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Resilience: Not Your Parents’ Disaster Plan

Thursday, May 11, 2017

By Andrea Zussman, Manager, Regional Vibrancy and Sustainability, Northern California Grantmakers

On May 31, NCG will be hosting the first event in its recently launched Disaster Resilience, Relief, and Recovery initiative, Flipping the Script on Disaster: A Tale of Three Resilient Cities. Mayor of Oakland, the Honorable Libby Schaaf will open the event by sharing her perspective on resilience, her city’s strategy, and how philanthropy can support the resilience of the region. James W. Head, President and CEO of the East Bay Community Foundation, will then moderate our discussion with the three Chief Resilience Officers in the Bay Area.

We are kicking off our new initiative with a focus on “resilience” because it weaves together arenas as diverse as health care, affordable housing, access to quality education, and climate change with underlying issues in communities such as inequity, civic engagement, governance and accountability. 

So what do we mean by “resilience”, and how does it differ from “preparedness”? More importantly, how does this frame change how we think about disasters and our philanthropic involvement before a disaster or other community crisis?

Historically, disaster “preparedness” has focused on actions such as:

  • having supplies on hand at home – such as food, water, and a first aid kit – to take care of ourselves and our loved ones;
  • teaching kids to “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” in case of an earthquake;
  • making sure that city sirens broadcast emergency messages in all local languages;
  • developing nonprofit disaster plans to ensure that these agencies can recover their operations and support communities with urgently needed services such as health care, food assistance, shelter, and mental health services; and
  • planning for implementing and coordinating immediate response actions for cities and counties.

Alternatively, when we think of “resilience”, we often think of it in personal terms, like someone “bouncing back” from a set-back or tragedy or even thriving in its aftermath. At the community, city or regional level, most definitions of resilience have a few things in common – they incorporate the idea of bouncing back but go further to adapting, thriving, and growing; they are multi-tiered and systems-focused; and they include but go beyond traditional disaster “hazards” and actions. For example, resilience-building actions at the community level could include resident-centered planning efforts to address neighborhood violence which also build social cohesion, trust, and relationships with city agents that will support community recovery after an earthquake as well.  At the city level, strengthening resilience could include advancing racial economic equity and increasing affordable housing, reducing displacement pressures in communities of color now and after a disaster as well. 

When the Rockefeller Foundation launched its 100 Resilient Cities initiative (100RC) in late 2013, its definition went even further to include stressors as well as “disasters”; 100RC defined urban resilience as “the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems within a city to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.”

NCG’s Disaster Resilience, Relief, and Recovery initiative embraces a broader resilience frame – my own experience with disaster has shown me that using such a frame leads to more comprehensive and long-lasting solutions. I hope you will join us on May 31st to hear about the strategies in the Bay Area and how philanthropy can help support resilience in your city.

Learn More about the upcoming program >