Whole Community Planning

It’s easy to find checklists and guides on how to build a personal emergency preparedness kit (visit Ready.gov, for starters), but it’s not quite as clear what individuals can do after their disaster kit is assembled. Many questions remain unanswered, like “how can I connect to others in my community during a disaster,” “what will other groups be doing during disaster recovery,” and “how can I get involved and contribute during disaster response?”

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Take a closer look at steps you can take to ensure personal preparedness, and the line becomes blurred between personal and communal preparedness. What one person packs in their disaster kit may directly impact others in their household, as well as their neighbors. We all live and function in the context of the environment around us, so why would we plan for emergencies in a vacuum? Personal preparedness planning becomes more effective and holistic as it grows to include the bigger picture of “whole community planning.” But what exactly is whole community planning?

If you’ve ever been to a potluck, you have whole community planning experience.

Every potluck has a coordinator: a contact person who facilitates and sometimes makes special requests or delegates tasks and responsibilities. This person uses what they know about what is needed for the event and what exists in their community. In whole community emergency management planning, this contact person is your emergency manager.

“Whole community” planning means not asking the baker to bring steak to the potluck.

Everyone in the community is invited and many people attend. Potluck attendees understand what they will contribute and receive from others. Each guest evaluates their abilities and resources: their availability to attend, the ingredients they have or can acquire, the skills and time they have to prepare a dish, what they are good at or enjoy making, and the additional equipment or supplies that they can bring along. Each guest understands the importance of sharing this information in advance, so that there are enough resources (chairs, plates, cups, and a variety of food items to eat). When you attend a potluck, you bring your needs (the desire to eat and socialize) as well as your skills, resources and assets (equipment, food and time).

The same thing happens in a whole community approach to emergency management planning: Community members evaluate what works well in their communities on a daily basis, assess their needs and resources, and commit to being part of a collaborative and inclusive activity.

You’re invited to the potluck:

As you conduct your personal preparedness planning use “whole community” thinking.

  • Your needs may be similar to the needs of another community member.
  • Your resources may be essential to another community member. The neighbor with the accessible vehicle may be able to help evacuate more people than just themselves. The durable medical equipment from an adult day program would be very useful to people who were evacuated to a shelter. One person’s cultural and linguistic knowledge and the translation dictionary they packed in their preparedness kit may help a first responder communicate with someone who doesn’t speak English. The generators typically used by an outdoor adventure business could support the needs of many community members. The children’s books packed by a prepared mother may help a classroom of children evacuated to a shelter.

We all contribute to the “potluck,” and we must conduct emergency preparedness the same way. Whole communities are prepared when the whole community participates.


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