By Rebecca Sanborn Stone, Resilient Vermont Network Coordinator and Principal at Community Workshop LLC
Vermonters know all too well what disaster looks like. Whether our communities are hit by summer microbursts, paralyzed by winter ice or flooded by rising spring rivers, the results are often the same. Towns must cope with immediate threats, assess damage and clean up the mess, coordinate volunteers, and finally rebuild their roads, their buildings and their spirits. Some of Vermont’s communities come together and handle these challenges well while others struggle and squabble. It turns out there’s an important way to predict how your community will fare.
Communities that respond well in disasters have prepared and built strong social capital long before the disaster strikes. Neighbors know and look out for each other. Town leaders from different areas – emergency services, conservation, local government, social services – trust each other and communicate. People are informed and take responsibility for their own safety and well-being. They understand likely hazards, prepare for emergencies, and have networks of volunteers and resources at the ready. And they have fun, coming together for celebrations and street dances, potlucks and parades.
Social capital and preparedness are usually decades in the making, but a new Vermont pilot program, Community Resilience Organizations (CROs), is helping communities build them up. Launched in 2015, CROs helps participating towns form a diverse local team with people who are knowledgeable about all the areas important to resilience: first responders, watershed groups, social services and more. The CROs program developed a new community resilience assessment survey tool that helps teams understand the many different components of resilience, identify how their town currently measures up, and prioritize areas to improve. Teams then come together at an annual retreat to learn about creative resilience projects and strategies and plan tangible projects that will help them prepare for hazards, inform and involve the community, and build social capital. And they stay connected, sharing solutions and ideas with the other participating teams.
CROs launched in six Vermont towns in 2015: Hartford, Jeffersonville, Londonderry, Putney, Richmond and Waterbury. The projects and teams popping up in these towns are just as diverse as the towns themselves.
- In Londonderry, town leaders had trouble identifying enough volunteers to create a team. But after advertising the CROs program, new volunteers stepped up to work on resilience. The team is now working on an inventory of local needs and assets, so that the community will know who needs help – and who can offer it – in the case of an emergency.
- In Hartford, team members started by putting “idea boards” around the community with questions and prompts, making resilience part of day to day conversation.
- In Waterbury, a flood working group has been actively working on long-term recovery efforts since Tropical Storm Irene struck in 2011. As a CROs team, they’re helping to focus additional efforts on community outreach and education, creating an informational app and flood resilience stories.
- In Richmond, leaders are connecting the dots between a new community vision and Town Plan, local hazard mitigation plan, and the CROs program. They hosted a chili & pie cook-off, resilience fair and role-playing game to help people build relationships and understand how resilience impacts their lives.
Looking ahead to its second year, CROs will continue to support these teams as they develop and complete projects on the ground, but also to welcome new teams to the nest. In addition to staff support, CROs has commitments from nearly two dozen state agencies, non-profits and organizations that can help provide resources to communities on the ground.
Could your community use help energizing volunteers, building relationships, or prioritizing and completing resilience projects? Get CRO’ing!