About this episode:
In this episode, hosts Jessica Beckendorf and Bob Bertsch collaborate with Danielle Swallow and Chris Petrone of Sea Grant Delaware to explore community resilience in the face of hazards and disasters. Danielle and Chris have been integrating resilience into their work with Sea Grant Delaware for several years. They share their thoughts on community resilience, stories of peole coming together to address the impacts of disasters, and tips for how to start building your individual, family, and community resilience.
Special thanks to Nathan Grimm, who composed all of the music for the podcast; Kalin Goble, who recorded the episode introduction; Sara Croymans, for her help with MFLN promo and our podcast website; and Hannah Hyde and Terry Meisenbach for all their help with marketing.
You can stay in touch with us and connect with our Practicing Connection community by subscribing to our email list. Subscribe now.
- Get prepared for disaster with ready.gov
- Sign up for the Military Family Readiness Academy
- Watch Dr. Michael Ungar’s webinar on how community can affect individual resilience
- Learn more about the Create Community for Coordination for COVID organization that Danielle is involved in
Kalin Goble: Welcome to Practicing Connection in a Complex World, a podcast exploring the personal stories and collective practices that empower us to work together to help each other, our families, and our communities improve our resilience and readiness in a rapidly changing world.
Bob: Hi, I’m Bob Bertsch.My co-host Jessica Beckendorf will join us in just few minutes, as well as our collaborators for this episode, Danielle Swallow and Chris Petrone from Delaware Sea Grant. Danielle and Chris have been doing some great work reaching out to communities to help them prepare for and build resilience to the many hazards and disasters we all face. What you’re about to hear is an exploration of the intersections between Danielle and Chris’s work on disaster preparedness and resilience and the work Jessica and I do on practicing connection, starting with Danielle and I exploring the meaning of community resilience.
Segment 1: What is Community Resilience?
Bob: So this idea of community resilience is interesting to me really the idea that…not just that we could be resilient as individuals, but that together we have some capacity for being resilient as a community, or in community with each other. And it seems to have a lot of connections to, you know, not just our individual community or, uh, resilience as people in the community, but also, you know, our resilience as the community itself, socially and politically, even ecologically. So I’m really interested in this, Danielle, in the context of your work, of how you think of community resilience, you know, when we talk about disaster response and disaster preparedness.
Danielle Swallow: I really think of community resilience as being very anticipatory, and really thinking about, not just the present day conditions, but about what kind of conditions will they be experiencing in the future. That might mean a change in weather patterns or climate change. It could be even demographic changes in the community. And when we can understand how the future might look, we can better prepare ourselves, um, and typically if we are thinking about climate change and weather it might mean certain disruptive events or changes that couldn’t be easily absorbed by everyone. We can take steps now to better adapt and mitigate, so that we can weather those changes and bounce back more quickly. You know in a lot of ways resiliency is about bouncing back.
Bob: That sense of adaptation, whatever we want to call it, maybe flexibility, or just being…being comfortable or prepared for change, is that…I think there’s a lot of different ways to look at it. Like, what do you think the capacities are of a community? Like how do we, how would we describe a community that had that capacity or that was resilient.
Danielle Swallow: It really varies, but you know we all practice adaptations on a daily basis. You know, we…we look at the weather report or we look at the sky and we see what kind of weather we might be having and we bring an umbrella, for example. But then there’s other types of situations that we have to prepare for. Maybe there’s larger types of adaptations that are needed; new roads, new infrastructure as the community grows. Um, maybe it’s modernizing our stormwater infrastructure because we’re anticipating more rainfall. There’s really just a scale of adaptations that are important to communities, and understanding how changes impact a community as a whole is important, but it’s also important to understand how it impacts individuals in segments of the population. Some parts of the population may be more sensitive to certain impacts than others, and so adaptation needs to be bright up in a very comprehensive way.
Bob: Yeah, I’m glad you brought up individuals. You know, I keep…keep thinking a little bit about Dr. Michael Unger’s definition of…of individual resilience, about this capacity to be able to navigate to and negotiate for resources on an individual level, and I think there’s some work, I want to say it’s McConnell and colleagues, who talked about what community resilience really is, is a community’s capacity for making sure that individuals can navigate to and negotiate for the resources that they need to be individually resilient. Like, everybody can do that, right? Everybody can get the resources that they need, then we have a resilient community. So, um, like I said, I’m glad you brought the people in the equation because it’s easy to think about, well maybe it’s not easy, but often we think about, sort of, the built capital of a…of a community and maybe don’t pay attention as much to how we would be resilient in terms of the human or social capital.
Danielle Swallow: Yeah, just think about what we’re living through right now with COVID-19. And in terms of individuals, all of us have been in the situation of having to find PPE, you know the protective equipment, the masks. We’ve all had to be, kind of, industrious and…and scrappy trying to find masks in those early days. Or I think of Clorox wipes or, you know your other cleaning supplies, um..or just like broadband that affects some individuals more than others, maybe they have more access or less access. And so, yeah, there’s all kinds of needs out there that affect different individuals in different ways.
Bob: So what do you think…so when you’re working with communities on…on building resilience, especially to…to climate change or severe weather events, where do you ask people to start? Is it just by understanding the concept, or planning, or all of the above?
Danielle Swallow: Definitely understanding the concept of resilience helps. That’s, sort of, like your goal is to get there, but I also believe it also starts with knowing what the risks are. And that can include really putting risks in context of future conditions. You know you have risks today in terms of weather and climate, but the risks 10 or 20 years from now are going to be different, you know, because of the onset of additional climate changes. And so, I start with knowing what your risks are, knowing what hazards you are potentially going to be exposed, and how sensitive you might be to those hazard, because those hazards could affect you differently than they do a neighbor or someone else in town. And then when you understand your exposure, your sensitivity, and overall vulnerability,you can take steps to help mitigate those risks. And by mitigating risks or adapting to them, you’re ultimately setting yourself up to be able to manage those changes, you know, maybe in a better sense than someone who has done that planning.
Bob: So I think some of us might think that this is…when we think about community resilience, we might think of well, there’s probably a committee for that, right? Or our political leaders should be worried about that. But it seems like,..and I think, because of of the nature of the Practicing Connection in a Complex World podcast, that we also want to think about it in different ways, in how relationship figures into that. So can you talk a little bit about, on an individual or an organizational level, you know, inside of a community, how do people contribute to community resilience, or how can they think about community resilience in their own context?
Danielle Swallow: From an organizational level, I think it really helps to understand where you can contribute to the conversation and the dialogue and the preparation. I think it also helps to really look inward at the organization, and first make sure that your relationships and networks within the organization are strong. Um, once, you know, if you’re strong then you can go out and help others improve. Because at the end of the day, resilience is about, sort of, networks of people working together to help prepare and adapt for future conditions. I think that it’s the strength of the networks that will get us through.
Segment 2: A Collaboration Story
Jessica: So if community resilience relies heavily on all of our networks, I think that it would be a good idea for us to share a little bit about exactly how this collaboration came about, because it came about because of a network. We didn’t choose this topic and then go and seek out speakers initially. It…it happened because we were looking for a completely different type of collaboration, and Chris contacted us. So I think that that was really cool. Chris contacted us and, from our conversation with Chris, we talked about a collaboration around this topic. Chris would you mind, kind of, chiming in on this, you know, why is community resilience important to you? And talk a little bit about, you know, I guess, how we came together in this collaboration and why it interested you.
Chris Petrone: Yeah, so a few years ago, our parent agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, really took a hard look and encouraged us, as Sea Grant programs to look at resilience and start to incorporate it. We were doing a lot of that work anyway, but they really wanted us to focus on what that meant to all our different stakeholders, in terms of family resilience, community resilience, economic resilience, ecological resilience. And so, you know, it’s something that’s been our minds as a Sea Grant staff for many years. And so when you all were talking about how to do resilience from a military family standpoint, I think a lot of the things that we deal with in resilience here on the coast play into the inland. No matter where you are in the country, some of the same lessons that can be learned here on the coast can be applied, um, just about anywhere. And so when Jessica put out a call on Twitter for interest in podcasts, I raised my hand and we made the connection, and develop this idea of bringing in Sea Grant, an organization at least in terms of Delaware Sea Grant, an organization that hasn’t had a lot of interaction with military families, to talk a little bit about our view of resilience here in Delaware.
Bob: Yeah Chris. There’s a couple things that really kind of sparked for me as we’re talking about this. One is there some serendipity to how we got started. And part of that was planned serendipity because Jessica and I had to say that we were interested in collaborating with somebody. We had to actually put out the call, right, and say, “hey, we’re working on this,” and sort of make ourselves visible to everyone that gave us the opportunity to kind of…to kind of pop into there. So that’s…that’s really interesting to me, and the other thing that’s kind of interesting, and Jess or Chris either one of you, you know part of the contact was built on familiarity between the two of you guys. You guys had at least the start of…of a connection before we got together to talk about this collaboration.
Chris Petrone: Yes, thanks to the eXtension Foundation training we both had in Dayton, Ohio in 2017. That’s where Jessica and I met. We hit it off. We had similar interests, similar personalities, and subsequently followed each other on Twitter, and…and years later, here we are.
Jessica: Yeah, really it was a simple tweet that…that kind of started this collaboration, but what what, I think, I’m excited about with this, as it relates to collaboration in general, is that we really tried to co-create this with the two of you. So, like I said, we didn’t start with the topic, but we started with the people and…and the relationship. And it and it kind of went then we got to meet Danielle, who knows a lot about resilience. So, maybe if I could just ask if you guys, and Danielle please do chime in if you have something to say, about what kind of drew you to this topic as well or to this collaboration?
Danielle Swallow: So Jessica, I work on resiliency and work with communities to hel build that resiliency as part of my day job, but I have to say that I come from a military family myself. My husband is a retired officer. He started out his career at…with the Navy, and then transferred to the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps. Um, a lot of people don’t realize that the nation has seven uniformed services, and the NOAA Corps is probably like the Public Health Service in that they’re not an armed service, but they’re a mission uniform service, and he has the same rank and structure as the Navy. And so, my husband spent his career being deployed on ships to different parts of the world to support NOAA’s science gathering activities, their core research. So anyway, I have a lot of affinity for military families.
Jessica: That’s cool. You know I think that actually might be what got me interested in the idea of community resilience. I didn’t think of it in those terms until my…until I was an adult, and I started to understand resilience. But, Danielle, I also…I was a military kid. My dad was in the Navy, a career Navy. He retired, well. quite some time ago now, and I’ve always been super interested in place in particular and in connecting with people, right, because I had to do it every couple of years. I had to learn how to connect real fast. I have a bigger problem with staying connected, than I do with connecting with people right away. But I think that’s probably what helped get me interested in it is that background and I’m really interested in the idea of staying connected because I struggle with that. I think, you know in part because I got so good at meeting new people and doing it every couple of years.
Danielle Swallow: Yeah, you know, I think being in a military family, especially when family members are deployed, or you’re moving around the country or the world, you really have to find new networks and find your local family, so to speak. Um, I know that when my husband was deployed… it was two years at a time. He was out to sea 250 days a year. At one point he was out in Hawaii, and I stayed back in Maryland, and that can be kind of lonely. And so I really…I really, you know, relied a lot on the (inaudible), and that really helps…helped get me through, you know, kind of that separation. So networks are really important, and I think that us military families can really appreciate that.
Chris Petrone: Jessica, I don’t think it’s strange that you have this tough time staying connected. I think we all do because we are constantly meeting new people and making new relationships. You know, we get busy. We have other things going on, and so a lot of those ties weaken a bit over time, and we just don’t make the connections that we should or we want to do, just because we’re so busy. And so, I think that in terms of resilience, you know, as long as those connections get set up and are established in the foundational, like to start, when there is a need for a relationship they’re still there. They haven’t gone away.
Jessica: Yeah, I’m glad I’m not alone in that, and also, Chris, I’m going to take that as your way of saying you’ll still be here for me when I need it.
Chris Petrone: whenever you need a podcast buddy I will be here.
Jessica: Nice, thank you.
Segment 3: Practicing Community Resilience
Chris Petrone: The key to resilience is, are you prepared? And I…and I think the more we can do now to prepare for the next big emergency, it’s all about muscle memory, and we do this, we start this as a kid in elementary school. Fire drill, right? You do the fire drill once a month or whatever it is. You know, if there’s a fire, I am supposed to get in that line and follow the teacher out this way, and we go to this door, and we meet up here, and check in, and everything’s good. It’s the same thing in sports. We practice and practice and practice, and in a game we have that muscle memory. We know exactly what we are supposed to do in that game to be successful, and I think that happens. We don’t do it as much as we probably should. I think a major part of this resiliency and emergency preparedness is understanding our role. What is our role in terms of emergency preparedness for resilience in our family, in our neighborhood, in our office or our work environment? Understanding our individual roles in resilience.
Danielle Swallow: I’m involved right now with a really cool example of a local resiliency type of organization called Create Community for Coordination for COVID, CCC4COVID, and their website URL is ccc4covid.org. And this is a group that was started by a local business owner in March, right as the shutdown related to COVID-19. And she felt a strong need to try to help in the community, but she wasn’t really sure what the needs were. And she just started reaching out to her neighbors and contacts, and they formed a group. And they started meeting and sharing information about where the needs were, and over time it grew into a coalition of 70 different organizations and individuals, and they include organizations like the local school district, and mayors, and business owners, and local non-profits, and the farmer’s market, just a wide range of individuals and groups. And by banning together, they were able to get kind of a good feel for where local response activities were needed rapidly or where the needs were just outpacing the response. And so, one of the areas…they filled in a lot of different ways. They filled in as far as helping people get masks in the early stages of response, and helping to, um, get computers into the hands of children that were going to online schooling. But one of the other needs they had to do was food insecurity. The school district was mentioning that they were getting a lot of calls from people in the school district that had emergency needs for food. And there were different distribution points around the community, but not everyone knew where those distribution points were and what the schedule was. So CCC4COVID organized a flyer that pinpointed the different locations, and when the distributions would occur, and what kind of items were included. And then they went a step further and translated that into Spanish and Creole, and for some of our other community members where English isn’t their first language. And they printed hundreds of copies and started distributing them at some of these distribution points and giving them to the school district. And the school district credits it with significantly reducing the number of emergency calls they were getting. In addition, they took that same information, and they put it into an interactive, GIS-based map so it could be used by local and state planning organizations to help coordinate response. And it’s even been adopted by the Delaware Department of Agriculture now, extending it across the state. But one of the other things that really happened, um, is just that this network grew and on these weekly calls we would trade information about “my organization is seeing an uptick in people who are homeless,” and “my organization is an uptick in people who need meals.” We discovered that there was a local construction group, a housing construction group, that was doing some of their own food distribution, and there was also in our membership a foundation that had food and resources to provide food. So we ended up pairing the two together and said, “Hey construction business, you have a warehouse, you’ve got trucks, you’ve got volunteers and staff, and this foundation has money and it has a food distribution supply chain. Let’s merge you together.” And it ended up being this beautiful relationship that really blossomed. And so, over time, they ended up giving out hundreds of thousands of meal kits to the community. So, I think, you know, those examples just, kind of, illustrate the strength of networks. This is what Chris and Jessica were saying before. When we stand together we become a force multiplier and better the needs, and how to fulfill those needs. And so I’ve been really fortunate to have been involved with this group, and I’ve particularly plugged in to helping this group deliver services to senior citizens, who are really experiencing a lot of social isolation and who, in accessing information, are not always comfortable getting their information online. And so, how do we get information in their hands? And I’ve also been helping them with raising supplies that are non-food items. You know, your hygiene products, um, cleaning supplies to include that in some of the food distribution locations.And also working to really formalize this group because we think we’re on to something. I think that even though this started in a very ad-hoc way, it demonstrates the capabilities and also the need that was out there. And we realized that some of the needs that we’re filling don’t necessarily go away once COVID-19 is, kind of, in the rearview mirror. There’s ongoing needs of homelessness, and food insecurity, access to broadband, and we think this coalition can help elevate these needs, and sound the alarm bell, and help to coordinate the response to them.
The Military Family Readiness Academy
Sara Croymans: Hello. I’m Sara Cravens from the Military Families Learning Network Family Transitions team. I’d like to tell you about the Military Family Readiness Academy, a free professional development opportunity design for military family service providers working in any field with any organization. The 2020 Academy series will focus on the unique needs of servicemembers and their families, and the added stressors and challenges when disasters and emergencies strike. Join us as we explore this complex issue in two parts offered in Fall 2020 and Winter 2021. The 2020 Academy will provide an overview of disaster and emergency readiness information, tools, and resources for military family service providers working in any field as they help military families navigate the unique context of military life. Check out the Military Family Readiness Academy at https://militaryfamilieslearningnetwork.org/mfra/.
Segment 4: Resilience in Action
Bob: You know this is been such a great experience and rewarding collaboration on this episode working with you Danielle and with you Chris, and we’re so glad to have learned from you, but I want to get to some of the things like we can actually do. Like how do we put this in action? We’ve learned a lot and the podcast is called “Practicing Connection,” so what practices can we, kind of, put into play to build up to the idea of community resilience? Danielle, like what are the things that personally we should be doing, you know, to start to build that…that resilience and readiness practice? How do we get started individually and maybe at that individual and family level of being prepared for disasters?
Danielle Swallow: I think, you know, I think it starts with first trying to understand what your risks are to your household or your area. Maybe it’s knowing that you’re in a community or state that has a high degree of risk of tornadoes. Or you experience droughts from time to time. Or maybe it’s understanding that you are in a household where there’s members of a household that have epilepsy, you know, or are hard of hearing. And so, we have, you know, certain individual risks. And then I think it’s kind of thinking about some emergency preparedness steps that you can take right off the bat to, kind of, be in a better position.One of the things I like to advocate for is signing up for emergency notification systems. They do vary, you know, from state to state, and locality to locality, but having…signing up for these messages, especially making sure your cell phones are registered, that will enable emergency responders in the state to send messages your way, for example, if a flash flood is imminent in your area. There’s a national system called Smart 911. You can go to Smart911.com. Not every community has it yet, although the website says 45 million people participate in it nationwide. I really encourage you to look into it. It basically populates the 911 database with more information about your household. So if you have a family member that has a severe allergy, you can note that in the database. If you have somebody, I mentioned before, that might be hard of hearing, well that’s good for emergency responders to know because knocking on the door isn’t necessarily going to be useful if they’re coming to the house. So this more information comes up on their screen as they’re in route to a house to respond to a fire or emergency, and it gives them that much more information to work with. So, I really encourage that. And, beyond that, you know, it’s important to have an emergency supply kit. And to always have extra copies of your prescriptions or refills with you, and to also have a communications plan with you and your family members. Sometimes we end up having to evacuate on short notice, or our power goes out, or we get separated. And having a communications plan ahead of time, gives assurance to certain family members because they’ll know what you are going to do in those situations. It lets them know, so here’s the rallying point that we’re all going to go to if we have to evacuate from our jobs or our schools separately. You can designate an out-of-town family member or friend to be a central point of contact. So that if power goes out and then comes back in a spotty way as folks are evacuating, you’re all sending messages, maybe through social media or eventually when they get home, back to that same individual who can triage that and keep track of everyone. And that really ensures that the family is not dealing with added stress during a really stressful time.
Chris Petrone: Yeah, I think a key, you know, Danielle mentioned understanding your risk, and I think the key to resilience…preparedness and resilience is not only understanding your role but who are the players. Who do I need to know to make the situation better, and that applies to the family level, the community level, and also your work level. You know, I think about if there’s an oil spill here in Delaware Bay, my family isn’t necessarily impacted. We don’t have to have a plan for that. But with my job with Delaware Sea Grant, we need to be able to respond in some way if an oil spill happens. It is a major concern for the environment and for tourism, and for all the industries we work in, and so having a plan in place for all these different kinds of situations can only make us stronger and more resilient.
Bob: Thanks for joining us for this episode of Practicing Connection in a Complex World. Jessica and I would also like to thank Kalin Goble and Sara Croymans for sharing their voices on today’s episode, Hannah Hyde and Terry Meisenbah for helping us with promotion, and Nathan Grimm for composing and performing all the music you hear on the podcast. Finally, thanks to Danielle Swallow and Chris Petrone from Sea Grant Delaware for their generous contributions to this collaboration. You can find out more about Sea Grant Delaware and find more ways to start building your individual, family, and community resilience by visiting our show page at militaryfamilieslearningnetwork.org/series/practicingconnection. I hope you’ll join us for our next episode, and, in the meantime, keep practicing.