The Meertens family lives in a beautiful neighbourhood, adjacent to the water. After a heavy storm, it turns out that the dykes are not strong enough and their village floods. All of the sudden, they can no longer be reached and there is a power outage in the entire village. Luckily, no one died, but daily life is severely disrupted. No one was prepared for this. Fortunately, the Meertens family and their network are resilient and they manage to get through this.
“The government needs its citizens in a crisis situation and during a disaster”
For two years, research has been done to the factors behind the resilience of communities in the delta region in Zeeland. Disasters and crises, such as floods, have an enormous impact on society. At the same time, society plays an important role in limiting the effects of a disaster and a quick recovery. The research report offers tools to turn the complexity of a resilient society into targeted actions by governments, the business industry, aid workers and citizens. The project was concluded with a symposium and the article ‘Resilient Veerkerke got back on its feet fast after the flood’.
One of the research results is the need for citizen participation during crises and disasters. Positioning so-called key figures turned out to be important for this. Key figures are citizens that can fulfil a coordinating role during a crisis or disaster. Professional services can only provide the necessary assistance on a limited scale, especially during the first 24 hours. During a crisis or disaster the government also relies on the help of citizens.
It is important that the government finds these key figures, appoints them as such and organises a collaboration between them and professional organisations such as the police, the fire department and the GGD [Public Health Services]. It is the government’s responsibility to encourage and support this. At the same time, it’s the government’s responsibility to announce the results of disasters and crises to its citizens in a well-balanced risk communication. Its purpose is not to scare citizens needlessly, but to make citizens aware of the consequences and the perspectives on how to act.
The so-called 4+1 model was developed during this study. This model demonstrates the cohesion between social capital, use of space, economy, vital infrastructure and the role of the government with regard to resilience. It provides insight into chain effects of disasters and crises and offers tools to turn the complexity of a resilient society into targeted actions by governments, the business industry, aid workers and citizens. The effects of a disaster or crisis are often long-lasting and require help from different disciples by governments, services and companies. Anticipating this multi-faceted process is half the battle for society when a crisis or disaster occurs.
Further research is required to develop the actions that professionals and citizens should take. The research group is working on a number of instruments that could be helpful for professionals and citizens to increase their resilience. The so-called chain effect of disasters and crises on society will also be mapped further. Furthermore, the research group will embed these research results in the education of the Delta Academy.
The research was in part made possible by the financial support from the Nationaal Regieorgaan Praktijkgericht Onderzoek SIA [Taskforce for Applied Research]. The research was carried out in collaboration with the municipality Veere, GGD Zeeland, The police force or Zeeland and West Brabant, The Department of Waterways and Public Works, Safety region Zeeland, the municipality Zeeland, water board Scheldestromen and Louisiana State University (United States of America).