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The Disaster and Emergency Resilience Network founder Gina Yanitell Reinhardt has recently collaborated with other academics to write an article in the Local Emergency Management special issue of Local Government Studies. 

Within this special issue of LGS, the argument is put forward that disaster management, and resilience to unplanned events should be considered primarily at the level of local government, as opposed to an international scale. Whilst climate change and related natural phenomena are a global concern, local governments are the first line of policy practitioners and operators, dealing with the intersection of climate change, disaster response and fiscal austerity. Local government managers are the first-line responders in cases of emergency, and if handled expeditiously, can stop an emergency from escalating to higher levels of government. In this special issue, it is demonstrated that the challenges of local governance supersede national boundaries, with articles contributed by scholars of local emergency management and hazards governance from around the globe. Each article examines local government’s role in strengthening adaptation and resilience. Key themes are drawn out of social capital, risk information as a building block of resilience, and collaboration between government and non-government actors to build resilience.

One of the quintessential elements addressed within the LGS paper are the concepts of resilience and adaptation, and how they can be taken from a theoretical level and implemented on a concrete, practical basis. For the purpose of this special issue, resilience is defined as the ability to recover from unplanned disruptions, including climate-related shocks, technological and technical failures, economic downturns, and social upheaval. Adaptation is change designed to lower the risks and reduce the vulnerability of social, ecological, and biological systems to threats posed by climate change, shifting hazard profiles, and the constraints of fiscal austerity.

However, there are different types of resilience that may be considered within the papers for LGS including anticipatory resilience which involves education and preparation prior to critical events, and  responsive resilience, which involves activities that enable communities to react quickly to unplanned events, and finally, adaptive resilience, that encompasses learning and taking action following events. Part of the aim for DERN as an organization is promoting anticipatory resilience, in which people are able to prepare in advance for natural disasters and thus lessen their damaging effects, rather than learning after the event has occurred and having further difficulties in dealing with the aftermath.

The contributors to the special issue argue that disaster management should be a shared responsibility, from the international level right down to local level, especially where fiscal issues occur. The assumption is that local areas are less capable of implementing effective resilience strategies because they are able to generate less tax revenue. There is an emphasis placed on the importance of collaboration, by which all political agents involved work together to reach the optimal effectiveness for resilience. This means local governments working with other community actors as well as higher level governments, and being willing to share their information and strategies with others, in order to create the most effective strategies for all. Reinhardt and her colleagues aim to contribute towards increasing  a community’s ability to provide compassionate, empathetic, and caring disaster response, by evaluating the effectiveness of past studies, and using them to create new understanding for future policies.

Dr. Barry Quirk, the Chief Executive of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council is in agreement, based on his extensive experience in the field. He states that ‘Often it is people from these locally based community groups that are first to the scene delivering direct support and help to those in need of assistance. But on very many occasions disasters will engender energies from people in local communities that are not members of formal community groups. In this way new and emerging community associations are forged in response to disasters.’ He believes that disaster management is a building block for a community, in which understanding and solicitude are at the very foundation of resilient and adaptable communities: ‘in disaster situations people care less what you know, they want to know that you care. Of course being competent is critical; but compassion and empathy is essential’.

Considering all aspects of disaster management, ranging from funding, community outreach, collaboration and past cases, this special issue of Local Government Studies explores the diverse array of challenges local governments confront when adapting to climate change and building resilience. This includes the continued need to provide services across the spectrum of public safety and emergency management under ongoing fiscal constraints, and how we can work together to overcome them.