Citizen Resiliency – Steve McHenry on Learning from Local Disasters

Emergency responders and the Red Cross didn’t expect the level of flooding and damage which subsequently turned out to be the worst in 100 years. The responders faced significant challenges to get to flood victims with roads, in some cases, being washed away.  He described an incident where American Red Cross volunteers finally got through to a community only to find that the local volunteer fire department was already feeding up to 900 meals.  He called the resiliency of the people “phenomenal” saying he could describe hundreds of examples of everyday citizens steeping up to help others.  He partly attributed this response to the rural character of the victims who exhibit these qualities of everyday through self-reliance and occasional neighborly reciprocal assistance.  In times of local disasters, these individuals spontaneously work together to address immediate threats to life followed by stability, recovery and restoration.  McHenry believes that the community has “only gotten stronger” because the disaster and expressed optimism that on-going planning efforts will improve community resiliency in the future.

Even though he believed that not many people used Twitter during the disaster, Facebook was used extensively by the local Red Cross and United Way to provide information and request donations.  McHenry posted on Facebook their need to have dozens of blankets from the shelters washed to be re-used that evening.  He was stunned by the response when several individuals showed up in less than ten minutes to take the blankets home to wash and dry.  However, the nature of this disaster necessitated that electricity outages inhibited social media communications until the power was restored.  Going forward McHenry believes that the community is still recovering from the flooding. To learn from the experience local institutions were participating in a Long Term Recovery Committee to see what they can do to respond better the next time. 

If you were on the Long Term Recovery Comitee, what would the most important issues be to you?

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