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date: 21 July 2018

Linking Risk Reduction and Community Resilience

Summary and Keywords

Risk reduction is a policy priority in governments at all levels. Building community resilience is one of the keys to reducing disaster risks. Resilience-focused risk reduction considers the wider social, political, and cultural environments of a community and emphasizes the importance of working with community members. This is in stark contrast to the previous vulnerability-focused risk management that treats disasters as unavoidable natural events and recognizes people as passive or helpless under the unavoidable disasters.

Community resilience is a critical concept in identifying visions and directions for risk reduction strategies. Community resilience has two major qualities: inherent community conditions (inherent resilience) and the community’s adaptive capacity (adaptive resilience). There are at least four components that should be included in risk reduction strategies to enhance both inherent and adaptive community resilience: risk governance, community-based risk reduction policies, non-governmental disaster entrepreneurs, and people-centered risk reduction measures.

Risk governance is required to bridge the gap between national policies and local practices, scientific knowledge of natural hazards and locally accumulated knowledge, and national assistance and local actions. Community-based risk reduction policies should complement national disaster policies to reflect locally specific patterns of hazard, exposure, and resilience that are otherwise ignored in policy design process at the international and national levels. Risk reduction strategies should also encourage emergence of non-governmental entrepreneurs who can contribute to the speed and success of community relief and recovery following a disaster by resolving the immediate needs of the affected communities and transitioning people toward autonomy and self-reliance. Finally, risk reduction strategies should include people-centered policy measures that are designed to change the awareness, attitudes, and behaviors of people so that they are more prepared when facing a disaster.

Keywords: disaster risk reduction, vulnerability, inherent community resilience, adaptive community resilience, risk governance, community-based risk reduction, disaster entrepreneurs, people-centered risk reduction measures


Natural disasters impose significant risks to human lives, economies, and the wellbeing of communities worldwide (Solecki, Leichenko, & O’Brien, 2011). Moreover, climate change has exacerbated the frequency, scale, and magnitude of natural disaster risks over time, presenting a serious global challenge (Cutter, Ash, & Emrich, 2014). In the 20th century, natural disasters have led to cumulative economic losses of roughly seven trillion US dollars and loss of life of more than 8 million people worldwide.1 Risk reduction is a de facto policy priority in governments at all levels (Williams & Shepherd, 2016).

Under the escalating impacts of natural disasters (Cutter et al., 2014), some communities are better able to respond to and recover from the impacts of natural disasters than others. Community resilience reduces the adverse impacts and risk of natural disasters and provides communities with opportunities for improvement in extreme events (Tierney, 2013).

The interaction between the fields of disaster risk reduction and community resilience is receiving more attention (Cutter et al., 2014; Williams & Shepherd, 2016). This connection has fostered discussions about areas of synergy between the two and about how disaster risk reduction policies can incorporate the concept of community resilience (Olwig, 2012; Twigg, 2015). However, only recently have risk reduction policies emphasized community resilience as a core principle. Risk management and reduction policies have evolved over time and emphasized different principles from hazards management to building disaster resilience (McEntire, Fuller, Johnston, & Weber, 2002). The following section defines risk and other related concepts and discusses how risk management and reduction policies have evolved.

Defining Risk

Risk is defined as “the probability of harmful consequences, or expected losses (deaths, injuries, property, livelihoods, economic activity disrupted or environment damaged) resulting from interactions between natural or human-induced hazards and vulnerable conditions” (UNISDR, 2004, p. 16). Natural disasters are devastating high-risk events (Williams & Shepherd, 2016) that result in catastrophic impacts on the physical, social, economic, environmental, cultural, or institutional conditions of communities over a period of time. Their effects are complex and compounding in that they result in long-lasting impacts on society, ecological environments, and technology development, as well as immediate loss of life, property, and other assets (Shahid & Behrawan, 2008).

Risks result from a combination of factors, including the nature of the hazards, the vulnerability of the communities, and their capacity to reduce or cope with potential harms (Shahid & Behrawan, 2008). Among these factors, vulnerability is a particularly critical variable (UNISDR, 2004). Vulnerability closely relates to “pre-event, inherent characteristics or qualities of social systems,” such as physical, social, economic, and environmental factors, that exist prior to natural disasters and increase the potential for harm (Cutter et al., 2008, p. 599). Vulnerability increases “the exposure (who or what is at risk) and sensitivity of system (the degree to which people and places can be harmed)” (Cutter, Barnes, Berry, Burton, Evans, Tate, et al., 2008, p. 599), thereby increasing “the susceptibility of a community to the impact of hazards” (UNISDR, 2004, p. 16). Given the direct relation between vulnerability and disaster risks, vulnerability has been a main interest among policy makers and scholars in developing risk reduction strategies (Cutter et al., 2014; Gaillard, 2010; Twigg, 2015).

Traditional Disaster Policies

Risk reduction efforts have primarily been the “sovereign responsibility of national governments” (Gaillard, 2010, p. 223) in the paradigm of hazard and disaster policies (Alexander, 2002). National governments have traditionally focused on how to coordinate individuals and organizations “to respond to a disaster through clearly defined objectives, a division of labor, a formal structure, and a set of policies and procedures” (Williams & Shepherd, 2016, p. 3). For example, the army or civil protection institutions design disaster policies (e.g., dispatching troops, aid, and resources for rescue, restoration, and reconstruction) and implement them through chains of command and control that should be followed before and after disaster events (Alexander, 2002; Gaillard, 2010). These policies are primarily designed to address the most extreme consequences of hazards and often include military strategies (Gaillard, 2010), as natural disaster risks are treated as enemies in combat (Alexander, 2002).

Traditional disaster policies are often described as comprehensive emergency management (McEntire, Fuller, Johnston, & Weber, 2002), which prescribes different interventions throughout the disaster cycle (Twigg, 2015): prevention and preparedness before, response during, and recovery. Because the comprehensive operational model provides responsible agencies and staff with a clear understanding of how to allocate tasks along the timeline of events, this sequential framework has been widely adopted in emergency management plans by governments worldwide (Gaillard, 2010). However, disaster events “cannot be neatly compartmentalized in this way,” and this linear operation also leads to fragmentation of policy efforts at the operational level (Twigg, 2015, p. 12). Indeed, traditional disaster policies are more likely to focus on response and recovery initiatives after disasters (Cronstedt, 2002; Cutter et al., 2014) than on pre-disaster initiatives such as prevention and preparedness. They also focus on alleviating individual hazard symptoms outside of the broad context of community vulnerability (Twigg, 2015). For these reasons, traditional disaster policies have been described as hazard-focused response management (McEntire et al., 2002).

While traditional disaster policies present certainty and clarity in emergency management, they possess inherent drawbacks (McEntire et al., 2002). The command-and-control style response management is not sufficient to protect communities from disasters (Williams & Shepherd, 2016) and fails to recognize varying community conditions that affect the extent to which communities are harmed by risks. Many scholars have found traditional disaster policies to be ineffective in addressing disaster risks.

By focusing too much on hazards, comprehensive emergency management failed to recognize the many social, political, economic, cultural, and other variables leading to disaster. Comprehensive emergency management’s depiction of the phases of emergency management was likewise simplistic, and the concept was limited somewhat to emergency managers, first responders, and officials in the public sector. As a result, comprehensive emergency management was too reactive and incomplete as a paradigm.

(McEntire et al., 2002, p. 268)

Vulnerability-Focused Risk Management

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, researchers sought a new approach to reducing losses from natural hazards and disasters (Cutter et al., 2008; McEntire et al., 2002). One suggestion was to develop disaster-resistant communities by reducing community vulnerability (McEntire et al., 2002). Vulnerability-focused risk management (also called the disaster-resistant community model) was defined as a “means to assist communities in minimizing their vulnerability to natural hazards by maximizing the application of the principles and techniques of mitigation to their development and/or redevelopment decision-making process” (McEntire et al., 2002, p. 268). This approach emphasized the interactive nature of natural and human systems, the built environment, and the role of human agency in producing hazards and disasters. For example, there has been increasing recognition that unsustainable environmental practices increase community vulnerability (Cutter et al., 2008; McEntire et al., 2002), which in turn makes communities less resistant to disasters.

Vulnerability-focused risk management emphasizes how to resolve the “pre-event, inherent characteristics” (Cutter et al., 2008, p. 599) that make a community susceptible to disaster risks and therefore mitigate “the degree of loss resulting from physical agents” (McEntire et al., 2002, p. 268). This approach usually relies on technocratic and/or technological mitigation measures such as hazard and vulnerability assessment, hazard-based land-use planning and zoning, technology-based warning systems, community outreach to educate and campaign about hazard-based risks, and sustainable building codes and regulations (Gaillard, 2010; McEntire et al., 2002). Because these mitigation measures often resonate with community planning and design, this vulnerability-focused framework not only reduces disaster risks and their consequences, but also contributes to sustainable community development (McEntire et al., 2002).

Despite progress in managing disaster risks, various scholars have raised concerns. One critique of vulnerability-focused risk management is that risks are perceived as unavoidable natural events that need to be managed rather than reduced (Bankoff, 2001; Cronstedt, 2002; McEntire et al., 2002; Mercer, 2010). Given this perception of disaster risks, this approach toward risk management is still reactive. It usually relies on the policy measures that focus on changing physical and engineered conditions to absorb and cope with the adverse impacts of natural disasters, rather than changing the social, economic, cultural, and political conditions that facilitate communities’ ability to adapt (Olwig, 2012).

Similarly, vulnerability-focused risk management has been criticized because it “victimized and disempowered people” (Frerks, 2015, p. 491). Vulnerability was and is still perceived as a social characteristic that is externally attributed to people (Frerks, 2015). Populations living in hazard prone areas may consider themselves less vulnerable when they are better equipped with knowledge, resources, and capacity. Therefore, vulnerability-focused risk management “potentially overlooks the abilities and desires of the local population” (Olwig, 2012, p. 114). This approach considers people to be passive and dependent recipients of external assistance and even helpless victims (Frerks, 2015).

Toward Resilience-Focused Risk Reduction

Countries around the world have witnessed the relentless impacts of natural disasters on societies, economies, and human lives, and the costs of disasters continue to escalate (Comfort, Waugh, & Cigler, 2012). According to Munich Re, there were total 710 natural disasters worldwide in 2017, which is above the last ten-year average of 605 disasters.2 Also noted by Munich Re is that 2017 was also one of the costliest year ever for natural disasters, resulting in economic losses of $330 billion US dollars worldwide—almost double the ten-year average of $170 billion.

Given the staggering impacts of natural hazards, the hazard- and vulnerability-focused risk management approach has been limited in its ability to reduce disaster risks over the last decades. A more progressive and proactive approach to risk reduction is needed (Innocenti & Albrito, 2011). There has been increasing recognition that various actors in a community—government agencies, private businesses, community-based organizations, and even individual community members—can make a difference “by acting before disasters strike to reduce the associated risks of human and economic losses” (Innocenti & Albrito, 2011, p. 730). Given the importance of community members and their capacities, the new approach should incorporate social, economic, political, cultural, and psychological aspects of the community (Olwig, 2012) that pertain to the community’s capacity to adapt and to recover from disasters (McEntire et al., 2002). In other words, the focus of the risk paradigm should shift from minimizing vulnerability to enhancing resilience (Cutter et al., 2008; Innocenti & Albrito, 2011; McEntire et al., 2002; Olwig, 2012; Twigg, 2015; Williams & Shepherd, 2016).

This new approach to addressing disaster risks is called disaster risk reduction (Innocenti & Albrito, 2011). It refers to “the systematic development and application of policies, strategies and practices to minimize vulnerabilities, hazards and the unfolding of disaster impacts throughout a society, in the broad context of sustainable development” (UNISDR, 2004, p. 3). Disaster risk reduction policies consider not only the socioeconomic and ecological nature of disasters but also the wider social, political, and cultural environments in which a hazard is situated (Bankoff, 2001; Mercer, 2010). This is in stark contrast to the previous reactive views of the risk management approach, which treats disasters as unavoidable natural events and focuses on post-disaster treatment rather than pre-disaster management of risk reduction (Bankoff, 2001; Olwig, 2012; Williams & Shepherd, 2016). Unlike vulnerability-focused risk management that relies on technocratic and technological solutions, risk reduction strategies “potentially capture positive factors including local capacity” and emphasize working with the local population to enhance community resilience (Olwig, 2012, p. 114). The risk reduction strategies require better understanding of community resilience. The following sections will discuss the concept of community resilience, different types of community resilience, and how the concept of community resilience is envisioned in risk reduction frameworks.

Community Resilience

Defining Community Resilience

The concept of resilience originated from ecology (e.g., Holling, 1973). Holling (1973) first used the term as a “measure of the persistence of systems and their ability to absorb change and disturbance and still maintain the same relationships between populations or state variables” (p. 14). In the 1990s, the term community resilience became widely used in other disciplines, including natural hazards and risk management, and became a buzzword (Cutter et al., 2014; Gaillard, 2010). Despite the increasing popularity of the concept, there is no broadly accepted single definition of resilience (Cutter et al., 2014), because social scientists still debate its meaning and application (Gaillard, 2010). Resilience, in general, refers to “a capacity to absorb disturbance and re-organize into a fully functioning system. It includes not only a system’s capacity to return to the state (or multiple states) that existed before the disturbance, but also to advance the state through learning and adaptation” (Cutter et al., 2008, pp. 599–600). That is, resilient communities are far less vulnerable to disasters and are able to respond to and recover from disasters more quickly and effectively than less resilient communities (Cutter et al., 2008). Community resilience is a crucial element of reducing disaster risks during all phases of the disaster cycle (Rose, 2004; Tierney, 2013).

Prior to disaster, anticipatory resilience consists of activities that enable communities to assess risks, form communities of interest, exercise foresight, and enact mitigation and preparedness measures to manage risks. When disaster strikes, responsive resilience makes it possible for social and organizational entities to mobilize resources through emergent interpersonal and interorganizational networks, to carry out plans, and to improvise and exercise creativity in instances where plans fall short. After a disaster, adaptive resilience enables social units to reassess their circumstances, learn from their disaster experiences, and adjust their strategies in light of the ‘new normal’ ushered in by disaster.

(Tierney, 2013, p. xiv)

Inherent and Adaptive Community Resilience

While community resilience is a multidimensional concept, it has two major qualities (Cutter et al., 2014; Rose, 2004; Williams & Shepherd, 2016): inherent community conditions, or inherent resilience; and the community’s adaptive capacity, or adaptive resilience.

Inherent resilience refers to the characteristics or qualities that “a community possesses prior to a hazard that enhance its ability to mitigate threats and function positively in the aftermath of a natural disaster” (Williams & Shepherd, 2016, p. 5). Inherent community resilience includes a broad set of community properties: institutional infrastructure (Cutter et al., 2014), social capital (Drennan, McGowan, & Tiernan, 2016; Mayunga, 2007; Norris et al., 2008), community competence (Cutter et al., 2014; Drennan, McGowan, & Tiernan, 2016), and information and communication networks (Norris, Stevens, Pfefferbaum, Wyche, & Pfefferbaum, 2008). Because these characteristics closely relate to the day-to-day activities of community members, building more resilient conditions is crucial for communities “to prepare for, respond to, recover from, and mitigate environmental hazard events” (Cutter et al., 2014, p. 66).

The other major quality of community resilience is adaptive resilience, meaning “the ability to adapt” (Manyena, 2006, p. 437) to crisis situations. The concept of adaptation has become more important as climate change has challenged researchers and policy makers to predict and prepare for natural disasters (Gaillard, 2010). Adaptation is “the adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities” (UNISDR, 2009, p. 4). Adaptation is thus a proactive concept; it includes not only environmentally induced response to natural hazards but also “the active exploitation of new opportunities” (Olwig, 2012, p. 112). Adaptation can involve innovation by a community that requires “a new idea, method, or device” to acquire, organize, and allocate resources and capacities for addressing risks (Olwig, 2012, p. 112).

Adaptive resilience is thus related to “the adaptive processes that facilitate the ability of the social system to re-organize, change, and learn in response to a threat” (Cutter et al., 2008, p. 599). For example, the adaptive process may involve retaining material and non-material (e.g., cognitive, emotional, and relational) resources to deal with adverse impacts of a disaster (Williams & Shepherd, 2016). It is also related to how best to support individual residents’ behaviors and activities that collectively help the community return to or even improve its pre-disaster social, economic, and environmental conditions (Kapucu, Hawkins, & Rivera, 2013). Adaptive community resilience therefore involves a proactive process of learning and reorganizing in light of potential future changes in hazards and vulnerability (Birkmann et al., 2013). While adaptive community resilience is linked to the inherent community characteristics that help to maintain positive functioning of the system under stress, it also implies processes, actions, and changes that profoundly affect the community (Birkmann et al., 2013; Shahid & Behrawan, 2008).

Increasing concern about natural disasters and consequent harm to society has prompted policy makers and scholars to develop effective risk reduction strategies. New risk reduction strategies should recognize that people affected by disaster are “not passive victims but capable agents” and should focus on improving communities’ ability to adapt to adverse harms of natural hazards (Olwig, 2012, p. 112). In response, international organizations have prepared disaster risk reduction strategies that aim to build community resilience and emphasize local stakeholders.

Community Resilience in International Risk Reduction Frameworks

The term community resilience was first embodied in the international framework of risk reduction, the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA), in the United Nations Second World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in 2005 (van Der Vegt, Essens, Wahlström, & George, 2015). In the global conference, 168 member states of the United Nations adopted a ten-year strategy (2005 to 2015) to build community resilience to disasters and thereby reduce disaster risks to lives and to the social, economic, and environmental assets of communities (Twigg, 2015). It was a historically remarkable step toward establishing key risk reduction strategies.

The Hyogo Framework set out a pathway to resilient communities by (a) integrating disaster prevention, mitigation, preparedness, and vulnerability reduction perspectives into sustainable development policies; (b) developing and strengthening institutions, mechanisms, and capacities for building hazard resilience; and (c) incorporating a risk reduction approach into the implementation of emergency preparedness, response, recovery, and reconstruction programs in affected communities (Twigg, 2015, p. 11). The framework also grouped key activities under five priorities for action (UNISDR, 2005):

  1. 1. Ensure that disaster risk reduction is a national and a local priority with a strong institutional basis for implementation.

  2. 2. Identify, assess, and monitor disaster risks and enhance early warning.

  3. 3. Use knowledge, innovation, and education to build a culture of safety and resilience at all levels.

  4. 4. Reduce the underlying risk factors.

  5. 5. Strengthen disaster preparedness for effective response at all levels.

Although national governments are, first and foremost, responsible for taking actions to implement the Hyogo risk reduction strategies, because disaster risk reduction is everyone’s business, the Hyogo framework emphasizes contributions and coordination among a variety of stakeholders (Innocenti & Albrito, 2011). Risk reduction policies that share the Hyogo Framework’s recognition of how human actions can reduce the risk of disasters have highlighted the roles and responsibilities of businesses, NGOs, academia, community-based organizations, and all individual community members, as well as governments, in enhancing the resilience of their communities (van Der Vegt et al., 2015).

A decade later, in 2015, 187 member states of the United Nations followed up the risk reduction action plan in the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan. These countries adopted the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030 (Twigg, 2015; van der Vegt et al., 2015). Updating the Hyogo framework, the Sendai framework identified four priority areas (UNISDR, 2015):

  1. 1. Understanding disaster risk: Disaster risk management needs to be based on an understanding of disaster risk in all its dimensions of vulnerability, capacity, exposure of persons and assets, hazard characteristics, and the environment.

  2. 2. Strengthening disaster risk governance: Disaster risk governance at the national, regional, and global levels is vital to the management of disaster risk reduction in all sectors and ensuring the coherence of national and local frameworks of laws, regulations, and public policies. Disaster risk reduction policies that are developed and implemented via risk governance guide, encourage, and incentivize the public and private sectors to take action and address disaster risk by defining roles and responsibilities.

  3. 3. Investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience: Public and private investment in disaster risk prevention and reduction through structural and nonstructural measures are essential to enhance the economic, social, health, and cultural resilience of persons, communities, countries, and their assets, as well as the environment. These can be drivers of innovation, growth, and job creation.

  4. 4. Enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response and to “Build Back Better” in recovery, rehabilitation, and reconstruction: Experience indicates that disaster preparedness needs to be strengthened for more effective response and ensure capacities are in place for effective recovery. Disasters have also demonstrated that the recovery, rehabilitation, and reconstruction phase, which needs to be prepared ahead of the disaster, is an opportunity to “Build Back Better” through integrating disaster risk reduction measures.

With its emphasis on community resilience in risk reduction, the Sendai framework is proactively open to innovation by communities and emphasizes improvement during the disaster recovery and reconstruction phases, rather than simply returning to pre-disaster conditions.

Risk Reduction and Community Resilience

Community resilience is a critical concept for identifying visions and directions of disaster risk reduction strategies (Twigg, 2015). Drawing from previous literature and the international frameworks for risk reduction, four components have been identified that should be included in risk reduction strategies to enhance community resilience: risk governance, community-based risk reduction policies, nongovernmental disaster entrepreneurs, and people-centered risk reduction measures.

Risk Governance

The risk governance approach is crucial (Carabine & Wilkinson, 2016; Kapucu et al., 2013; Twigg, 2015). No single government can address disaster risks that are increasingly overwhelming in terms of scale, frequency, and complexity (Twigg, 2015). Risk reduction strategies require the knowledge, resources, and skills of multiple stakeholders in collaborative relationships. That is, risk reduction strategies should engage the whole community (Kapucu & Sadiq, 2016) in risk governance rather than relying solely on the government (Twigg, 2015).

Risk governance refers to the institutional arrangements and policy processes that shape risk reduction and management (Carabine & Wilkinson, 2016). Risk governance allows multiple actors to collectively set policy priorities, acquire and allocate resources, and facilitate participation and collaboration among stakeholders (Carabine & Wilkinson, 2016; Twigg, 2015). Compared with a government-centered approach, risk governance is more flexible and structured around partnerships and networks between organizations and individuals (Kapucu et al., 2013; Twigg, 2015). Carabine and Wilkinson (2016) emphasizes that risk governance is essential for reducing disaster risks, particularly in developing countries, because it links “governance actors and access to the services needed to build resilient outcomes” (p. 62). Risk governance may perform well if it is designed with characteristics such as diversity, polycentricism and connectivity, decentralization and flexibility, participation and community engagement, and learning and innovation (Carabine & Wilkinson, 2016).

Effective risk governance should be cross-sector, having “public and private sectors with civil society [. . .] jointly address issues of relevance to society” (van der Vegt et al., 2015, p. 13). Organizations from different sectors have different capacities for and interests in risk reduction policies; therefore, their efforts can complement one another. For example, proactive risk reduction strategies often involve an interdisciplinary project that requires a huge investment in prevention and mitigation measures (UNISDR, 2015). Governments have the capacity to direct participants in coordinated activities, but sometimes, particularly in developing countries (Carabine & Wilkinson, 2016), they lack access to necessary resources. In contrast, private businesses possess advanced technologies and resources, but may lack the commitment to invest in a long-term risk reduction project. Similarly, nonprofit organizations are capable of mobilizing public awareness and support for a project by working directly with individuals (McEntire et al., 2002), but they may lack organizational resources and capacity. Risk reduction policies can be more effectively designed and implemented when these organizations from different sectors make collective efforts within a risk governance setting. A crucial element in cross-sector collaboration is to establish agreement between participants to make collective efforts toward building resilience (Twigg, 2015).

In addition, risk governance should be multi-level, engaging actors from the local, national, and even international levels (Hunt, 2016). Multi-level governance is required to bridge the gaps faced by communities in implementing risk reduction policies (Pahl-Wostl, 2009) and to bring a broader context to community efforts. More specifically, participants from multiple levels bridge the gaps between international or national policies and local practices, scientific knowledge of natural hazards and locally accumulated knowledge, and international or national assistance and local actions (Gaillard, 2010). Engaging governments at all levels is particularly important because of their shared responsibilities for developing and implementing risk reduction policies (Comfort et al., 2012). Therefore, risk governance should involve “the continuing strain of balancing” the responsibility of national governments with community-level demands, while coordinating widely varying levels of resources, training, and experience among governments (Comfort et al., 2012, p. 546).

One of the key issues in risk governance is how the different actors should coordinate and collaborate (Comfort et al., 2012; Twigg, 2015). The actors (i.e., disaster experts, scientists, government policy makers, NGOs, etc.) are often characterized by “fragmentation along disciplinary and institutional boundaries, a lack of understanding and mutual respect between different disciplines, insufficient dialogue between different actors, a culture of competitiveness and professional jealousy for funds, and greater readiness to talk than to listen” (Twigg, 2015, p. 68). Collaboration with different stakeholders is not a simple or straightforward task. Rather, it requires “a great deal of time, negotiation, sustained effort, transparency, trust, commitment and institutional support” (Twigg, 2015, p. 68). Therefore, preparing agreements or guidelines for collective action in developing and implementing risk reduction policies may be necessary for managing risk governance (Hunt, 2016). The roles of governments become important as well, in that they are in a position to facilitate and coordinate the work of others across different disciplines, sectors, and levels (Twigg, 2015). The amount of effort and control exerted by the government versus by other actors in risk governance is still a debatable issue (van der Vegt et al., 2015, p. 17).

Community-Based Risk Reduction Policies

Community-based risk reduction policies should complement national risk reduction policies (Maskrey, 2011). Local communities are nearly always first responders in dealing with the adverse impacts of disasters. From their own experiences, they have often gained significant capacities for dealing with disasters, which can be important in developing and implementing risk reduction policies (Cutter et al., 2014). While national risk reduction strategy can address disaster consequences in a comprehensive and coordinated manner, the universal approach may fail to reduce risks effectively without significant input from local communities (Mercer, 2010). Indeed, disaster risks show heterogeneous patters across local communities even when they confront a nationwide natural hazard, partly because of their varying policy efforts in reducing risks (Carabine & Wilkinson, 2016) and building community capital (Kapucu et al., 2013).

Some communities develop risk reduction policies on their own that perform well in their unique local contexts (Maskrey, 2011). Among many relevant actors, local governments and community-based organizations can play a crucial role in developing community-level risk reduction policies by gathering information, mobilizing resources, and providing leadership (Carabine & Wilkinson, 2016). In some areas, local governments are in a better position to develop risk reduction policies because of greater access to the resources and local know-how that are otherwise ignored in national and international policy making (Maskrey, 2011). For example, La Masica, a municipality in Honduras, developed a locally managed early warning system that effectively sent out warning notices to community members. The local effort significantly contributed to reducing risks from the massive Hurricane Mitch in 1998; La Masica had no mortalities, whereas the national death toll was nearly 7,000 (Maskrey, 2011). While disaster risk is influenced by broader national and global factors, ultimately it is configured at the community level (Maskrey, 2011). Local actors are able to “configure locally specific patterns of hazard, exposure, vulnerability, and resilience” by leveraging their natural resources, infrastructures, and other local assets and capacities (Maskrey, 2011, p. 49) and therefore developing effective community-based risk reduction policies.

In addition, community-based risk reduction is integral to developing community capital that includes social, human, economic, environmental, and political capital (Drennan et al., 2016; Kapucu et al., 2013; Maskrey, 2011). Communities with higher levels of community capital are not only more capable of mobilizing needed resources for risk reduction but also more willing to take collective action (Kapucu et al., 2013; Kapucu & Sadiq, 2016; Maskrey, 2011). For instance, a community with high social capital, in which members are closely connected to each other, can quickly communicate important information within the community during a disaster, thereby reducing disaster risks (Kapucu et al., 2013). Community capital can be enhanced by community-based policies designed to build trust among community members, educate people about their roles, and provide a set of guidelines to follow in cases of natural disasters (Hunt, 2016). Community capital can also be built through frequent interactions and learning processes among local people (Kapucu et al., 2013) during decision making about community-based policies (Maskrey, 2011). Improved community capital, in turn, enhances the acceptability and sustainability of community-based risk reduction policies (Maskrey, 2011) because community-based policies incorporate local contexts and demands into policy design through community participation. This is particularly important given the fact that risk reduction policies often fail in the implementation phase despite expected community benefits, mainly because of rejection or abandonment by community members (Maskrey, 2011).

Despite potential benefits of community-based risk reduction, in practice, many risk reduction policies are designed universally by national governments and implemented by local governments at the community level (Maskrey, 2011; Twigg, 2015; UNISDR, 2009). Local governments’ mere participation in policy implementation is different from community-based risk reduction in that local actors, in particular local governments, rarely achieve ownership of nationally designed policies and implementation processes (UNISDR, 2009). Due to a lack of ownership, when national projects end, risk reduction efforts are less likely to be sustained at the community level (Maskrey, 2011). For example, local governments are less likely to commit fully to maintaining and repairing infrastructure (e.g., storm drainage or slope stabilization) that was built and funded by the national government if they feel a lack of ownership and involvement in planning the national project (Maskrey, 2011).

Decentralization may facilitate shared responsibilities between national, regional, and local levels of governments and give local governments a greater sense of ownership (Twigg, 2015). Decentralization distributes more ability, resources, and autonomy to local governments and enables them to play a more active role in resolving disaster risks (Maskrey, 2011). Equipped with greater autonomy and resources, local agencies are more likely to meet their communities’ needs from a closer distance and thereby become more accountable (Twigg, 2015). Of course, it is important to note that many risk reduction policies, especially those that require huge investment, cannot be implemented solely by local governments or community members (Maskrey, 2011), hence the importance of multi-level risk governance. Partnerships with national and international organizations “permit scaling-up of initiatives to go beyond individual communities and localities to address problems that affect wider areas, such as watersheds and coastlines” (Twigg, 2015, p. 44), as well as ensure the sustainability of projects (Maskrey, 2011). Therefore, the success of community-based risk reduction policies depends on both progressive community engagement and partnerships with and support from national and international organizations (Maskrey, 2011).

Non-Governmental Entrepreneurs

Non-governmental entrepreneurs have important roles in disaster risk reduction and should be recognized and encouraged (Linnenluecke & McKnight, 2017; McManus, Seville, Vargo, & Brunsdon, 2008; van der Vegt et al., 2015). Non-governmental entrepreneurs are private actors or organizations “that perform the roles during disasters that are not usually expected of them” (Linnenluecke & McKnight, 2017, p. 166). These entrepreneurs often emerge “in the shadow of designated relief organizations” during and after natural disasters and help with their community’s relief and recovery (Williams & Shepherd, 2016, p. 2069). In conjunction with governments’ role in risk reduction, non-governmental entrepreneurs can directly and indirectly contribute to community resilience (Linnenluecke & McKnight, 2017; McManus et al., 2008; van der Vegt et al., 2015).

Non-governmental entrepreneurs contribute to the speed and success of community relief and recovery following a disaster (McManus et al., 2008; van der Vegt et al., 2015). Non-governmental community actors, in particular private organizations, play an important role in delivering essential services on which community members rely for survival and daily life, such as electrical power, water, food, and communications systems. For example, large retailers, such as Walmart and Home Depot, usually serve as first responders to disasters in their communities (Linnenluecke & McKnight, 2017) by providing basic survival products. They can also scale up their assistance, meeting community demands that are not immediately addressed by designated relief organizations alone (Linnenluecke & McKnight, 2017) by using their manufacturing and transportation networks outside the community. In other cases, local nonprofit organizations, such as churches and homeless shelters, provide temporary shelters as urgent needs arise (Linnenluecke & McKnight, 2017).

Some non-governmental entrepreneurs directly contribute to community resilience on their own because they tend to be more resilient than other organizations (van der Vegt et al., 2015). Like communities, some organizations are more resilient to disaster than others. They successfully adjust to and even thrive after a disaster while others fail to do so (van der Vegt et al., 2015). These resilient organizations resume their normal functioning quickly, enabling community members to return to their jobs and normal life (McManus et al., 2008). Moreover, more resilient organizations directly reduce economic and social risks (van der Vegt et al., 2015) as they quickly resume their economic activities and social services.

Non-governmental entrepreneurs also form a nexus between individuals and their communities (McManus et al., 2008; van der Vegt et al., 2015) during and after disasters. They create networks of community members within the disaster zone to alleviate suffering and even help people become more autonomous and self-reliant (Williams & Shepherd, 2016). For example, in their case study of the recovery process in Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010, Williams and Shepherd (2016) found that groups of people were organized based on resources and assistance from local churches. These groups of people were described as “transforming ventures” in that they not only alleviated suffering of people affected by disasters, but also transitioned them “toward autonomy and self-reliance” by conducting long-term projects to address the fundamental cause of their vulnerability to disasters (e.g., poverty) through education, employment, and empowerment (p. 20). Their entrepreneurial activities were crucial in building better community conditions after the earthquake.

People-Centered Approach to Risk Reduction

Risk reduction policies should include people-centered policy measures (Drennan et al., 2016; Kapucu et al., 2013; Twigg, 2015) in addition to infrastructure-focused measures. A variety of policy measures are employed for disaster risk reduction. Some policy measures are more likely to focus on changing awareness, attitudes, and behaviors of people, whereas other measures focus more on engineered structures (Drennan et al., 2016; Twigg, 2015).

In the hazards arena, “engineering resilience” has been an essential component of risk reduction, such as the “robustness, redundancy, resourcefulness, and rapidity” of infrastructure (Cutter et al., 2008, p. 601). Given the importance of engineering resilience, risk reduction policies have employed technocratic, structural measures such as building physical infrastructure (e.g., embankments, flood shelters), adopting disaster-resistant housing and building codes, and investing in alternative technologies (Drennan et al., 2016; Kapucu & Sadiq, 2016). The structure-oriented approach has dominated discussion about how to design disaster risk reduction policies for greater resilience (Drennan et al., 2016).

Effective disaster risk reduction policies should incorporate the importance of people in the context of social, cultural, and institutional aspects of community resilience (Cutter et al., 2008; Cutter et al., 2014; Gaillard, 2010; Kapucu & Sadiq, 2016). Risk reduction policies should consider the “adaptive process between the experiences of disaster-affected communities, their evolving vision for their future, and their ability to translate this vision into reality” (Drennan et al., 2016, p. 83). On the household and community levels, people have long engaged in “spontaneous adaptation as part of their day-to-day struggle for social and economic well-being” (Maskrey, 2011, p. 43). People can do much to improve their own preparedness and adaptation capacities through non-structural, people-centered policy measures (Maskrey, 2011). Thus, investing in people-centered risk reduction measures (Drennan et al., 2016) enhances adaptive community resilience (Cutter et al., 2014; Gaillard, 2010; Kapucu et al., 2013). Non-structural mitigation measures, such as community outreach to raise awareness of disaster risks, promotion of desired practices during and/or after disasters, and distribution of emergency contact information, are usually designed to give people awareness, attitude, and skills for facing a disaster (Twigg, 2015, p. 361; UNISDR, 2015). Therefore, more effective risk reduction policies should incorporate not only structural measures for engineering resilience but also non-structural measures to improve people’s capacities to prepare for and adapt to disasters (Kapucu & Sadiq, 2016).

Research Gaps

Climate-related natural hazards (e.g., hurricanes, floods, droughts, etc.) are global phenomena with potential for severe consequences: destroyed homes, economic losses, and loss of life. Policy makers and the public alike recognize the importance of building community resilience to disaster risks. The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) prepared the Hyogo and Sendai frameworks to guide governments in developing risk reduction strategies that include community resilience. With the adoption of these international policy guidelines, national governments worldwide have developed and implemented a diverse set of policy measures to curb risk and build community resilience.

Scholars have also made significant progress toward understanding community resilience in relation to risk reduction. Despite this progress, research in this area leaves much to be desired.

First, future research must address how risk reduction policies are implemented at the community level. While a diverse set of risk reduction policies have been identified (e.g., Solecki et al., 2011; Twigg, 2015; UNISDR, 2005, 2015), we have very limited knowledge about the implementation of risk reduction policies at the community level. Researchers must conduct a comprehensive assessment of risk reduction policies at the local level to identify varying degrees of policy efforts among local governments. Local governments’ risk reduction policies may vary significantly in terms of how many programs are being implemented, how programs address the components of community resilience, and the effectiveness of various types of policy measures (e.g., structural and non-structural). For example, some local governments may develop policies that are mainly designed for short-term projects of building coastal infrastructure to address their immediate concerns. Other local governments, taking a long-term perspective, may actively develop and implement a broad array of policies, from hazard-based land-use planning to community education. Important implications are likely to arise from a systematic assessment of risk reduction efforts in place at the local level, as these efforts may be closely related to variations in community resilience outcomes.

Second, future research should answer the question of why some communities are able to adjust to adverse impacts of natural disasters and even bounce forward afterward, while others fail to do so (van der Vegt et al., 2015; Williams & Shepherd, 2016). A few studies have explored components that lead to more successful community adaptation, such as disaster entrepreneurs (Linnenluecke & McKnight, 2017), adaptive governance (e.g., Kapucu et al., 2013), community networks (Norris et al., 2008), and community-led renewal planning (Drennan et al, 2016). However, there is more to learn about the adaptation process by which certain communities acquire, reorganize, and utilize resources for community recovery and renewal during and after disasters (Williams & Shepherd, 2016). How is risk governance created in the aftermath of a disaster to help the community recover? How do the adaptation and recovery processes operate in the uncertain environment created by a disaster? How have disaster entrepreneurs emerged and taken leadership roles in coordinating relief and recovery efforts? Addressing these issues may shed light on how specific activities or strategies help some communities adapt to disasters.

Third, the development of empirical measures for community resilience remains a significant challenge (Cutter et al., 2014; van der Vegt et al., 2015). While a few studies have identified empirical measures of community resilience (e.g., Cutter et al., 2014; Norris et al., 2008), they have usually focused on static snapshots of community conditions in an effort to measure inherent community resilience. For example, Cutter and her colleagues developed a comprehensive set of community characteristic indicators to measure inherent community resilience. The indicators reflect various types of resilience, including social resilience (e.g., educational attainment), economic resilience (e.g., the Gini coefficient), community capital (e.g., civic organization per capita), institutional resilience (e.g., government spending for mitigation projects), housing and infrastructure resilience (e.g., housing units that are not manufactured homes), and environmental resilience (e.g., land in wetlands) (Cutter et al., 2014). Of course, identifying empirical measures of inherent community resilience helps scholars systematically compare varying levels of community resilience across localities and track changes over time. However, what is missing from previous literature is the development of empirical measures for adaptive resilience, which are necessary to understand whole picture of community resilience. A community with poor adaptive resilience may be less successful in recovering from a disaster than neighboring communities despite its much higher level of inherent community resilience. The lack of empirical measures for adaptive community resilience may prevent scholars from understanding which communities will be most resilient when confronting disasters and how to design risk reduction policies that enhance the overall level of community resilience over time.

Finally, future research must include empirical analysis of the relationship between risk reduction policies and community resilience. There has been a dearth of research empirically analyzing the extent to which risk reduction efforts in a community relate to community resilience outcomes (e.g., improved community conditions, reduced time to recover, reduced consequences following a disaster) (Berke, Smith, & Lyles, 2012; Cutter, Burton, & Emrich, 2010). This is problematic because empirical evidence is essential for policy makers to design risk reduction policies that benefit communities. Future research could compare multiple policy measures across multiple cases to determine whether certain measures are more effective in particular communities or circumstances. Researchers frequently acknowledge the importance of longitudinal data in this area to examine causal relationships between policy measures and actual performance outcomes (Berke et al., 2012; Cutter et al., 2014). Longitudinal data of community resilience outcomes can be difficult to collect. However, program evaluations based on actual resilience outcomes will make a significant contribution to evidence-based policy and research in the field of disaster management.


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