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Fri, 26 Aug 2016

Survivors stick together

James Cook University scientists have found communities that are united and connected, both internally and externally, can better ride out disasters.

JCU’s Dr Helen Boon is the lead author of a book looking at how communities can best survive disasters such as cyclones, floods or bushfire.

“We looked at which communities had been able to respond and recover from disasters quickly and effectively. They were what we call ‘resilient’, which means they can persist in the face of shocks and disturbances without changing fundamental structures and functions,” she said.

The team found key attributes of resilient communities include the ability to assess and manage risk, a preparedness to face threats, and the capacity to absorb shocks.

“We found that communities that exhibit strong social cohesion, where individuals are highly socially connected and have a strong sense of place, and communities that contain networks that foster social connectivity with external agencies are more likely to be resilient,” said Dr Boon.

She said isolation is a killer. “Social and geographic isolation is a terrible predictor for survival in the face of disasters.”

Dr Boon said governments worldwide have recognised that an effective way to avoid natural hazards becoming disasters is to strengthen and empower communities and individuals to better manage the impacts of climate change, in the form of more frequent and severe floods, storms, and droughts.  

The scientists used a unique framework, Urie Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological model, which was originally designed for studying the development of children.

“Bronfenbrenner’s model provides a quick, and holistic overview of all influences upon individuals or communities and so it lets planners quickly and easily determine where support is needed or where successful interventions have had an impact,” said Dr Boon.

She said the connections between different communities were also important because each type of community was able to provide different types of help and resources to others and also to provide early warnings for hazards.

“To improve resilience there need to be proper processes in place to make communities internally cohesive and externally connected. The book shows a zillion examples of how communities are connected and what happens when they are not.”

Link to book: http://bit.ly/2c4EERX


Dr Helen Boon
P: (07) 4781 6030
E: Helen.boon@jcu.edu.au