This article is extracted from the Natural Hazards Center’s newsletter, the Natural Hazards Observer.
“Disaster resilience comes with practice, whether it’s practice from experiencing previous disasters or conducting disaster exercises. It also comes from growing strong social networks. And from the guidance of determined and collaborative leaders.
“These are among the lessons learned by the authors of an upcoming National Academies report called Increasing National Resilience to Hazards and Disasters, which was commissioned to gain a broad, multidisciplinary perspective of how to best strengthen national resilience. Four of the report’s 13 committee members spoke about their experiences compiling the report at the Natural Hazards Workshop last week.
“Before the committee could begin to determine how to strengthen resilience, though, they had to tackle the oft-contested topic of what resilience is. They opted for a broad definition: the ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from, or more successfully adapt to actual or potential adverse events.
“With that in mind, the committee made several site visits to New Orleans; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and Southern California to assess factors that increased a community’s ability to recover from a disaster. They found that strong social networks, previous disaster experience, exercising disaster preparedness, and strong local leadership were critical components in fostering resilience.
“One of the strongest examples of multiple qualities of resilience was the Vietnamese community in Village de l’Est, New Orleans. The small community of fishermen is largely made up of survivors of the Vietnam War and their children and grandchildren. That shared history of survival—along with solid social networks stemming from a common heritage, occupation, and language—was manifested in the ability and will to rise from the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina.
“‘Members of the Vietnamese community have a collective identity as survivors,’ said Monica Schoch-Spana of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Biosecurity. ‘They viewed the destruction as a way to rebuild the community even stronger. They consider themselves a self-reliant people who were able to build new lives after leaving Vietnam.’
“That proved to be true as the people relied on their own social capital to rebuild. Many of the Vietnamese fishermen lent each other money to get back on their feet. Those who were successful in turn lent more people money, and the community members didn’t have to rely on scarce bank loans to reestablish their businesses, Schoch-Spana said.
“That momentum spread to the rest of Village de l’Est as well, and unlike many New Orleans communities, the city was able recover more quickly and mostly on its own.
“‘It had a positive influence on the rest of the community,’ Schoch-Spana said. ‘It distinguished itself by a high a high rate of return and a rapid rate of rebuilding with little government assistance.’
“Increasing National Resilience to Hazards and Disasters is expected to be released August 1.”