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May 2019



Introduction: Community Resilience in a Resilient Scotland

What is community resilience?

Preparing Scotland, Scottish Guidance on Resilience, (2016), defines resilience as:

“the capacity of an individual, community or system to adapt in order to sustain an acceptable level of function, structure and identity”.

For resilience professionals, this usually means thinking about how to sustain the range of interdependent infrastructure and systems which support the functioning of a community, and particularly, their ability to continue to deliver their priorities, and to “bounce back” after being hit by an emergency or disruptive challenge.

In this context, community resilience refers to the elements of resilience that are present in communities, organisations, households and individuals, their ability to cooperate with each other and the extent to which they are integrated with public policy and service provision. It is defined by the Scottish Government as:

“Communities and individuals harnessing resources and expertise to help themselves prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies, in a way that complements the work of the emergency responders”.3

Community resilience is based on a culture of preparedness, in which individuals, communities and organisations take responsibility to prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies. It has evolved as a way of thinking from a number of academic disciplines, notably ecology and systems engineering, and more recently has emerged as one of the most important concepts in the literature of resilience management.

It can be seen as being made up of three elements:

  1. Awareness by individuals of the risks which may affect them or their community and what they can do to prepare for, respond to and recover from them if they happen
  2. Assets (including resources, skills and networks) which exist at individual, community and intra-community levels
  3. Propensity to Act – a motivation and confidence that translates awareness and assets into action to help build resilience


A number of voluntary sector organisations exist which have resilience and humanitarian aid as part of their core remit. Other voluntary sector groups, including social care and faith groups, adapt their roles to meet the needs of communities faced by challenging circumstances. In addition, community resilience often emerges spontaneously in response to emergencies of varying scale and type. It can be seen in rural communities which are frequently cut off by bad weather, in neighbourhoods where people join forces to clear ice and snow from paths and drives, in areas hit by floods, and in community solidarity in tragic circumstances such in Lockerbie in 1988 and Dunblane in 1996. All these types of resilience are important.

The recommended approach to building community resilience is focused on building capacity among individuals and communities before emergencies happen, in order to ensure that their resources can be brought into play as early and as effectively as possible. But it is also acknowledged that direct experience of an emergency situation such as flooding develops individual and collective desire to become more resilient in the period soon after. Authorities need to be aware of this desire and use the opportunity to encourage and support resilience development.

Most references to “communities” in this guidance mean geographical communities (i.e. a place – a village or neighbourhood). This makes sense in a resilience management context because the consequences of most emergencies tend to have a geographical focus. However it can also be useful to think of people being part of other types of communities, for example, workers in a particular business, members of a faith group, ethnicity or diaspora, or people with a shared social or leisure interest.

Communities are diverse and are made up of diverse individuals. This diversity affects the way emergencies impact at community, individual and household levels. The consequences of different emergencies have the potential to make different people vulnerable in different ways. The importance of understanding this diversity and recognising that vulnerability is dependent on context is discussed in Preparing Scotland: Care for people affected by emergencies4.

Resilience and emergency management staff, working in the statutory and voluntary sectors, are a particularly important example of a practitioner community focused on resilience. Experience has shown that an emergency can bring people together as a community in challenging circumstances, if they feel that they are “in it together”.

Approaches to building community resilience will be different in different places, and should reflect the characteristics of communities, their different risk environments, and local decisions about priorities. In practice, community resilience will reflect the diversity of Scottish communities and the risks which they face.

3 See Annex [1] for further information.



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