Managing Crisis

Measuring Community Resilience

Desperately needed tools may soon be available

by Lucien G. Canton / May 22, 2013

"Community resilience" is one of those things that we all agree is important but can't agree on just what it means, a situation not uncommon in emergency management. In very broad terms it is the ability of a community to survive and recovery from a significant event. But how do we measure resilience?

Jorn Birkmann's book Measuring Vulnerability to Natural Hazards: Towards Disaster Resilient Societies offers a number of perspectives on the difficulty in such measurements and the complexity involved. It also demonstrates that much of the data needed by current assessment models are either hard to obtain or non-existent, requiring the use of proxy data. This makes many of these research tools of limited utility to the emergency manager.

However, we are seeing the emergence of a number of different tools that can be applied at the local level. These tools represent an attempt by researchers to move beyond theoretical models to those with practical applications by practitioners.

  • The American Red Cross is piloting one such tool: the Community Resilience Program. The program uses an assessment process to help communities identify their greatest vulnerabilities and to develop a plan to address those vulnerabilities. The program then provides for monitoring progress and for a reassessment of goals on a regular basis. The pilot has been implemented in an number of communities across the country and appears promising.
  • The Community and Regional Resilience Institute (CARRI) offers the Community Resilience System, a web-enabled process for measuring and improving resilience. Like the Red Cross system CRS uses an assessment process to identify vulnerabilities and then develops goals and action plans. Seven communities across the country have been selected as part of a pilot test for the CRS.
  • The Terrorism and Disaster Center (TDC) at the University of Missouri offers a Communities Advancing Resilience Toolkit (CART). Using the material provided in the CART, communities develop and refine a community profile and then develop and implement a strategic plan informed by the community profile. CART has been successfully implemented in several communities and the TDC is working with the several Red Cross chapters to use CART tools under the Community Resilience Program.

The common thread among all these initiatives is the involvement of the local community and a reliance on community leaders to help lead the process. As all of these models are still being piloted, it is still too early to gauge effectiveness but the concepts are sound and results so far are promising. If they perform as expected we may soon have a badly needed tool to help advance community resilience.