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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Community Resilience

Community Health Resilience (CHR) is the ability of a community to use its assets to strengthen public health and healthcare systems and to improve the community’s physical, behavioral, and social health to withstand, adapt to, and recover from adversity.

Why is community resilience important?

Communities are increasingly complex, and so are the challenges they face. Human-caused and natural disasters are more frequent and costly. Factors like climate change, globalization, and increased urbanization can bring disaster related risks to greater numbers of people.

Addressing these threats calls for an approach that combines what we know about preparing for disasters with what we know about actions that strengthen communities every day. Community resilience focuses on enhancing the day-to-day health and wellbeing of communities to reduce the negative impacts of disasters.

How are community resilience and disaster preparedness related?

Developing community resilience benefits disaster planners and community members alike. Community resilience expands the traditional preparedness approach by encouraging actions that build preparedness while also promoting strong community systems and addressing the many factors that contribute to health.

Key preparedness activities—such as continuity of operations plans for organizations, reunification plans for families, and compiling disaster kits and resources—continue to be essential, recommended steps to take. A resilience approach adds features like building social connectedness and improving everyday health, wellness, and community systems.

How does health fit into community resilience?

Community resilience is the sustained ability of communities to withstand, adapt to, and recover from adversity.

Health—meaning physical, behavioral, social, and environmental health and wellbeing—is a big part of overall resilience. In many ways, health is a key foundation of resilience because almost everything we do to prepare for disaster and protect infrastructure is ultimately in the interest of preserving human health and welfare. The part of overall community resilience that involves health is called Community Health Resilience.

What makes a community healthy and resilient?

A resilient community is socially connected and has accessible health systems that are able to withstand disaster and foster community recovery. The community can take collective action after an adverse event because it has developed resources that reduce the impact of major disturbances and help protect people’s health. Resilient communities promote individual and community physical, behavioral, and social health to strengthen their communities for daily, as well as extreme, challenges.

Strategies to build resilient communities:

Some considerations, adapted from the National Preparedness and Response Science Board’s Community Health Resilience Recommendations1 are:

  • Strengthen—and promote access to—public health, healthcare, and social services: Strong day-to-day systems can be better leveraged to support health resilience during disasters and emergencies. In capable systems people know how to access care and are not limited by real or perceived barriers to services.
  • Promote health and wellness alongside disaster preparedness: Information and education that involve public health, behavioral health, emergency preparedness, and community health resilience interventions can help people face everyday challenges as well as major disruptions or disasters. Optimal levels of physical and psychological health and well-being within the population facilitate the community’s rapid recovery.
  • Expand communication and collaboration: Build networks that include social services, behavioral health, community organizations, businesses, academia, at-risk individuals, and faith-based stakeholders in addition to traditional public health, healthcare, and emergency management partners.
  • Engage at-risk individuals and the programs that serve them: Engaging individuals with potential vulnerabilities to take an active part in protecting their health and aiding their community’s resilience strengthens the community as a whole. Assist programs that serve at-risk individuals to develop robust disaster and continuity of operations plans.
  • Build social connectedness: People are more empowered to help one another after a major disturbance in communities in which members are regularly involved in each other’s lives. Building social connectedness can be an important emergency preparedness action.

In what ways can I strengthen my individual health and resilience?

Individual health and resilience is important for community resilience because healthy, socially connected, prepared people make for stronger communities that are better able to withstand, manage, and recover from disasters. People should try to:

  • Live a healthy lifestyle and learn skills to manage stress.
  • Maintain connections to meaningful groups like families, places of worship and volunteer organizations.
  • Be informed, educated, and able to help neighbors, family, and friends.
  • Engage in community or neighborhood preparedness activities.
  • Create evacuation and family reunification plans.
  • Have a disaster kit and be able to shelter in place for 72 hours.
  • Take trainings like CPR, first aid, CERT, or psychological first aid.

Additional Resources:

1National Preparedness and Response Science Board (NPRSB) 2014. Community Health Resilience Recommendations

  • This page last reviewed: June 09, 2015