There are thousands of things that can impact a community and prompt the community development process. One of the more significant and damaging are disasters. Every community has had to deal with the effects of a disaster at least once before during their existence. For the very few who have not, the prospect of what such an event can do to any facet of the community is stressful to think about. But they happen, and they happen every year. It's a serious thing that communities need to address.
With community development, disasters are usually viewed as a catalyst to include the process as the community rebuilds. In some cases, disasters highlight the problems in the community more so than daily operations do; it puts things under pressure. Disasters can also be an opportunity to test the improvements a community has made through community development, although it's not a test that anyone is really welcoming towards. Including disasters as a factor in community development plans, as a result, can be extremely beneficial later on when they actually occur.
This article will explore the relationship between disasters and community development. Topics will include the roles that community assets have during these events, and what steps a community can take to rebuild and restore itself to normal. Also included will be information about the different types of disasters and what they can do to the community, as well as the options available in the aftermath.
Community assets are typically going to play a role in how the community prepares, survives, and recovers from a disaster. These are resources that can have regular every day functions, but may become extremely valuable during an event. Think of things like food, water, shelter, medical supplies, and other similar items that may be limited but essential when disaster strikes. Any public services, like EMTs and police, can also be viewed as community assets and will most likely have training for disasters.
Experts and disaster relief organizations like FEMA recommend that people identify what resources they may need for emergencies and keep a checklist of what is needed and/or available.1 Such actions can help members of the community and the community's leadership prepare for such disasters when they strike. Checking on assets in the interim and tracking what is available can help the community make sure it is ready. Any assets that are set aside specifically for disasters should be inspected and evaluated regularly to ensure that they are in usable condition.
There are typically three types of disasters that can occur: natural, biological, and man-made. The first, natural, are the ones that most people think of when discussing disasters and they're also some of the most common to occur. 2016 was a record year for natural disasters, causing upwards of $18 billion dollars in damage in the United States.2 Many of these events are weather-based, which makes it difficult to prevent them. In most cases, there will be enough warning of an approaching natural disaster that communities will be able to take action.
The risk of a particular natural disaster occurring is contingent on weather conditions and location; some geographic areas are more prone than others for certain disasters. Some of the natural disasters that communities will want to consider taking preparatory actions for, regardless of their risk, include:
Biological disasters can occur on their own or as a byproduct of another disaster. Flooding, for example, often brings biological threats by contaminating drinking water and other resources. Preparing for a biological disaster is going to depend on the form it takes and its source. The two most common forms that biological disasters can take on are:
While most disasters will be a result of nature or other outside forces, there are also those caused by human actions. Man-made disasters can be especially worrisome because there is usually a good chance that they could have been avoided if someone would have been careful or have made a different decision. Many of these events are either accidental, but some can be intentional with questionable motives.
Rebuilding And Restoring
Using community development as a means of rebuilding and restoring a community after a disaster is one of the best ways the process can be used. It is intended to take poor or harmful conditions and make improvements to remedy the problems they cause after all. Historically, disasters as an opportunity to revamp a community has been used in severe cases. San Francisco (California), Greensburg (Kansas), and Tuscaloosa (Alabama) were all cities that had been devastated by disasters and used the destruction as a basis to rebuild themselves into something better.10
When used after a disaster, the community development process will usually follow the same order and methodology as it would in any other situation. The basics will not change, per se, but their application regarding the circumstances will. It's often a unique set of problems, with a restricted amount of resources that are immediately available. Communities will often have to be resilient in the days following a disaster, as the first stages of rebuilding occur during that time.11 Those first days are going to be crucial for the actions the community takes later on.
Communities that are trying to restore themselves after a disaster have access to a different set of resources than they would during other community development efforts. Most of these resources are available through the federal and state governments, as well as international non-profit groups that specialize in disaster relief. Organizations like FEMA and the Red Cross will usually make themselves available in the areas where disaster strikes, and they an offer many of the necessities that community members need to survive. Federal initiatives, like the Ready Campaign sponsored by FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security, provide informational resources that can be used to prepare for and recover from disasters.12 Disaster assistance resources specific to certain types of disasters are also available through the government as well.13
Resources used in standard community development efforts can also be used after a disaster, and there may be modified versions that are particular to a disaster. Funding programs like HUD's CDBG program have offshoots that are applicable only to communities who were affected by disaster and need funding to recover.14 Methods used to gather resources under normal circumstances, like fundraising or donations, are often work well when disaster relief is involved. The only thing that really changes regarding resources and community development after a disaster is the application. Instead of community outreach programs and public parks, it's medical treatment and debris clean-up.
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