With every disaster comes a fork in the road. Do you rebuild or move elsewhere to start over? This was the question for thousands of citizens of the New Orleans and Gulf Coast area following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. To this day there are hundreds of homes that sit abandoned in the New Orleans area; left behind by those who chose to move elsewhere.
On the opposite side of the coin, there are those who decided to return to their homes (or who never evacuated… that went well) and rebuild the Gulf Coast into the community they wanted it to be. This was a happy outcome. It was great to see New Orleans come back from what could have been a much larger loss. It brings a big question to mind though, what would such an event do to your community?
Luckily, not every disaster is always so severe and you have to live in the right area to encounter such disasters. This does shine light on the fact that community is important. Especially for the preparedness minded. New Orleans wasn’t put back together by just a few people; there were thousands who came together to rebuild the city.
So would your community do the same? Could you count on your neighbors, the families in the next neighborhood over or even those on the “other side of the tracks?”
Of course it is impossible for most of us to answer those questions. What is possible though, is the ability to start now, to build your community (regardless of what you determine your community to be) into what you would like it to be if there was a disaster or emergency.
There is no clear path to building a strong community. Different nuances, different people and different areas will all lead down a different path, but there are some common ideas that can be used to develop your street, neighborhood and town into the community that you would like it to be. The cornerstone of a solid community is to connect with others, build those connections into trust and get involved. Here are some of the potential ways that you can work to build community in your area ahead of the storm:
- Treat others how you would like to be treated.
- Don’t gossip. This will only build animosity.
- Attend a meeting for a local civic organization and address concerns in the community.
- Invite neighbors over for a BBQ.
- Shop at locally owned businesses.
- Start a farmer’s market or meet with farmers about establishing a community supported agriculture program.
- Volunteer at a nursing home, school, with a charity or Habitat for Humanity.
- Start a community garden.
- Volunteer at a shelter or hospital.
- Go to local school events and support the future leaders of the community.
- Become a mentor for a child.
- Be a mentor for those who are trying to get in to/ahead in your field of work.
- Take a meal to a neighbor who lives alone, just had a baby or who is sick.
- Help in the neighborhood with home repairs, landscaping or yard maintenance.
- Assist with local scouting activities.
- Participate in a community musical group or play.
- Teach a class to the community. Disaster preparedness is a great option.
- Greet new residents to the community.
- Attend church services or participate regularly in a community organization.
- Throw a block party, community BBQ or potluck.
- Participate in a bike, run or walk to support local charities.
- Visit a community networking event with the goal of meeting at least five new people.
- Coach or assist with a local youth sport.
- Join an intramural sports team.
- Become a tutor for adult learners.
- Set up or participate in a local clean up effort.
- Get to know a neighbor better by striking up a conversation the next time you see them.
- Greet others when you see them. You’ll make a difference and provide an opportunity to meet new people.
- Start a neighborhood watch program. This will increase the sense of security in the neighborhood.
- Teach a firearm safety course.
- Set up a neighborhood wide yard sale.
- Organize a community meeting where citizens can openly share their ideas of what they would like to see happen in the community.
- Barter and trade with others.
- If you own a company, keep the jobs in the community.
This list is obviously limited, but as you can see there are many ways that a community can be built up but there are also several challenges that a community may face when trying to pull itself together following a traumatic event like a natural disaster. These challenges further support the idea of establishing community ahead of a disaster and include:
- Lack of trust/cohesion – Following a traumatic event, it can be difficult for community members to trust one another or feel connected.
- Lack of stability, reliability and consistency – Disasters can cause the stability in a community to falter. Likewise, what used to be reliable and consistent may no longer be so.
- Lack of vision for the future – After a disaster or traumatic event it can be difficult for a community to see a vision moving forward. Coming back from something that shattered a portion of any community can be an arduous task.
- Demanding personal needs – At a time when an individual or family is trying to recover from a disaster it can especially challenging to look at how they can assist with the community when there is a lengthy list of personal needs.
- Extensive community needs – On the heels of disaster the needs of the community can be so great that individuals and organizations combined may not have all the resources needed to address the needs of the community.
It clearly seems like proactive community building is the preferable option so that the response and healing process comes together for the community.
Let’s say there is not a natural or man-made disaster, how would a strong community respond to an invasion by a foreign force? Of course the hope is that the community would come together and resist such an invasion, but if this invasion is at the invitation of our own government, there will likely be those who just go along with the program.
So, what do you do now?
The easiest way to start establishing your community, and building your team, is to start on your street and begin to build those bonds of trust. Be aware of those who may be overly cautious or standoffish. You do not want to bring someone in to your circle that may prove to be a problem. Look for those who are of a similar mindset.
Establishing a clear vision is important so that there is a common understanding of what the standards and goals of the community are.
Be inclusive. Everyone, regardless of age, can be part of the community, even if it is only for short periods of time or limited in scope. There are always limitations, but for a large majority of the general population there is always something that can be done.
Establish leadership. It is probable that your local community has an established government, but just because there is a government in place does not mean that there is leadership in the community. If you are not someone that is the leadership type, identify who is and support them.
The more the merrier. When building your community, the more people that can be involved, the easier things will be within the community. Work will get done faster. The talent pool will be larger. There is strength in numbers.
Don’t forget that practice and drills can make a big difference to the reactions that people have if there were to be a disaster or invasion.
Hopefully this has given you some ideas about how you can connect with others in your community and build those connections of trust that are vital to a true community. Now is the time to get involved. Don’t miss an opportunity to have support and to support others simply because you didn’t want to make the effort.
— Tom Miller