students
October 13 is the International Day for Disaster Reduction, which “celebrates how people and communities around the world are reducing their exposure to disasters and raising awareness about the importance of reining in the risks they face.” For more information about how we can all work to lessen the impact of disasters, visit the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.