Organizing and preparing your community for disasters requires some analysis and documentation to get a handle on where you are and where you need to go. The analysis helps determine what physical and human resources you have available, what you need to prepare for and what gaps need to be filled. In this post I will outline some analysis tasks that you need to think about and the documentation you need to start working on.
This is part 4 in a series on Community Preparedness. If you have yet to do so, please read part 1, Community Preparedness – Engaging our Neighbors for Mutual Survival, part 2 Community Preparedness – Getting Started and part 3 Community Preparedness – 24 Meeting Ideas to Engage Your Community.
Before your community preparedness group starts buying things and making plans, you need to take stock of what you have available in terms of resources and define what are the most relevant threats that could cause hardships to your community. In other words you need to understand your starting point before you start creating a plan to get to your desired future state of preparedness. Two important activities are:
- Create a Community Profile for your immediate community and the surrounding communities or town.
- Perform a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) Analysis.
What is a Community Profile?
A Community Profile is the analysis and documentation of the demographics, businesses, institutions and resources in and around your community. It gives you a broad understanding of what is available in your area so that you can see where the gaps are and identify potential issues.
You should create a profile for your immediate community how ever you have defined it but also profile the adjacent neighborhoods and your town as a whole. This helps you understand the characteristics from a local and larger area perspective. Document the profiles separately to help organize and update the information.
You won’t be able to get all of the information you need in one sitting. Some information may take some digging if you can find it at all. You may need to call government agencies and even some businesses to get the details you need. Document what you know and then create a task list to do more research.
Broad Information to Document
For any businesses/organizations/facilities, record the owners, leaders and other people with responsibility and their contact information. You may be able to find a lot of this info online.
People and Housing
- Population – Number of people in the subject area
- Households – Number of single-family homes and apartments
- Nursing Homes – How many residents and medical staff
- Prisons and jails – How many residents and the types of laws broken
- Homeless Shelters and the average number of people that use them
- Map of the area showing major roads and intersections
- Total Area in square miles
- Police – number of officers in the county and city
- Fire Stations and number of personnel
- EMT Units and number of personnel
- Hospitals, Urgent Care and Clinics
- Doctor Offices and their specialty
Businesses and Resources
- Water Sources – Lakes, ponds, rivers, streams and capacity of water towers
- Gas Stations and whether they have generators or manual pumps
- Farms that produce food and raise livestock
- Food processing facilities
- Lumber Yards
- Grocery and Convenience Stores
- Big box stores
- Small mom and pop stores and what they specialize in
- Shoe Repair and Seamstress Businesses
- Manufacturing and Fabrication
- Farm Supply
- Tractors and Machinery
Your Community Specific Information
Your immediate Community Profile should have the same information as above but should get more specific on the individuals in your community. The businesses, farms, and medical facilities in/close to your immediate community should be reached out to at some point to discuss their involvement when a large-scale disaster happens. You can discuss options for your community to help protect the food, supplies and other goods that they may have on hand when a disaster strikes.
The information on households and people may seem a bit of an invasion of privacy but it will be very valuable immediately after an event. If there is physical damage to infrastructure and people need rescuing, knowing who might be in a household could save a life. When you start planning on how to feed everyone and how much water needs to be filtered and purified the number of people involved is very important.
I would suggest that for households that are not yet involved in your group, keep your documentation high level. Only document what you can see from the street and only record general information. If someone in your group knows inside information on a neighbor not yet on board you may not want to share this with the rest of the group. When there is an emergency the information can be shared as needed.
I also suggest that you create a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) for people in your group that will discourage discussing personal information with people outside of the group. As households come on board, give them a profile sheet to fill out to gather more information and have them sign the NDA as well.
You will need maps for security, evacuation routes and for procuring resources. You can use Google Maps and other tools to do this.
- Create custom community maps showing all houses, apartments and other buildings with their street numbers and owners. You might need several maps showing specific streets so that you can identify homes and buildings.
- Create a map of your community that is zoomed out to show major roads and streets that access your community.
- Purchase several city, county and state road maps so you can assess intel on issues in your area. You might want to make this something that each member pays for themselves.
- Create several copies of your custom maps in case the power grid goes out. It would be a good idea to laminate them so that they last longer and give you the ability to write on them with grease pencils. Extra copies could be stored that can be given to new members.
People and Housing
For each household gather and document the following information:
- Names and ages of everyone living there
- Jobs they are doing or have done
- Food preservation
- Hunting and fishing
- Animal Husbandry
- Making Clothes
- CERT Training
- Resources they own
- Chain saws
- Hand tools
- Gardening tools
- Communication Equipment
- Trucks, trailers, RVs and boats
- Motorcycles, ATVs
- Preparedness Infrastructure
- Working garden
- Rain catchment system
- Gas/Solar/Wind/Hydro Power Generation
- Smoke House
- Raising Livestock
- Preparedness Level – Use a range like 0 to 10. Define what the levels mean like 0 being no preparedness, 7 being self-reliant and 10 being self-sustaining.
- Able-bodied to do physical work or disabled
Create a SWOT Analysis
SWOT is an analysis technique used to understand your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. It is one of several tools that help you understand what you are up against so that you can plan to move forward in what ever you are doing. A SWOT analysis can be used by individuals, businesses and organizations and is perfect for disaster preparedness. It provides grounding for you to start planning for the activities that are needed for your community’s resilience.
The following outlines some things to think about for your Community SWOT Analysis.
- Natural water sources that are in your community such as lakes, rivers, streams and ponds
- Farms that are in or beside your community that produce vegetables, eggs and raise livestock
- Households that raise chickens, goats or other animals
- Alternative Power Generation
- Existing family and community gardens
- Grocery, convenience, and gas stations nearby
- Doctors Offices, clinics and pharmacies
- Lakes, ponds, rivers for fishing in your community
- Not close to large/dense neighborhoods and major highways
- Military and Police personnel in the community
- Hunters/Fishermen in your community
- Active Neighborhood Watch
- Local Government involved in Emergency Planning
- Abundance of trees in the community for firewood
- Not many signs of preparedness and self-reliance
- Not many people are gardening
- Community/town has a dense population and no government preparedness efforts
- Close to major highways or railways
- Close to chemical or nuclear power plants
- A lot of older citizens that are limited in doing physical work
- Prisons near community
- Several cleared yards or community space for gardens
- Nearby lakes, rivers, ponds and streams for fishing and water collection
- Willingness of neighbors to work together and prepare
- Nearby land for hunting and trapping
- Natural Disasters like tornados, hurricanes, flooding, wildfires and mudslides
- Man-Made Disasters like chemical spills, nuclear plant meltdown, train derailment
- Economic Collapse
- Close to heavily populated areas with potential civil unrest
- Near by prisons and mental institutions
- Power Grid Vulnerability
- Threat of war and terrorism
After your first pass at creating the profiles and SWOT analysis you are likely to have more questions than you started with. That’s a good thing. It means your analysis is working. Your next steps should be:
- Review the profiles and SWOT analysis with your group and identify any gaps.
- Identify information that is still needed and create a task list to get it done. Divide the work among the members.
- Start thinking about action plans that need to be developed to address the preparedness shortcomings you are learning about. The next post in this series will discuss planning to move forward.
As you can see there is a lot of analysis and documentation that can and needs to be done prior to starting on your planning efforts for community preparedness. Without this analysis you could waste a lot of time doing things that are not as important or as highly needed as others. Do the groundwork and start documenting!
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