So far in 2018, there have been significant events and weather conditions that have highlighted the importance of community resilience. The more organised a community is, the more resilient it can be to the impacts of an emergency situation. Communities can also plan for adverse events in advance and be aware of the potential impacts. Setting up community groups who work together to provide local residents with information on emergency events and how to respond, are also useful for increasing resilience, for example, information could be in the form of flood advice or a community emergency plan.
Staying informed and having a plan are two key aspects of community emergency resilience. You can stay informed by keeping up to date with your local news, weather and radio, and you can create an up-to-date emergency plan document that can be referred back to during the emergency. This ensures that all the information and resources are together in one location so that the necessary actions and assistance can be provided in the community when required. The plan can highlight:
- Who may be vulnerable and who can help.
- Useful contact details.
- Any useful resources available to use in the community, for example, a defibrillator.
- Members of the community who have a specific set of skills, such as first aid, which may be helpful in an emergency.
What should communities prepare for?
Recent extreme weather conditions have highlighted the importance of community resilience. Earlier in the year, the UK was subject to heavy snow showers, strong winds and ice which caused widespread disruption for many communities. The “Beast from the East” caused power cuts, numerous businesses and schools to close, and widespread travel disruption. Communities worked together to clear roads, check on vulnerable people and take food supplies to the elderly so they didn’t have to go outside in extreme conditions. Those with four wheel drives helped doctors, nurses and carers to reach those in need. These kind acts proved how communities can work together effectively to be more resilient to the negative impacts caused by extreme conditions.
More recently, the heat wave which began in June resulted in the driest start to a summer in the UK since records began in 1961, with just 47mm of rain falling from 1st June until 16th July. This resulted in a rapid decline in reservoir levels and drought like conditions which had various impacts, including a shortage on the availability of feed and water for farms. The Environment Agency worked with farmers to trade water allowances and safeguard food production and animal welfare, to help them prepare for the impacts if a drought was declared.
Further to the dry conditions, parts of the UK have suffered from flash floods and moorland fires. The fire at Winter Hill, Bolton, was declared “out” by firefighters on the 8th August after 41 consecutive days of burning. Due to the lack of rainfall and high temperatures, the fire spread rapidly over 18km2 and was declared a major incident, and even though flames were extinguished at the surface, the peat below continued to burn. Some residents donated supplies such as food, water and spare clothes to the firefighters, highlighting how communities can help each other when needed. A huge moorland fire also occured on Saddleworth Moor.
It is important for communities to be aware that current or past events can also affect future conditions, so planning and preparing is fundamental to increasing resilience. For example, the moorland fires have disrupted the water holding ability of the peatland and the prolonged dry weather has hardened the ground, meaning these areas will be less likely to store water. This may increase the flood risk in these areas.
How else can communities prepare?
Forming a community resilience group is a great first step in becoming resilient together. The group could be specific for tackling incidents such as flooding, or it can prepare for a range of different emergency situations.
- Hold a meeting to discuss what the community wants to do. Spread the word via leaflets or social media groups. You could contact your local council or parish council to help get a meeting set up.
As autumn and winter approach, it is important to prepare for other possible events and weather conditions. Make sure you are winter ready by following some simple steps:
Autumn leaves may clog up drains and increase local flood risk, or become slippery and be a hazard for members of the community.
- Make sure that autumn leaves are swept up and drains are cleared regularly to reduce the risk of flooding. Simply taking 5 minutes to clear leaves and debris up can be a big advantage.
As we approach the storm season, communities should prepare for the possibility of flooding and power cuts.
- Ensure that you have a flood plan in place so that members of the community are as resilient as possible.
- Ensure vulnerable residents are signed up to the priority service register with their electricity supplier.
Flu and other cold related illnesses may become common during the winter months.
- Visit the NHS website here for advice regarding the flu. Look out for members of the community who may be vulnerable and help them out if you can.
Overall, it is important that communities consider, prepare andplan for all emergency situations including flooding, severe winter weather, power cuts, fires, travel disruption, train derailment, animal diseases and pandemic flu outbreaks.
ACTion with Communities (ACT) is a charity in Cumbria which works with communities to “plan for their future, work with others, develop projects and influence and change policy.” They have provided some information online regarding Community Emergency Planning, including advice, templates and leaflets.
Please see our downloadable resource below for more information regarding community resilience.