Browsed by
Tag: Community Resilience

EPS Community Resilience Event – July 2019

EPS Community Resilience Event – July 2019

Reading Time: 4 minutes

On Wednesday I attended an interesting Emergency Planning Society event loosely themed around community resilience.

It’s a term which means different things to different people and more often than not the starting place for discussion is about definitions. “What does Community Resilience mean?”

Boring.

We should instead, embrace that it’s a broad term, with varied interpretations depending on individual perspective and one which will change over time. Rather than getting hung up on what it is, we should focus on what we can do.

One of the things we can do is to be braver and more innovative. At the event Helen spoke about Naturvation, a European project looking at green infrastructure solutions to city challenges, the highlight was the unintended consequence of a Melbourne project which allows people to email love notes to 70,000 trees!

Three comments from speakers and attendees on Wednesday gave me the shivers. So I’m going to use this post to take each of those points in turn and explain my perspective, and then give a suggestion on approaching community resilience (or maybe just resilience) differently.

‘We are living in a riskier society’ – Lord Toby Harris

Lord Harris is the President of the Institute for Strategic Risk Management. He knows his stuff and is a fantastic advocate for the resilience profession. But I’m not convinced that the evidence is truly there that our world is getting more unsafe. More unsafe compared to what?

On one hand, I agree with Lord Harris that complexity is increasing and that the speed of global communication brings some new aspects. However, we should consider this against changes in demography and our collective risk tolerance.

World War One resulted in approximately 40 million casualties. The Black Death is estimated to have killed up to 60% of 14th century Europe. Baby Boomers and Millennials have experienced less real risk than nearly all generations that preceded them. Our risk perception, the things we choose to be concerned about, reflect our values as much as any objective knowledge of the hazard.

The world is definitely not without significant problems, but it’s important not to lose perspective and to understand where our rhetoric comes from and what underpins it.

‘We’ll all be living as individuals and everything will be delivered to us by drone’ – an event attendee

Lots of worrying scenarios were painted at the event – geopolitical instability, global food and water insecurity, weather extremes, tropical disease migration, antibiotic resistance…the list goes on.

For me, the scariest scenario was mentioned by an attendee; a Wall-E-style vision of the future,  where the death of cities results from us all living as individuals who never leave our confines because Amazon drones or 3D printing technology makes everything available at home.

I reject this fully. The world population is urbanising at pace. That’s a relatively new phenomenon too, of course, but as a species, we’ve lived for tens of thousands of years as societal groups and I can’t see us unlearning that behaviour any time soon, irrespective of what might be technologically possible.

The idea of ‘doing’ community resilience in the absence of community also left me incredibly puzzled!

“Spontaneous volunteers need to be controlled” – an event attendee

I called this comment out on Wednesday. I think it’s an outdated view, which cements the idea that you can command and control your way out of an emergency when in reality there needs to be flexibility, decentralisation and inclusivity.

The octopus has the most well developed invertebrate brain, but it doesn’t use its brain to tell each arm to change colour, that would take too long, instead individual skin cells sense changes in its environment and respond accordingly, which collectively gives a camouflage capability.

Similarly, the human immune system is based on individual white blood cells which go about our bodies looking for pathogens, finding and solving problems without intervention from our brains.

So why is it that when our society is faced with risk, that our approach is to introduce structure and control? Having some sense of leadership parameters to work within I agree are important. But you can achieve that through decentralised approaches too – provided people aren’t doing harm, what is the problem with them supporting the response and being enabled to do so?

So, where from here?

  • We need more ecologists in resilience.
  • We need more historians in resilience.
  • We need more complexity scientists in resilience.
  • We need more economists in resilience.
  • We need more ethicists in resilience.
  • We need better inclusion and intersectionality in resilience.
  • We need to empower people to innovate and solve problems collectively.

Resilience is naturally an incredibly broad field, it touches on so many other disciplines, all of which have lots of valuable contributions to make. We should aim to make it even broader, to bring more people into our discussion. What the resilience profession brings is a place to connect all of those dots.

Community Resilience, whatever it means to people at a given time, can only happen if we embrace how complex and messy our communities are. It can be hard for public or private sector organisations to find logical, auditable and measurable ways to ‘do’ community resilience, because of the way in which productivity and effectiveness are measured.

Our communities are filled with incredible skills, knowledge and people. We need to take a more inclusive approach and distance ourselves, at least slightly, from the neoliberal patriarchal approaches which currently dominate.

If you’d like to hear more about the event, take a look at this thread from the London Branch of the EPS for a rundown of the key discussions on the day.

My challenge to emergency planners in the wake of Manchester

My challenge to emergency planners in the wake of Manchester

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I want to preface this short post with two caveats

  1. I think the responders in Manchester have done, and continue to do, an incredible job. Not just the emergency services, not just the NHS staff, but everyone who has helped in any way. It’s a clear demonstration of the many supporting the few.
  2. My sincere condolences are with all the families of those killed, and with anyone affected by Monday’s events. I encourage you to dig deep and donate to the appeal fund to help support them through the difficult months and years ahead.

I didn’t know any of the victims or casualties from Monday’s attack, but I did follow one on Twitter. He brought his infectious sense of humour to my news feed. His name was Martyn Hett.

Martyn was 29. Facebook was launched when he was 16, Twitter when he was 18. He, and millions of others (myself included) have grown up not just with ‘IRL’ friends, but a whole network of online friends and acquaintances. Communities for whom sharing the same geography isn’t a factor.

I’ve seen outpourings of grief online from people that never knew Martyn. I’ve also seen those people supporting each other, showing compassion and kindness. The ripples of the incident go far beyond the physical communities within which he moved.

With more of us being connected through social media (or other platforms the internet has to offer), I think this needs to be a factor in how we design emergency response.

The world, our cities, and the people within them are constantly changing. It’s difficult (perhaps impossible) for large organisations to react quickly to every single one of those changes.

My hope is that emergency planners, especially those digital natives who have grown up online like Martyn, continue to challenge current processes, ensure arrangements reflect changes in society and above all, don’t forget that you’re doing this for anyone who is affected by an incident, no matter where they happen to be.

 

30 Days, 30 Ways: Day 7

30 Days, 30 Ways: Day 7

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Growing up in the heart of suburbia we had a lot of neighbours; 4 who immediately bordered our house, but many other people who lived locally that either I or my parents knew well enough for them to watch our house when we went on holiday or vice versa.

Now I live in London and would struggle to pick my neighbours out of a line up.

trellick-and-royal-crescent

 

Today’s 30 Days sets me the following challenge

1 Pt:   Do you know your neighbours?  If not introduce yourself to at least one neighbour around you.and tell them you are playing #30Days30Ways..

2 Pts:   Does your neighbourhood have an association or some sort of community connection?  Find out how to connect with your neighbours and check if you have some sort of neighbourhood call tree.

Out of my friends in London I’m fairly unusual in that I’ve lived in the same house for four years, so arguably I should know my neighbours comparatively well…let’s conduct an experiment…

  • Neighbour A – a French couple with a young baby who moved in about 4 months ago. Other than an exchange of passive-aggressive notes about bins we’ve not spoken.
  • Neighbour B – a flat of four people, I’ve met two of the current tenants, a brunette Scottish girl who I’d estimate was about 25, and a guy (that’s literally all I remember about him).
  • Neighbour C – in what I expect is a 6 bedroom house I’ve only ever seen a late-middle-aged man when I’ve been round to collect delivered parcels. I’ve seen him walking a dog but I’m not sure it’s theirs as I’ve never heard it at night.

I think we can probably agree that I don’t know them particularly well ( a conclusion I reached a year ago when I wrote a similar blog!) However, I do have a reason to speak to my neighbours at the moment, actually about a small emergency (leaky shower!), so I’ll report back in a few days about how my discussions develop!

Banish the Hi-Viz Jacket

Banish the Hi-Viz Jacket

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Family stories and media-influenced interpretations of the past often depict communities coming together in times of adversity. Typically in Britain it’s referred to as Dunkirk Spirit, but I’m sure there are examples of it the world over.

banish the hiviz

Although we often have a positivist view of the past, one only has to look to the Good Deed Feed in London’s free morning paper or to the banding together of London’s communities after the riots in August 2011 to see that this trait remains just under the surface for most of us. I’ve mentioned that we, as emergency managers, shouldn’t forget about emergent behaviour, but we also should remember that people often have a way of coming together in response to an incident. None of these community responses arose because there was a ‘plan’.

With the threat of coastal flooding last week it’s taken me longer than I anticipated to get my thoughts on the first National Community Resilience meeting down on the blog. Firstly, I should start that calling it the first meeting is a bit of a misnomer. Since I’ve been working in this field in the UK there have been at least 3 attempts to ‘launch’ the concept. It’s currently defined as “Communities and individuals harnessing local resources and expertise to help themselves in an emergency, in a way that complements the response of the emergency services.”

In the past, my main bug-bear has been around the definition of community (people are simulatenously members of numerous communities, which onces are we talking about?), and whilst I think that remains an issue, there was another aspect which became apparent, which is aspiration.

There were a range of presentations from different areas of the UK, but what struck me most was the continued fixation on developing a plan. Whilst this may have been ok 30 years ago, the nature of modern life means we’re more Global Village than ‘Vicar of Dibley’. For me, the days of Community Resilience based on intricate hazard specific plans and networks of local wardens are long gone.

I’ve been searching for some time to find a phrase which, I think, more accurately captures what I think community resilience should be striving for, and I think I’ve found the answer. Optionality – the quality or state of allowing choice.

  • Less community plans, more people in employment and therefore better positioned to look after themselves should there be an emergency
  • Less high visibility jackets, more people focused on education (not necessarily just formal education either, it could be education on risk exposure perhaps?) thereby enabling choice between different options.
  • Less grab bags and wind up radios, instead a generation of healthier people less prone to illness and injury.

Developing a plan is easy, anyone can do it. Engendering change and instilling resilience into all aspects of society is a far greater challenge, but I believe that is where the focus of effort should be on Community Resilience. It might be aspirational and difficult to measure, but I have a feeling that it’d be a better use of energy than a community flood plan.

Alternative views welcomed – my ideas are in their infancy and constructive challenge will help me develop them!

 

Image Credit: Imperial War Museum

Pop Up Emergency Planning

Pop Up Emergency Planning

Reading Time: 3 minutes

From one off exhibitions and sample sales to short term high-concept bars and restaurants, the trend for temporary, ephemeral retail and leisure has gripped London, and many other places, in recent years.

wave

The cynic in me knows not to be drawn in by the marketing and hype, but then I get a serious case of FOMO and hop aboard the ‘for a limited time only’ train. From eating deep fried crab in petrol stations, to sipping rum from watermelons in a faux 1950’s holiday resort; it’d be fair to say I’ve participated in the trend.

However, it wasn’t until this week that I thought about transitioning this from a retail context to resilience.

Emergent behaviour in response to disasters is nothing new. There are countless stories of unplanned, improvised and spontaneous responses which should give us all a warm feeling: despite not knowing our neighbours, community spirit really is alive and kicking.

Perhaps though, there is room to develop, enable and facilitate these pop-up responses in the event of an incident? Are there any lessons to be learned from retail for our own pop-up planning, both within the responder community but also at the individual and community level?

In a study conducted in 1983, Quarantelli identified a typology of emergence, shown below.

Structures

Tasks

Old

New

Old

Quasi-Emergence

Task Emergence

New

Structural Emergence

Group Emergence

Remember the London Riots Broom Army? The task was new, the clean-up of the mess and debris left by several days of consecutive looting and vandalism. The structures used were also new and so this would be classified as Group Emergence.

With the Volcanic Ash Cloud of 2010, people near airports offered spare rooms to stranded passengers – a new task (the provision of shelter), but using existing structures (people’s homes rather than camp beds in a village hall), giving rise in this case to Task Emergence.

Whilst this is a useful model for understanding different motivating factors behind emergent behaviour, as with most things, I expect there is a degree of overlap between the different groups, and it’s hard to classify all examples of emergence as just one of these types.

However, in thinking about this typology, where can we help enable emergence in the future? It’s easy to identify the ‘old’ structures and tasks, this is  what we do every day and in the way that we currently do it. Even identifying ‘new’ tasks isn’t that complex, as whilst they may not be everyday tasks, they’re likely to be foreseeable. I think it’s the identification of ‘new structures’ which presents the challenge. (I have a feeling that VOST could be one of these new structures, and I’ll get round to blogging more about the use of volunteers to support operations soon!) It’s easy to say ‘communities’ but who? What are the factors which make someone a community leader, how do they get people onboard with their vision? How do they coordinate spontaneous activity?

There is a tendency for emergency planners to seek to ‘control’, when actually that’s both extremely complicated and largely not desired by affected communities. We need to dispel two myths, that the public is incapable and that we can solve everything alone. There is going to be emergence in disasters, so we should include emergence in preparedness activities.

 

 

Image Source: kimchiandchips.com

Facebook Emergency – who you gonna call?

Facebook Emergency – who you gonna call?

Reading Time: 2 minutes

How many of your Facebook friends do you think you could call on in an emergency, perhaps to provide you with a bed (or at least a sofa!) for a couple of nights? Complete the 3 question survey!

What’s this all about?

I finally managed to watch The Social Network this weekend. Whilst not the most exciting of films, it provided time to appreciate how much ‘social media’ has changed how many people do things.

As I mentioned previously in my post on the Boston Bombings, I’m no stranger to the digital world and have been instrumental in the implementation of corporate social media presence for two employers – recognising and emphasising the potential benefits for emergency planning and response at an early stage.

I avoid watching the news unless there is a story I’m following, and I can’t remember the last time I read a newspaper (bar a quick flick through the Metro to pass time). In general, my news consumption is now predominantly Twitter and the links it provides to other content.

The average Facebook user has 140-150 friends. To someone who was clambering at the doors to be a member when it was still exclusive to colleges in America, this seems counterintuitive. I believe there are two phenomena at work here:

  1. Simple maths (my favourite kind), as explained in The Anatomy of Facebook and
  2. The changing demographics of Facebook – as older generations embrace it, they potentially have less online friends and therefore reduce the average number of friends?

So back to my survey – how many of your Facebook friends do you think you could call on in an emergency, perhaps to provide you with a bed, or a sofa, for a couple of nights?

I don’t want to prejudice the results of my survey, but here’s my hypothesis…I expect that there are probably 10% of my friends who I wouldn’t feel too uncomfortable in contacting for assistance. Of those, I’m going to guess that 50% are local, given that Facebook is primarily locally clustered.

So for ‘Average Joe’,

  • 140 x 10% = 14 Facebook friends that he can contact
  • 14 x 50% = 7 of which live locally who could help Joe out

Joe could then approach these friends and they could plan together to support each other – what we in the trade call “Community Resilience”.

I’m going to leave the survey open for 2 weeks and then report back on how results compare to my prediction. If you want to leave any thoughts on the rudimentary maths on show here, just pop a comment in the box below.

Anytown Unleashed

Anytown Unleashed

Reading Time: < 1 minute

For the last 4 months I’ve been spearheading a project known as Anytown. The project aims to help develop better understanding and awareness of how different ‘city systems’ all interlink. Today I unleashed my baby into the world at Defra’s Community Resilience & Climate Change Workshop. Read more on the project below.

When you throw a stone in a pond, ripples propagate from the centre. Similarly in emergencies and disasters, impacts of an initiating event can propagate and cause a cascade of consequences. There are many examples of this both in the UK and overseas, yet there has been little formal consideration of it to date.

The intention of Anytown is to simplify reality and model the interconnections and interdependencies between systems in order to provide a greater level of awareness of these potential impacts.

During my studies we had an assignment involving ‘Complex Cascading Disasters’ and I remember at the time, that there was little readily available research in this area. That situation hasn’t changed significantly so in February, I coordinated a number of workshops bringing together over 100 representatives from 52 organisations to discuss and harvest their knowledge and experience.

Looking back to my ripple analogy earlier, from the workshop data I created ‘ripple diagrams’ which demonstrate how consequences cascade from an incident through various sectors.

Anytown is now free into the world. This is exciting as one of the key aspects that I realised during the development is that a model is only as good as the information that feeds it – so now many more people have the opportunity to contribute. I’ll bring occasional updates on the progress of Anytown as I move from the model development (hopefully) towards visualisation and simulation.

The ‘work’ version of this post is over here

Rainy Day Funds

Rainy Day Funds

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Ceramic piggy bank

I read an article in The Independent last week about how there has been an increase in people unable to cope with unexpected expenditure.

Presumably this is as a result of the recession, and I’ve certainly noticed that everyday life seems to be that little bit more expensive than it used to be; most likely as a result of a combination of rising fuel prices, an increase in VAT and inflation rate changes. However, I’m no economist and therefore I’ll leave precise analysis of the reasons for this to people much better informed than me.

This does have impacts for resilience though. Flooding, arguably the UK’s most likely risk, rarely generates sensational media images associated with…say…helicopter crashes, but (I would suggest) is more damaging in terms of cost. In this context, Rainy Day Fund seems a particularly apt metaphor.

Right now, would you be able to afford, or does your insurance cover,

  • Replacing all of your downstairs carpets?
  • Hiring equipment to dry out plaster?
  • Repairing damage to your car caused by flood water and debris?

It’s something The Guardian picked up in 2011, but clearly many of us didn’t heed their warnings! How many of us have a piggy bank that we can raid in an emergency?

I have several contingency funds, but none of them particularly extensive, and I’m sure I’d have to call on other sources of assistance if I needed large sums of money quickly.

The organisations that I work with every day prepare detailed plans for many of the risks in the National Risk Register. Some of them have considered how to ‘deal’ with Vulnerable People, and often this involves information to “prepare a household or community emergency plan” but perhaps some more practical advice like “save a small amount of money each week” would be more advantageous?

Community resilience isn’t just about sandbags!

 

Image Source: Ocean/Corbis

Neighbours and Communities – the murky waters of resilience

Neighbours and Communities – the murky waters of resilience

Reading Time: 2 minutes

harold_bishop

The young married couple next door have just had their first baby, the lady across the street gives music lessons and the family next door have recently renovated their bathroom…not exactly a close relationship.

For his book The Comfort of Things, anthropologist Daniel Miller interviewed residents of a southeast London street, and concluded that the street was now merely a “random juxtapositions of households”. Increasingly, where we ‘choose’ to live is driven by house prices, transport systems and proximity to work and leisure, Сезонные rather than by personal relationships.

Perhaps we don’t have conversations over the garden fence with the neighbours any more, but we haven’t stopped having conversations. We’re in the digital age and in many ways we’re more connected than ever before. Just a quick analysis of my ‘social networks’ and I’m linked to some 900 people.

According to Australian TV, “Neighbours, should be there for one another”. But are we? Are there any real Harold Bishops out there?

Often, my starting point, rather rescue than a definition, is to Ways understand the evolution of a word, and I found that Neighbour is derived Agatka from “Neahgebur”, a mashup of Old English words for ‘near’ and interior ‘dweller’.

Community Resilience was touted, way before Big Society as a new paradigm in resilience. “Develop Community Flood Plans” cried central government…but I’m actually more likely to seek assistance from nearby friends and relatives, than I am the piano teacher wholesale MLB jerseys in the house opposite (lovely as she may be). “Talk to each other about community emergency response” came another cry…I haven’t even met the people that live Preppers to one side of us, let alone talk to them, and I’ve been there for two years.

I have no doubt that individuals and communities should take action to prevent, prepare, respond and recover from emergencies, complementing the official response of cheap NFL jerseys the emergency services and other organisations. However, this the Community Resilience waters are cloudy! Geographic communities are comparatively easy to identify and wholesale NFL jerseys liaise with, but they are, in my experience, less likely to be the networks used. Whilst more challenging, organic and distributed communities of interest or identity should be where we’re focusing our efforts.

Like all of us, I’m a member of multiple communities (family and friendship groups, colleagues, university alumni to name but a few), each of which have unique and complex relationships. The challenge, but also the approach which will bring the greatest benefit, to Resilient Communities work is to look at our conceptualisation of community, of what it means to be a neighbour, and then to approach each of those networks in a bespoke and relevant way.

 

Image Source: FreemantleMedia