Preparing for disaster – minimizing the impact of disasters on local communities

Disasters, as difficult as they are to address, present a remarkable opportunity for communities to display resilience. Whether it be a small rainstorm or a Category 5 tornado, it’s essential that local communities have appropriate measures in place to minimize their impact.

Did you know that in 2020, the Easter tornado outbreak resulted in insured damages of nearly $10 billion, according to the Insurance Information Institute? Understanding the ways that communities can plan to address these disasters is not only essential but financially critical for the long-term survival of towns.

Source: Pexels

Let’s explore some of the ways that town councils can plan, to speed up recovery and minimize the impact of disasters.

Take pre-emptive steps and work with the government

While you can’t prepare for every disaster perfectly, it’s essential that you’re aware of the hazards and risks that may be present within your community. Conduct regular risk assessments – this assists towns and councils with identifying areas of significant risk within their communities.

Having well-documented Emergency Evacuation Plans (EEP) in place for critical facilities such as hospitals and schools can also enable a more effective response. Without these plans in place, it can be incredibly difficult to both contend with, and recover from tornados when they strike. For example, if communication lines are down, and residents are unsure of where they should congregate in the event of a tornado, it can result in fatal consequences.

As one of my favorite cartoon heroes, G.I. Joe once said, “knowing is half the battle”. By being aware and prepared for the risks that are presented to your community, the risk of fatal consequences can be mitigated, and services can be provided in a more efficient manner.

Use federal resources to develop community frameworks

By liaising with federal authorities such as FEMA’s National Preparedness System, you can utilize a standardized, organized process to develop and maintain community frameworks. The system touches on six main elements, such as the identification and assessment of risk.

Following a standardized framework will enable councils to move towards a higher level of preparedness, and enable quicker integration with federal responses, particularly if agencies such as FEMA need to liaise with local authorities during a disaster.

Having standardized practices in place also enables new residents to quickly understand the procedures that are in place in a new community. With more than one million immigrants migrating to the US annually, it’s important that both new and existing residents are aware of local emergency procedures.

Liaise with local community leaders

It’s important that when working through disasters, local community leaders are embraced and encouraged to participate. Local communities form the backbone of our communities, whether it be through local supports groups, sporting clubs, or neighborhood watch committees.

Getting involved and liaising with local communities may involve fostering the development of volunteer firefighting teams, or supporting local food banks and soup kitchens. Councils don’t have to do all the heavy lifting on their own during a disaster – by working with community leaders, they can develop response synergies, and play to the strengths communities may face.

Keep detailed records of critical infrastructure 

It’s important that critical infrastructure is logged, tagged, and regularly tracked. Assets such as roads are important, particularly when destructive weather events can tear them apart.

Road reconstruction can be particularly expensive, even if it’s just small amounts of damage after a tornado. On average, a mile of two-way road in the US can cost anywhere between $2 and $5 million dollars, depending on the location.

To enable the rapid identification of road deterioration as a result of severe weather, or secondary events such as landslides, modern tools such as a road dilapidation report can be utilized to identify areas that have critical repair requirements. This enables councils to respond effectively and efficiently to asset destruction.

By identifying critical degradation issues, and addressing those as a priority, communities can more quickly respond to disasters, as well as reduce the amount of wasted spending that may be invested in over-recovery of lightly damaged areas. There’s no value in building a brand new road if there’s limited or no known damage to it.

It would be great to hear about some of the things that your community may do to prepare for disasters such as tornados. Have you developed your community framework, or sought out a road dilapidation report to identify issues of concern?

I’d love to read your comments below – it’d be fascinating to hear what you think about managing the impact of disasters.

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