Building social connections with the We’re Ready! Community disaster preparedness workshop

By Ashley M. Roszko, Eva (Evalyna) A. Bogdan, Mary A. Beckie, Adam Conway

While disasters in Canada are on the rise, not all communities are well prepared for such emergencies. The We’re Ready! community disaster preparedness workshop was developed to address the low uptake of emergency preparedness of residents (Ibrahim, 2016) and the gap in municipal resource shortages (Cohen et al., 2017). The We’re Ready! approach incorporates interactive activities to strengthen social connections and enhance community resilience. The workshop applies principles of adult education, including learning best with hands-on activities and applying educational activities to practical situations (Knowles, 1973).

While “community” is a complicated term, communities can often be defined as a group of people bound by a location, common identity or objective; they can be geographical (e.g. neighbourhood) and/or social (e.g. ethnic). We’re Ready! was piloted in 2016 and 2019 in three different types of communities in Alberta: geographical, ethnic and workplace communities in the Town of High River and the City of Edmonton. The workshops provided participants with an opportunity to identify community members’ skills and resources, design customized community disaster plans with others, and develop hands-on experience coping with a disaster simulation (Bogdan et al., 2021).

Identifying skills, needs, and resources is crucial for emergency preparation, but most important are relationships and strong social ties (Aldrich, 2015; Donahue and Tuohy, 2006). Examining exemplary disaster management models, such as in Cuba, reveals that “strengthening community capacity, strong coordination of local actors and investing in social capital are determining factors for success” (Grogg, 2015). Cuba’s disaster management is exceptional due to their regular government and resident-organized preparations; community drills are held all over the country to rehearse prevention and evacuation plans for various disasters, test communication systems, increase citizen knowledge of what to do during an emergency and provide opportunities for local actors to build relationships with others in their communities. Highly interactive activities and relationship building opportunities, such as those in the We’re Ready! workshop, help communities to develop individual and community preparedness capacity. In this article, we provide an overview of the We’re Ready! activities and our key learnings from the pilot workshops in the hopes of inspiring other community groups to build their own community emergency plans and increase their resilience.

Workshop activities: Build your own disaster preparedness program

The purpose of the We’re Ready! Workshop is to facilitate communities in designing and implementing their own disaster preparedness program through interactive and engaging community-building activities. Communities do so by creating their own evacuation maps, communication plans, and a community capacity inventory. The workshop culminates in a disaster simulation to provide hands-on experience. The workshop takes approximately six hours to complete, including interactive, informational lectures accompanied by group activities and individually completed surveys at the beginning and end of the workshop. After introductions, the activities are as follows:

  1. Pre-Workshop Survey
  2. Community Bingo
  3. Sharing Previous Disaster Experiences and Lessons
  4. Mapping
  5. Community Plan
  6. Mock Disaster Game
  7. Debrief Exercise
  8. Building Momentum
  9. Post-Workshop Evaluation

Community members complete a pre-workshop survey (Activity 1), which allows organizers to evaluate the effectiveness of the workshop when compared with the post-workshop evaluation (Activity 9). Many of these questions are based on Statistics Canada’s (2014) emergency preparedness and resilience survey.

Community Bingo (Activity 2) is an interactive icebreaker where participants circulate around the room with a bingo sheet to find individuals who possess certain skills or resources, or who might need additional assistance during an emergency.

Figure 1. Activity 2: Community bingo sheet

During the experience sharing exercise (Activity 3), participants break into groups and learn who may have experienced an emergency or disaster before, what worked well, and consider lessons learned to improve in the future. Participants then work in small breakout groups for the next two activities: mapping and developing a plan. In the mapping exercise (Activity 4), each group builds an interactive map of their geographical community (such as a neighbourhood or workplace) using craft supplies that are provided. Mapping helps participants to visualize key access routes, indicate meeting points, and identify safe places to go during an emergency. The small groups then develop a community plan (Activity 5) to determine how all community members can be kept safe during an emergency and identify redundant communication strategies in case of communication disruptions. Facilitators provide participants with examples and templates of emergency plans to help build their own.

All participants then come together for Activity 6, a mock disaster simulation (e.g., a flood or ice storm). Individuals receive different “roles” in this scenario (e.g., an individual that does not speak English or was hurt as a result of a hazard). During the simulation, participants develop hands-on experience building connections with each other and learning to identify hazards and resources in their community in the face of an emergency.

Figure 2. Filipino community members participating in Activity 6: A disaster simulation

Following the mock scenario, participants debrief what happened and have an opportunity to revise their community plans (Activity 7). Finally, participants brainstorm ways to continue working together to increase preparedness and identify community leaders to build momentum (Activity 8). All of the activities in the We’re Ready! workshop were designed based on needs, skills, and resources important for emergency preparedness as identified in the literature (see Bogdan et al., 2021).

Lessons learned: Tapping into social resources

Assessments of the three We’re Ready! workshops suggest that combining instructional presentations with hands-on learning was effective. The workshops helped participants build plans and maps as well as increase social capital. However, this work also showed differences in community groups. The Filipino community in High River were already well-connected, while participants from the geographical community in High River did not have many previous social ties to one another. This workshop helped to increase social capital; however, the geographical community did not appear to be as interactive and comfortable with each other while participating in activities. Similarly, participants of the workplace community in Edmonton worked in different areas or different buildings and seemed less socially connected. They seemed to have more difficulty identifying and utilizing the skills and resources of other participants. In contrast, a higher proportion of Filipino community members with previous strong social connections identified the workshop as highly effective and interacted more during the activities. Participants of the Filipino community group also championed several spin-off projects, including translating a presentation by local first responders to Tagalog. We concluded that combining social capital with educational training allowed for stronger emergency planning during the workshop as well as more opportunities to continue building momentum for emergency preparedness in their communities.

These workshops identified the importance of tapping into existing social networks to increase the uptake of emergency preparedness activities and strengthen response to and recovery from emergencies. This has implications for pandemic preparedness as fostering positive community relationships is also critical in a public health emergency. Even under public health restrictions, efforts are needed to develop and maintain community connections using social media and other virtual engagement methods. To facilitate communities accessing We’re Ready! during the pandemic, we are adapting the workshop activities and tools to an online environment; for example, virtual breakout rooms will be utilized to simulate the different geographical areas of a real-world simulation exercise. An online train-the-trainer session for We’re Ready! is currently being developed and will be delivered May 27, 2021 through the Tamarack Institute.

For those seeking additional information about the workshop activities and a detailed assessment of the pilot workshops based on the pre- and post-workshop surveys, please read the full article on the effectiveness of community disaster preparedness workshops across different community groups in Alberta, Canada (Bogdan et al., 2021). An open access website ( is available for anyone to conduct a We’re Ready! Workshop with their community to increase their preparedness and resilience to emergencies.


Aldrich, D. (2015) ‘Some communities are destroyed by tragedy and disaster. Others spring back. Here’s what makes the difference’, The Washington Post, December 9. Available at:

Bogdan, E. A., Roszko, A. M., Beckie, M. A., and Conway, A. (2021) ‘We’re ready! Effectiveness of community disaster preparedness workshops across different community groups in Alberta, Canada’, International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, 55, pp. 1-16. Available at:

Cohen, O., Goldberg, A., Lahad,  M., and Aharonson-Daniel, L. (2017) ‘Building resilience: The relationship between information provided by municipal authorities during emergency situations and community resilience’, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 121, pp. 119-125. Available at:

Donahue, A. K. and Tuohy, R. V. (2006) ‘Lessons we don’t learn: A study of the lessons of disasters, why we repeat them and how we can learn them’, Homeland Security Affairs, 2 (2), pp. 1-28. Available at:

Grogg, P. (2015) ‘Community drills part of Cuba’s top-notch disaster response

system’, Inter Press Service News Agency, July 17. Available at:

Ibrahim, D. (2016) ‘Canadians’ experiences with emergencies and disasters, 2014’, Statistics Canada. Available at:

Knowles, M. (1973) The adult learner: A neglected species. Madison, WI: American Society for Training and Development. Available at:

Statistics Canada. (2014). Survey of emergency preparedness and resilience in Canada, 2014. Available at:

Lead Author Biography

Ashley Roszko has a MA in Community Engagement from the University of Alberta; her thesis research focused on urban climate resilience in vulnerable neighbourhoods. Ashley is passionate about environmental issues, inclusive public engagement and collaborating on emergency preparedness projects.