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Preparing For Disasters Through Personal Resiliency

June 1st marked the beginning of storm season for the United States. Such storms include hurricanes, fires, droughts, and tornados. As we have already begun to see the first-hand effects of climate change, being proactive and preparing for what could come is a necessary step. According to a National Climate Assessment released earlier this month, climate change is already affecting every region of the United States as well as key sectors of our economy. We need to make the necessary changes to be equipped to handle such natural disasters. This includes both physical and mental resiliency preparation.

There are many steps the US is taking to be physically prepared for the impacts of such storms. This week, the United States Department of Agriculture announced the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). This program will rely on partnerships with regional organizations, non-profits, and the private sector to drive conservation and restoration efforts in the regions where they are needed most.

But developing personal resiliency for such disasters is equally as important as being physically prepared. According to the article “Personal Resiliency Paramount for Future Disasters”, written by Bob Nellis “Health scientist and geologist Monica Gowan, Ph.D., says ‘How well people are prepared for adversity through the presence of meaning and purpose in their lives can play a positive role in how well they manage the uncertainties of disaster risk and recover from devastating experiences to regain health and quality of life.”

According to Dr. Gowan and her colleagues, this is the first scientific study of personal resilience and evacuation readiness prior to large disasters. What she found was those who have a higher state of mental and emotional resilience are more likely to have favorable outcomes after disasters. “If someone consciously cares about his or her well-being and that of others, and is aware and engaged enough to act on that basis, they have a stronger chance of being better off.”

Along this exploration of personal resilience and how it relates to post-disaster recovery, there were many notable findings that were discovered. “Along with the robust survey findings we obtained from our random sample of 695 adults, many people in the study shared anecdotes about why they were preparing for disaster. Profoundly personal reasons were a common theme, whether due to their own vulnerabilities and desire to survive, to concern for a loved one, being part of a community, or wanting to serve some other greater good or higher purpose.” This directly ties in with three of  TRACOM’s 9 Elements of Resiliency. The first of these three elements is personal responsibility. Those who are high in personal responsibility believe they control their own destiny and attribute events to their own traits. These people look inward toward their own motivations and attempt to exert control over situations. The second is personal beliefs. Those with a high degree of personal beliefs believe things happen for a reason and feel connected to causes or values they believe are larger than themselves. Social support being the third, these people feel they have close confidants who provide comfort and assistance during difficult times.

Another interesting discovery among this study was that a large number of people who bounced back easily “had survived a prior disaster, with experiences ranging from the Holocaust to 9/11, and nearly every type of natural disaster. They all seemed to have found meaningful ways to transcend their unthinkable experiences.” In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants”, Gladwell explores whether we accurately understand advantages. He shows how presumed disadvantages, some even horrendous (e.g., parental loss at a young age), can offer strength and embolden people to achieve tremendous success. For example, Gladwell explains that an inordinate number of successful political figures lost a parent at a young age. Twelve presidents including George Washington, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama lost their fathers when they were children. 67% of British prime ministers from the early 1800s to the mid-1900s experienced parental loss. Again, it seems that intensely challenging experiences can build character and spur great achievement.

To read more about the positive impacts of Resiliency click here.

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