EVERYONE in the US lives in a small community.
In 2000, slightly more than one-half of the nation’s population lived in cities, towns, boroughs, villages, and townships — with fewer than 25,000 people or in rural areas. Even, among the metropolitan areas with more than one million residents, the average-sized city, town, borough, village, or township had a population of little more than 20,000.
But…how familiar are you with YOUR own community?
Planning with your community can help. Community planning works to get you acquainted with people, locations, and potential hazards within your community.
Community planning empowers neighbors to prepare for emergencies together. Preparedness is vital in staying safe. It’s important because, many times, the lifesaving relief will not be able to reach you in time during a disaster. For example, an ambulance is not rushing out in the middle of a tornado until the scene is safe or the roads are passable.
Community planning allows you to become acquainted with the members of your community. You would also be surprised to see how helpful this can be for creating a healthy (and prosperous) community.
Who are your neighbors and what jobs do they hold? Do you know which among your neighbors are plumbers, and can help you fix a broken water line? Do you know who is EMS-certified?
Knowing these things about people in your community can come in handy at any time, let alone in a disaster situation. Understanding the strengths of those in your community helps you know what they do and allow you to network with those same people.
Setting up networks of contacts prior to when they are needed is incredibly helpful and often overlooked. You would be surprised at how many members in communities that we at DisasterDoc have consulted where they “knew of” someone but couldn’t tell us how they could reach them, or how to meet for a discussion.
Community planning also allows you to become acquainted with key locations within your community.
By this, we are referring to knowing the layout of the area. Knowing what buildings are around and the relative sizes of them. This idea may sound odd at first, but think about if a group of friends came to town and wanted to host a large banquet dinner; where would you take them?
While the scale may be different, this concept is the same. You don’t need to know the details, but knowing what locations are large enough to house the community in case of emergency can help. This idea works in conjunction with networking with people in the community.
In those same communities we helped plan, there were many instances (even among organizations and agencies) where stakeholders may not have been aware of the most suitable sheltering locations. We found that certain areas didn’t have any space suitable to shelter people in some instances. That would be something of great importance to address within the community PRIOR to the next disaster.
Lastly, community planning will bring awareness to the potential hazards within an area.
This awareness is beneficial in communities where citizens may not have resources to become educated on their area’s hazards. This education can be as simple as identifying the busiest streets in the neighborhood (for child safety) but can range to something as complex as identifying train tracks where rail cars filled with chemicals may pass adjacent.
We have seen this first-hand while disaster planning in different municipalities. There have been instances where stakeholders have been unaware of landslide risk in their area. They may have assumed potential wind hazards from a hurricane but forgot about the inherent risk that existed due to the geography.
Knowing what hazards exist in your area will help you to better prepare for them. When you are more prepared in the face of a disaster, the greater your likelihood of survival will be.
Overall, the process of community planning serves as a great tool to ensure there is a plan for any significant event in the community. This blog’s focus has been more on using the process for disaster planning, but you may use this in various methods. Community planning can help communities prepare for a range of events, interventions, and celebrations.
Check out our last blog about why we believe in public health, and be sure to leave comments below!