Sunday, July 1, 2012

Community preparedness and resilience

Resilience. I love words, and resilience is a word that has texture and dimensions for me. You can almost see resilience and hold it in your hand. 

Resilience is flexible, and bends with the wind. Resilience is creative and resourceful, as it tries new things and laughs out loud at its failures. Resilience accepts reality without deflecting or sugar-coating it, but then asks itself what that means and what choices it needs to make. Resilience is curious enough to try puzzles and identify problems, and courageous enough to solve them. Resilience keeps its own counsel, but wisely benefits from others.

Resilience charts its course but then has the independence and -- perhaps most important -- the skills and knowledge to act on it. Most of us think of resilience as a quality that emerges during a disaster or a crisis, but I always think that resilience is just as critical to embracing opportunity, hope, positive change and other "good stuff" we might want to explore outside of a comfort zone. You need resilience just as much to welcome a new child into your family, take a class, try a sport, plan a dream vacation or make a new friend.

And if words had the power to be best friends, resilience would be mine.

Resilience may, of course, mean something different to you. It does to lots of people. In psychology circles, it refers to one's ability to cope with stress and adversity. In economic talk, resilience is the ability to survive and thrive in the buffeting winds of global financial uncertainty. Security professionals speak of resilience in the face of terror attack or cyber disruption, urban planners speak of resilience when talking about infrastructure and services, and resilience is a key word in disaster planning and emergency preparedness.

I was recently talking with someone about community emergency preparedness training, and how it can offer that kind of resilience and confidence to our friends, families and neighbors. It seemed like no sooner did I have this conversation than the heat wave, severe storms and power outages sweeping our own homes and the nation reminded me that thinking ahead, having a plan and knowing what to do can make such a difference.

So after walking down to the garden and making sure none of the tomato cages had launched airborne into Madison Street on Friday – they didn't -- I started looking for helpful information and tips. I didn't have to look farther than the June water bill insert on my own desk. South Bend sent a list of plan items recommended by FEMA in it, and also posted it online at South Bend newsletter.

I worked for 10 years as an East Coast paramedic before I became a journalist and moved to South Bend, and community preparedness was my great research and practice love. It still is. I know this stuff. But as I went down the checklist I realized that I was still missing a few things. Meant to, but never did replace the gallons of water I had that passed an expiration date awhile back. Don't have a whistle. Oops, definitely need flashlight batteries.

With my NOAA weather radio alarm going off again on Sunday afternoon, I wished I hadn't procrastinated about whatever is still stocked in the first-aid kit. Now I won't be putting it off any longer. Actually, the NOAA radio is itself a resource, but there's other great information resources, at and Red Cross.

There's also the scanners at, a site that allows you to listen to any online scanner, anywhere in the country, and what public safety professionals are learning there: It's hot, but the pools are closed because there's no power for the pumps. There's no gas for miles and miles on I-79. We're still giving out water over here, but we've run out of ice over there.

Then there's Twitter and other social media, to help learn things you might not have thought of. Solar batteries, for example. Someone currently in the dark on the East Coast pointed out that if you have solar patio or sidewalk lights, the solar batteries recharge in the sun. Voila.

Now that's resilience. I suspect this Eureka! moment occurred when the entire neighborhood was pitch-black, and so was most of the state, except for the solar lights over at the Neighbor Jones house. I was certainly impressed. But the most resilient thing of all is to know that it is the Jones house. Better still, that we all know the Joneses.

Our Madison Square Garden is itself a reflection or expression of community resilience, and similar greenspace and urban garden strategies are now being used by planners in countless American cities. Any Web search will turn up new land use ideas used in Portland, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Indy or here.

But the single most resilient thing about our community garden is the community part. It's knowing the Joneses, and that they are older folks -- so when it's this hot, someone should already know them and check on them. Or that Jones just went grocery shopping on Friday and he's about to lose his food with the power still out? Make some space in your own powered-up fridge or freezer.

Or, as was the case for me two years ago when the tornado sirens went off: When a neighbor tells you she doesn't have a basement and she doesn't know where she can be safer, tell her she can come to yours.

They're simple things and most of us do them already. Communities always come together for these reasons, but being resilient starts way before the tree limbs are down on the garage roof. If you'd be interested in formally taking a Community Emergency Response Team training class? I'd love to hear from you. I've wished that we had a neighborhood team here for several years now, and it'd be easy enough for us to do if there's interest in learning more.

Around the nation, it's been gaining traction. In May, a Memphis program won the national 2012 Best Neighborhood Program award from Neighborhoods USA for training its citizens on five basic things to do, focusing on the first 72 hours of a wider-scale emergency.

The program partnered with more than 200 Memphis neighborhood associations to do just that, and you can read more about it in the Memphis newspaper.

I love this program. I also said I love the word resilience, and I do. Want to find out how prepared and resilient you are? Click on the quiz links for emergency preparedness education. There are three different ones, including the one that's focused on pets and animals, but I kind of like the Baltimore County one myself.

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