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Baker: Building Resilience

The idea of resilience is a very hopeful concept - suggesting that something can take a serious hit and bounce back to a condition similar to its previous state.

And resilience is something Vermonters know well. Witness Tropical Storm Irene, where transportation, power, housing and jobs were affected across most of the state. Three years later, there are still scars, but we’re largely back to where we were before the storm – thanks in part to a lot of resources that were mobilized to get us back there as quickly as possible.

To varying degrees, every winter here tests our preparation and resilience with ice and snow storms, cold snaps, and in most years at least some flooding. But we know that at times there will be exceptional events that can knock us off our feet. Since Irene, news from away has included all manner of terrible events, some of which have occurred naturally, and sadly, others that were intentionally designed to cause harm.

One thing that doesn’t get talked about enough in the aftermath of a disaster is how damage may have been contained, and what exactly was done to prevent keep it from being worse - or the many times when potential disasters have actually been prevented. We tend to take the planning, practice and evaluation that underlies effective emergency response for granted - even though it’s key to building resilience.

Next week there will be a statewide event developed by Vermont Emergency Management – now renamed the Vermont Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security – or DEMHS - to practice emergency response in Vermont. With the project name of CAT2, this will be Vermont’s second catastrophic planning exercise – involving more than 50 organizations, from statewide agencies and the National Guard, to many of our hospitals, fire departments, towns and communities. The idea is to provide an opportunity to test emergency plans by responding to an imagined catastrophic event.

Volunteers serve as actors in these exercises and DEMHS is still recruiting. For the majority of us who aren’t directly involved in emergency management, volunteering is a great way to learn more about Vermont’s emergency management system while helping our responders test their plans. More information is available from Rich Cogliano at DEMHS.

Resilience is something that can be built, and knowing what to do in an emergency is one key element in helping to keep a crisis from turning into a disaster. Volunteering in CAT2 is a good way to support the many Vermonters who will turn out for us when we need them.

CAT2 can also lead us to think more deeply about our own family and community plans – to reflect on whether or not we actually have any, whether we all know what they are – and when was the last time that we practiced and updated them. It’s a good thing to spend some time talking about what we’d do if and when we’re tested - before the test occurs.

Dan Baker teaches community development at the University of Vermont.
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