Building Community Disaster Resilience

Perspectives from a Large Urban County Department of Public Health

Published In: American Journal of Public Health, v. 103, no. 7, July 2013, p. 1190-1197

Posted on RAND.org on June 07, 2013

by Alonzo L. Plough, Jonathan E. Fielding, Anita Chandra, Malcolm V. Williams, David Eisenman, Kenneth B. Wells, Grace Y. Law, Stella Fogleman, Aizita Magaña

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Research Questions

  1. Why has building community resilience become a key component of national policy across multiple federal agencies?
  2. What are the challenges of integrating community resilience with traditional public health practices?

An emerging approach to public health emergency preparedness and response, community resilience encompasses individual preparedness as well as establishing a supportive social context in communities to withstand and recover from disasters. We examine why building community resilience has become a key component of national policy across multiple federal agencies and discuss the core principles embodied in community resilience theory—specifically, the focus on incorporating equity and social justice considerations in preparedness planning and response. We also examine the challenges of integrating community resilience with traditional public health practices and the importance of developing metrics for evaluation and strategic planning purposes. Using the example of the Los Angeles County Community Disaster Resilience Project, we discuss our experience and perspective from a large urban county to better understand how to implement a community resilience framework in public health practice.

Key Findings

  • All large-scale disasters demonstrate the critical importance of building community resilience.
  • Equitable and effective response and recovery strategies can be greatly enhanced by the presence of resilience capabilities in communities.
  • A health department's primary challenge in implementing community resilience initiatives is to achieve a cultural shift from a bioterrorism-focused and individual-preparedness orientation to an all-hazards, community-partnered, collaborative approach.

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