+44 (01347) 821 972 info@the-eps.org

Assistant Chief Officer Rob Davis, of the Avon Fire & Rescue Service, outlines the strides they have taken with local communities and the many advantages it is bringing

Avon Fire and Rescue, in partnership with the third sector, have created a community engagement landscape which is reaching out and working with potentially vulnerable individuals and communities.

In the main, communities know what threatens them and what the solutions are, and in times of crisis they do mobilise and support the vulnerable. Potentially they bounce back stronger and more resilient. Community resilience (CR) is at the heart of the number one stakeholder, namely the public.

The definition of Community Resilience

Risk faced by our communities is an ongoing and changing landscape, and the role of the Fire and Rescue service is to work with and support our most vulnerable to stop the upstream harm that could occur.

The Avon Fire & Rescue Service (AF&RS) Integrated Risk Management Plan 2016-2020 states: ‘Our overriding purpose is to make our communities safer by reducing the risk that exists within the area we serve’.

This is also supported in the new Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Plan 2016-21,which adds: ‘In such a climate, working with our local communities and partners has never been more important. Working together we can be more efficient, resolve problems and reduce vulnerability and risk. This means that we keep your neighbourhoods safe and, where there are victims, support them to cope and recover from their experience.’

Our view on community resilience is a holistic one. Whether a community is large, small, specific, geographic or transient, our view is that crises could be prevented before they become an issue. If this is not possible, communities should be prepared for them , know how to positively react at the time of crisis, and that they can recover and improve, post crisis.

This is owned and driven by the community. Community resilience is not agencies doing it for them – it’s motivated from within the community. What is also evident is the need for statutory agencies to support, assist with training, provide logistic support and so on.

We are proposing a new approach to CR which could attract people and communities that are hard to find and commit to the idea of self-help and resilience during a crisis, however big or small this could be, whether a large scale event such as a wide area flooding, to the single vulnerable person who is at risk from fire, injury, crime and so on.

The present landscape

Community Resilience, as a project and entity can manifest itself in a number of different approaches and can be configured in a number of different ways.

Firstly there is the locality support, where communities will come together in a local geographical sense to provide support to each other and to the most vulnerable in their community.

An example will be flood and snow wardens who have a role within the locality of their community to provide immediate support.

Let’s now look at another, possibly less known approach to CR. This is via a global approach, pan region, pan locality, possibly a more popular approach in urban settings.

This is the role of a volunteer who would like to undertake work in the community in the prevention, response and mitigation phase, but not necessarily be attached to a local geographic community group, or because the community is harder to identify.

This approach allows individuals, without a local groundswell of support, to volunteer their services to help their fellow human beings.

The term ‘community’ conjures up a number of explanations and examples outside the remit of this article, but what seems evident from the research undertaken is that volunteering for ‘locality’ community resilience is in the main more prevalent in the more smaller rural village settings, and could be a struggle to instigate within a more urban setting.

This also includes business communities and business community resilience. This is where a Community Resilience Team (CRT) approach can engage ‘harder to reach’ individuals who would like to volunteer, and be part of a worthwhile cause and at the same time learn new skills, spreading inclusivity and diversity and having a geographic spread of Community Resilience, with the potential for this to germinate and spread the message in our harder to reach communities.

This could also be a conduit for businesses to support and become a part of a Community Resilience Team, improving their resilience to crisis and outwardly supporting the community they are located in.

Community Resilience is not a new concept and has been developed and supported within an international context, especially through disaster risk reduction programmes undertaken by the United Nations and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRCRCS) where true sustainability for reducing community risk, is best tackled by the community with support from statutory agencies, such as the local Fire and Rescue service.

The IFRCRCS World Disaster Report has many examples of community based response and preparation projects that have empowered local communities and increased resilience and tackled vulnerability. The old adage ‘give a hungry community a fish and they eat for a day, teach them to fish and they continue to eat’ is very true in this sense of community resilience.

The model used within AF&RS

AF&RS has invested in and supported a CRT to assist with community engagement and community work. A CRT is a group of volunteers from across the wide geographical and social domain. CRT is made up of

volunteers that may not been linked with a homogenous community group, but who want to volunteer.

With this enthusiasm to volunteer, CRT gives these individuals a platform to work in the heart of the community before, during and after crises and emergencies – the aim being to stop emergencies from happening in the first place.

Search and Rescue Assistance in Disasters (SARAID – www.saraid.org.uk) had approached AF&RS to request support for the implementation of a CRT within the AF&RS area, similar to the approach that has been instigated in Wiltshire through the charity Serve-On (www.serveon.org.uk).

SARAID own and manage the project, with volunteers sought throughout the area. SARAID will train and equip these individuals, with Fire and Rescue providing accommodation at a local fire station, some training and guidance.

Avon and Somerset Constabulary (ASC) have also supported this project. In return AF&RS and ASC will get access to a group of individuals who have been trained and equipped to work in communities pre, during and post emergency.

For example, following a deliberate car fire a CRT could be located in this community for a couple of days to work in the clear-up, but with the overall aim to provide ‘hearts and minds’ assistance to the local affected public, including general clear up, fitting of smoke detectors and home fire/safety/wellness advice, crime prevention advice and providing support to that community for a couple of days.

A common criticism of the emergency services by the public is the fact that post emergency we leave the community to pick up the medium to long term pieces: CRT allows us to hold the hand of that community longer and with more direct support.

  • This is an extract of a full feature in Resilience magazine, the quarterly journal of the EPS. Free subscription to the magazine is one of the benefits of joining the EPS – to join.
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