Communities have the potential to function effectively and adapt successfully in the aftermath of disasters. Drawing upon literatures in several disciplines, we present a theory of resilience that encompasses contemporary understandings of stress, adaptation, wellness, and resource dynamics. Community resilience is a process linking a network of adaptive capacities (resources with dynamic attributes) to adaptation after a disturbance or adversity. Community adaptation is manifest in population wellness, defined as high and non-disparate levels of mental and behavioral health, functioning, and quality of life. Community resilience emerges from four primary sets of adaptive capacities—Economic Development, Social Capital, Information and Communication, and Community Competence—that together provide a strategy for disaster readiness. To build collective resilience, communities must reduce risk and resource inequities, engage local people in mitigation, create organizational linkages, boost and protect social supports, and plan for not having a plan, which requires flexibility, decision-making skills, and trusted sources of information that function in the face of unknowns.
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We used a wide array of search techniques in the literature review including controlled vocabulary (for example, in the PsycINFO database, using the term “resilience” which is included in the PsycINFO thesaurus) and free text searching (for example, using the term “community resilience,” which is not a term in the PsycINFO thesaurus but would cue the database to identify papers with community resilience in their titles or abstracts). Because one of the goals of this project was to discover what had been written about community resilience and how resilience was already conceptualized in the literature, the initial search strategy was to cast as wide a net as possible. In this way, free text searches using the terms “resilience” and “community resilience” were conducted in a variety of databases (i.e., PsychINFO, PubMed, ERIC, PILOTS, Academic Search Premier) to capture as many articles as possible that used the term. As one might imagine, this broad search strategy yielded a diverse (an oftentimes irrelevant) combination of articles from disciplines as disparate as economics and food processing. The broad search illustrated, if nothing else, the popularity of the term and the infinite ways resilience is used to describe varying concepts across disciplines. Free text searches can also be helpful when the term is new and perhaps has not yet been added to a thesaurus. Since community resilience is a relatively new term, efforts were made to find articles that might discuss the spirit of community resilience without using the term community resilience. Examples of terms used to ferret out such papers (used individually and in combination) included: cohesion, adaptability, empowerment, mobilization, collective capacity, and collective healing. In a more disciplined and focused search, controlled vocabulary strategies were used to adhere to the search terms used by specifics databases.
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This research was supported by the United States Department of Homeland Security through the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), Grant number N00140510629. However, any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect views of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
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Norris, F.H., Stevens, S.P., Pfefferbaum, B. et al. Community Resilience as a Metaphor, Theory, Set of Capacities, and Strategy for Disaster Readiness. Am J Community Psychol 41, 127–150 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10464-007-9156-6
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