Communities as experts

The primary aim of the emBRACE project was to explore resilience to disasters among communities in Europe.

As we have discussed previously, working collaboratively across disciplines breaks out of the silo mentality of a single discipline view. A key objective of this project was to identify dimensions of resilience across a range of disciplines.

The research project explored the importance of communities learning from each other; about their experiences of risks, the utility of actions they took, and their priorities for future action (Deeming 2018). The project places communities in the centre as the ‘experts of their situation’.

If we see resilience as a process to evolving a community’s ability to manage shocks effectively, shared knowledge is key in developing this capacity. There appear to be two key aspects to this process:

  • For a community to understand their vulnerability, capacity and exposure to risk

  • For the community to take measures to mitigate hazards and to be prepared to deal with the hazards when they occur

A UK case study produced for the emBRACE project was based on floods in Cumbria in the north of England. It focused on a short section of river that flooded in 2009, affecting a number of settlements along its length.

Prior to the 2009 event, earlier flooding in 2005 in the towns of Keswick and Cockermouth had resulted in the formation of Flood Action Groups (FAGs) through regular engagement with emergency planning and flood risk management agencies.

In Keswick, this engagement and the actions of the FAG was reported as having significantly reduced flood impacts in the town. Cockermouth, however, experienced an unprecedented flood which affected many more people than the FAG represented. The community’s response was not as effective but the FAG engagement with agencies intensified to assist in the recovery and mitigate with more effective flood defences.

Key lessons included the significance of the 2005 flood event in raising awareness and establishing the initial FAGs. The magnitude of the 2009 event resulted in a wider awareness across Cumbria and the rolling out of community emergency planning through a third-sector agency.

Critical reflection of the events identified that resources would be focused on those areas most badly affected and that smaller, rural communities would need to develop their own physical and psychological preparedness to help deal with similar future events.

The process has been supported through the running of workshops to review progress and share experiences between communities.

Further reading

The full report on this case study can be found on the emBRACE website:

emBRACE (2014) Floods in Northern England [online] available from http://www.embrace-eu.org/case-studies/floods-in-northern-england [19 August 2019]

A full description of the emBRACE framework and how it was developed can be found here:

Forrester, J. M., Kruse, S., Abeling, T., Deeming, H., Fordham, M., Jülich, S., Karanci, A. N., Pelling, M., Pedoth, L., Schneiderbauer, S., and Kuhlicke, C. (2017) ‘Conceptualizing Community Resilience to Natural Hazards – The emBRACE Framework’. Natural Hazards and Earth Systems Sciences 2,321-2,333 [online]. available from http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/125516/1/nhess_17_2321_2017.pdf [19 August 2019]

Your task

Using the outline of the Keswick and Cockermouth case studies, what would you expect agencies and community-based organisations’ initial priorities to be for the directly and indirectly affected communities at risk of flooding?

References

Deeming, H. (2018) ‘Social Learning and Resilience Building in the emBRACE Framework’. in Framing Community Disaster Resilience. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons, 43-49

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This article is from the free online course:

Community Preparedness, Recovery and Resilience: An Introduction

Coventry University