A bit over a year ago, I was pointed in the direction of a NPR Broadcast (National Public Radio, America’s great public broadcaster, which I discovered in a hotel room in Washington, waiting to be sent to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina .. a whole another story) which talked about the key to disaster survival being your neighbours. This piece struck chord with me, as we had shaped one step of our household preparedness program, Emergency Rediplan, as Know your neighbours, because anecdotally we had heard, we knew from experience that you are more likely to be helped or even saved by your neighbours than a big red fire truck.
On delving a bit further, the interviewee was Associate Professor Daniel Aldrich, a political scientist who lost his house and job during Hurricane Katrina, and had time to observe what was happening in New Orleans. He was perplexed when neighbourhoods that were pretty poor seemed to be rebounding, without a lot of assistance, and other neighbourhoods were struggling. The community was strongly centred on the Mary Queen of Vietnam church, was well connected to each other. He came to the conclusion that strong social capital, that is the ties that bind us, had a role to play. Here trust, networks, the notion of reciprocity, ie I’ll scratch your back but don’t expect you to immediately scratch my back in return, but someday, when I might need it. HE has now researched other disasters and published both articles and a book Building Resilience: Social Capital in Post Disaster Recovery.
The notion that your neighbours will be the ones to come to your assistance is somewhat counter intuitive, and challenging to our current emergency management paradigm. Our services are built on the idea that you call someone, and they will come to rescue you, in big red trucks. This is, of course changing with the messaging from the rural fires services around the country of you need to be prepared because you may not get a fire truck. But this is what we expect, and for some time, a lot of our messages have feed those expectations. I see signs around that say CFA and SES volunteers protect this town. That’s pretty absolute. And when it doesn’t happen, they are unable to because of the sheer scale of the disaster, where does that leave people? With a breach of trust.
AS mentioned above, this idea of neighbours being important has stuck with me for some time (it’s why the fourth step of our household preparedness program is called Know Your Neighbours). It’s a bit of an X factor, but the simple street BBQ, or community event, where people get to know each other, and their strengths and weaknesses will do more for disaster resilience, than booklets and campaigns. IT will also make places better to live in. Somehow we need to bridge that gap, between education and activities.
Red Cross will be releasing a report at the end of the month of a roundtable we held in Melbourne in September last year on the application of social capital to disaster resilience.
So why a song from the National. Well, they are kinda my favourite band at the moment, and I like this film clip, it kinda has a feeling of social capital in action.