Building disaster resilience in rural, remote, and small coastal communities

By Karen-Marie Elah Perry, M.A. Researcher, JIBC

With modest infrastructure, limited access to primary care, and geographic isolation, rural communities face unique challenges when disasters strike.  Historically rural communities have also demonstrated dynamic strengths during disasters – strong social networks, creative problem solving, and the ability to draw on unconventional resources.  In partnership with Royal Roads University, the Public Health Agency of Canada, Public Safety Canada, the Rural Secretariat of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and funded by the Centre for Security Science, the Justice Institute of British Columbia is currently undertaking a 3.5 year project to help rural communities better map local vulnerabilities and harness local assets.  Drawing from Participatory Action Research, this project aims to develop more holistic and relevant indicators of community disaster resilience and to build, from the community level up, dynamic all hazards approaches to rural disaster mitigation and planning.  The expertise of First Responders and international scholarship examining rural disaster resiliency will also be incorporated into project deliverables, including the Rural Resilience Index (RRI) and the Integrated Resilience Enhancement Planning Process (IREPP).  The purpose of the RRI and IREPP will be to provide communities with a ‘menu’ of options for assessing, planning and enhancing rural disaster resilience.  Furthermore, an emphasis will be placed on the intersection of complex factors that shape rural disaster resilience, including natural resources, social context, and physical infrastructure.  Qualitative approaches to planning and assessment will also be considered to better capture issues commonly side-stepped in less nuanced disaster tools.

Deliverables will be iterative in their development and will be directly informed by rural community engagement and the experiences of pilot communities in diverse rural contexts.  Educational materials and tools produced by this project will be available to the public through a Virtual Community of Practice Website.  This website will be designed as a virtual network of users invested in rural disaster resilience, with tools, links, resources and exciting opportunities for knowledge exchange.

To-date project researchers have completed 37 pilot interviews in British Columbia (Cariboo-Chilcotin and Vancouver Island Pacific Rim Regions), with rural residents, local leaders, emergency managers, and others invested in disaster mitigation and response.  Drawing from the interviews a working draft of the RRI has also been developed.  This will be further refined and tested in other rural Canadian communities, including those in Ontario, Nova Scotia and additional communities in Canada.  Remaining fieldwork will continue throughout the Spring of 2011 and into the Spring of 2012.