Natural disasters and community resilience: A framework for support

CFCA Paper No. 3 – May 2012

Practical applications

As the concept of community resilience has become more popular, a number of authors have developed frameworks and tools to understand and measure it. The purpose of this paper is to summarise the main points of these resources - to get the reader thinking about how they might start to conceptualise and assess the resilience of the community with which they work - and to direct those interested to more detailed publications and measurement instruments. The move toward more rigorous measurement of community resilience is to be encouraged, and is indicative of a general trend that sees increasingly sophisticated conceptual understandings being brought to bear on the risks and problems faced by many individuals, families and communities in Australia. There are, however, some caveats that should be kept in mind when measuring community resilience.

Firstly, measurement tools are just that: tools. They do not replace the need for other forms of professional judgement or the exercise of "practice wisdom". Rather, they comprise one in a suite of techniques and strategies that can be used by those working to support families and communities (e.g., professional judgement, research literature, practice guides, the assistance and resources of collaborating service providers). Measurement instruments cannot possibly capture the complexity of the service environment, in which multiple factors, including state and Federal legislation, interact in ways that can either support or constrain the work of professionals in the field. This is not, however, a problem or a reason to reject such instruments. As long as they are used in conjunction with other techniques and strategies, the strength of many measurement tools lies in their simplicity: in their ability to reduce the complexity of the social environment and to identify important causal relationships that may otherwise have gone unnoticed (e.g., the relationship between a strong sense of local identity and community resilience).

Secondly, although many frameworks and measurement tools aim to identify the strengths and weaknesses that encourage or discourage the development of community resilience, they may not necessarily provide all the answers on the steps that need to be taken to address problems that are identified. Again, this simply speaks to the need for these frameworks and tools to be used in conjunction with other strategies. For instance, if a service provider identified that the community in which they work had low levels of social inclusion, they could use some of the many resources (including training courses) that focus specifically on practices and strategies to increase social inclusion. The importance of simply identifying where a community's strengths and fault lines lie should not be underestimated. This identification can form the foundation for the construction of truly effective services, practices and policies - effective precisely because they are tailored to the unique circumstances of individual communities.

Finally, it is worth re-emphasising that the resilience of a community is not static - communities are complex and dynamic social structures - and so an "assessment of resilience is never complete" (Resilience Alliance, 2007, p. 6). Just as it is important that service providers embed general evaluative strategies in their programs and services, so too it is important that those utilising the concept of community resilience make efforts to regularly measure it. Not only will this ensure that practice and policy stay focused on the most important enablers of community resilience, but it can also act as a form of outcome evaluation in its own right, indicating to service providers, practitioners and policy-makers whether their efforts to enhance the strength of their community have been effective.

Resources and further reading

This section outlines a selection of Australian and international resources, frameworks and tools that have been developed around emergency management and community resilience. Additionally, as part of the National Strategy for Disaster Resilience, a number of research institutes and universities have been funded to develop instruments that assess community resilience. For example, the Torrens Resilience Institute is currently developing the tool Measuring Community Resilience (due to be released in 2012), which will rate resilience on a numerical scale and allow individuals to assess the resilience of their own community.


  • Australian Emergency Management
    This website is the key online access point for emergency management information from the Australian Government.
  • Crisis Intervention and Management Australasia Conference 2011 Presentations
    These presentations provide case studies and current research on crisis intervention and management, with a focus on natural disasters.
  • Disaster Preparedness and Response Resources (US)
    The resources on this website were compiled by the Child Welfare Information Gateway (US) and are intended to help governments and jurisdictions develop comprehensive disaster preparedness plans, and respond to emergencies quickly and effectively in order to protect children and families.

Additional frameworks and tools for assessing community resilience

  • Assessing Resilience and vulnerability: Principles, Strategies and Actions (Buckle, Marsh, & Smale, 2001): Provides information on both the components of community resilience and the different assessment methods and data sources that can be used to conduct evaluations.
  • Assessing a Community's Capacity to Manage Change: A Resilience Approach to Social Assessment (Maguire & Cartwright, 2008): Focusing on those rural communities that have limited access to water, this approach to assessment emphasises the assessment of (1) the community and the process of change, (2) the internal community structure, (3) community history, (4) community vulnerabilities, (5) community resources, and (6) adaptive capacity.
  • Assessing and Managing Resilience in Socio-Ecological Systems: A Practitioners Workbook (Resilience Alliance, 2007): Focuses on assessing resilience within a socio-ecological framework. Argues that there are five main stages to assessment: describing the system, understanding system dynamics, probing system interactions, evaluating governance and acting on the assessment.
  • Building Resilience in Rural Communities (Hegney et al. 2008): Outlines what were identified as the 11 factors most commonly reported to enhance individual and community resilience: social networks and supports, positive outlook, learning, early experience, environment and lifestyle, infrastructure and support services, sense of purpose, diverse and innovative economy, embracing differences, beliefs and leadership.
  • A Guide to the World Resources 2008: Roots of Resilience-Growing the Wealth of the Poor (World Resources Institute et al., 2008): Focuses on the impact that climate change is likely to have on disadvantaged communities. Argues that resilience is best promoted by strengthening ownership, capacity and connection.
  • Urban Governance for Adaptation: Assessing Climate Change Resilience in Ten Asian Cities (Tanner et al., 2009): Proposes an assessment framework for urban resilience that measure levels of (1) decentralisation and autonomy, (2) accountability and transparency, (3) responsiveness and flexibility, (4) participation and inclusion, and (5) experience and support.

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