Community Resilience and COVID-19

By Jennifer Roberts

This week everyone’s attention is focused on COVID-19 and the spread of this particular coronavirus.  Our hearts go out to those who have lost loved ones; to those who are sick and in isolation; to the healthcare workers who continue to do their jobs while putting themselves in harm’s way; and to all in authority who are struggling to manage the best response.  Please follow the official guidelines to stay healthy and safe.

Our communities are learning from this virus, not only about infectious disease management but also about how to best respond to emergencies.  Communities that have suffered floods, fires, or severe weather disasters will find this all too familiar.  Communities can prepare ahead of time, identifying existing resources, working to fill gaps, creating a chain of command and a plan for effective communication. But there will always be a need for improvisation, and local leaders know that this works best in those communities that have worked to build their social cohesion. 

Whether it is a climate related natural disaster or other type of emergency, cities that have built strong networks of neighborhoods, and that have worked to establish inclusive communication and engagement with their residents, will respond most effectively to developing needs. To be resilient, communities need to broaden methods of communication, remembering the digital divide and lack of access in low income neighborhoods, and the special challenges to engagement when social gatherings are prohibited.  It helps to have citizen advisory committees for outreach, as residents can guide city leaders in the best methods to reach them.  Leaders need to identify and locate vulnerable populations, like the elderly and disabled. For climate related impacts, this might also include flood-prone properties, citizens with respiratory or heart conditions, the disabled, and more.

We all have felt personal impacts from COVID-19.  On my part, our son came home from college to resort to virtual learning the rest of the semester; the residence where my mother-in-law lives is closed to visitors; and every speaking event I had for the next month has been postponed or cancelled. What is hopeful in all this is how quickly cities, colleges, non-profits, businesses and others have aligned, adjusted and adapted to the challenges – based on a shared understanding of the need to act quickly to keep people safe and healthy.

If our communities can develop the same sense of urgency and shared values to implement solutions to the challenges of climate change - through effective engagement of residents – we  can go a long way toward meeting our climate goals and preserving the health of our residents and our environment for years to come.


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