Jane Burt, Senior Project Officer for Communities Prepared, details her experience taking part in the recent Thames Valley LRF Community Resilience conference, and reflects on the meaningful knowledge she drew from it.
Communities Prepared was approached to have a stand at the recent Thames Valley LRF conference, held in Reading. We were also able to attend all the talks during the conference which sketched a complex and interesting landscape of resilience in the United Kingdom. As a relative newcomer to the UK I found it interesting how resilience is being depicted and what the challenges are for emergency services.
A core challenge that was shared was bridging the gap between emergency services and communities. The value of community engagement and community volunteers was not questioned. What was discussed was how to bridge the gap between a formal, hierarchical, and ordered system of emergency servicers response with the much more ad-hoc, informal engagement of local volunteers. The question that was continually posed in different ways was, ‘When should community volunteers be involved? How should community volunteers be involved and what should community volunteers do?’
This reminded me of my time in South Africa when we were rolling out the new National Water Act which embraced participatory and integrated water resource management. The desire was to engage civil society and all stakeholders in the management of water but how was this to be done when it was quite clear that some tasks had to be done by people that had specialised knowledge. We began playing with the water management cycle that had been set out by the South African government and broke it up into tasks. Then for each task we asked ourselves: Should civil society be involved? How, when and what? This helped us to clearly communicate with authorities and communities on their roles and responsibilities.
I could see that this is what the presentations were all engaging with in one way or another. Looking at actual events, emergency service professionals reflected on what worked and what had not. They questioned the role of citizens in relation to the stages of emergencies and in the preparation for emergencies. One idea that particularly struck me was having an anchor organisation of volunteers in an area that could be trained up to run a volunteer reception centre for when an emergency struck. I was also touched by the attention that was given to preparing for long term recovery, including acknowledging the trauma that comes with experiencing an emergency by both citizens and emergency services. It reminded me of the risks associated with being a member of the emergency services and that these risks are often not easy to see.
Finally, a valuable takeaway for me was the involvement of youth in community resilience. In Hampshire there is ‘Hampshire Young People’s Emergency Response’ . Not only is their acronym (HYPER) absolutely brilliant, but the work also that has gone into giving young people a purpose and a value in their community is inspiring.
Learn about your closest Local Resilience Forum here, or find out about joining our own Communities Prepared network here. The upcoming Flood Expo and Emergency Services Show are also both free to attend and are great opportunities to become part of community preparedness conversations and networks.