Why does a community need a preparedness plan?

Emergency responders normally make prompt response after the strike of a disaster. However, a surge in demand on emergency services or heavy damage in infrastructure may delay emergency support. Therefore, before the arrival of assistance, individuals and communities may need to rely on their own resources to survive and fix the chaos where possible. Community leaders and members can discuss and gather possible actions in advance in a disaster preparedness plan to gain the following advantages:

  • Enabling better coping. With a plan where supporting measures, such as evacuation routes and shelters, are formulated pre-disaster, the community can respond fast to warnings and ensure the sustainability of the measures [1].
  • Reducing loss. Good efforts of preparedness help reduce the loss of life and property in the community [2].
  • Facilitating effective recovery. The preparedness plan may include recovery directions, e.g. outlining the stages of restoration of services and facilities. A concrete plan allows more effective and time-saving recovery, compared with off-hand decisions at the acute phase of disaster [1].

What can community leaders do?

As the leaders or local organizations of the community (e.g. Rural Representatives and Mutual Aid Committee of households), you are concerned about the welfare and well-being of the residents in the community. Through frequent interactions with the dwellers in the community, you can familiarize yourself with their needs and reflect them as you lead the preparedness plan. Here are the things you can do to prepare your community before disasters strike, as well as strengthen its resilience in the face of disasters:

I. Community engagement

You can engage people in your community to participate in disaster preparedness planning by calling meetings to address their specific needs in the decision-making process. At the meetings, you may discuss different issues to facilitate effective response, such as [3]:

  • Planning evacuation routes (which address the needs of different people such as elderly, children and people with disabilities) and delivering maps of the route to residents to ensure awareness of the routes.
  • Identifying specialists (e.g. those who can perform first aid and Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)) in the community to support the neighborhood in the response phase. Meanwhile, you can also promote trainings of first aid and CPR to actively equip community members.
  • Initiating preparation of a Neighborhood Directory with useful contacts such as the numbers of the local police department, fire department and ambulance service.
  • Preparing a plan for pet settlement.

II. Education

You can share information with community residents about preparedness and risks before, during, and after a disaster, so that they know what to do to minimize risk and loss [4]. There are different things community leaders can do, such as distributing readily available resources on physical and psychological preparedness (see Resources: Psychoeducational Materials for psycho-educational materials).

(You can click here or the above image to view the video.
Source: The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region)
(Source: Hong Kong Jockey Club Disaster Preparedness and Response Institute )

The Hong Kong Government and other advocates such as Hong Kong Jockey Club Disaster Preparedness and Response Institute (HKJCDPRI) have been alerting the public on different hazards. For example, the advertisement on the top featuring Nick Cheung aims to raise public awareness on landslides. The website "Choose to Survive" on the bottom promotes disaster preparedness and response. Community leaders can gather these resources and promote them to the members of the community. 


III. Partnership

You can seek to develop partnerships within and among different parties for more effective decision-making and actions. These collaborations can promote knowledge exchange and enhance social connectedness in the community [1]. Some directions of partnership include:

  • Inviting local organizations and authorities to attend community meetings as contributors [5] [6].
  • Inviting authorities to enhance infrastructure as part of the disaster preparedness plan [7].
  • Inviting non-governmental organizations to mobilize their resources and coordinate volunteers during and after disasters [8].
  • Inviting private enterprises from different fields to mobilize their resources. For example, construction companies can deploy technicians and machines to help clear the street and restore transportation after typhoons [9].

IV. Recovery Planning [10]

Preparing for recovery before a disaster is encouraged to speed up the recovery process. Recovery planning can be discussed in meetings where different stakeholders, such as community members, local organizations and authorities, are present to enable effective decision-making and collaboration.

The discussions can focus on probable influences of disaster in the community and the respective short- and long-term mitigation of impacts. For example, to alleviate the influences of flooding, short-term measures may include assisting community residents to clean up the neighborhood after flooding, while long-term measures may include drainage renovation by the authorities concerned. Other issues to discuss in recovery planning may include healthcare and social services, as well as economic development. Attendees can brainstorm innovative means to develop resources for disaster recovery support and sustainability. Everyone can contribute to recovery planning.

For more details of designing a recovery plan, you can refer to Recovery: For Community.


What can community residents do?

If you participate in community meetings, which are parts of the disaster preparedness efforts, you can make your voice heard and your specific needs addressed in the preparedness plan. At the meetings, you can express your views or the support you and people playing your role need, e.g. as a care-taker of the elderly or children, additional support may be required [1].

Preparedness plans also identify resources ahead of time. This can help organize and coordinate various kinds of support required in the acute and recovery phases of a disaster (e.g. physical and psychological first aid*, child care, routine services such as cleaning and transport, spiritual leadership) [11] in advance. You can lend your helping hand to others in disasters through offering your time or your expertise when the situation permits. For example, you may register at community volunteer pools to stay tuned for any call for volunteers to help.

Apart from helping others, volunteers themselves also benefit from volunteering. The sense of accomplishment promotes a sense of control and social connectedness, both of which are important to your psychological well-being in times of emergency. Researchers have found that volunteers tend to enjoy greater longevity and lower rates of depression in later life [12]. These are all reason why you should be motivated and participate in community preparedness!

*If you are interested in psychological first aid, check out our Resources for the Professional: Psychological First Aid (English only).

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