The World Cafe is a good method for surveying what skills community members have and what others might be needed during a disaster.   – Picnace Ranch, 2019.
Community members and volunteers help plant school gardens in Paradise, California. 

It is impossible to turn on the mainstream news these days and not see tales of a community greatly impacted by some extreme weather event or another. For example, this morning’s news showed stories of millions of people from the West Coast to the East Coast of the United States affected by either unexpected tornados, sudden freezing temperatures, raging floods, or out of control forest fires. It’s a lot to take in during the morning news.

Then, social media brings my attention to friends in Kenya sharing stories of friends, family and community members, as well as this years crops, being washed away in floods.

As someone who has personally experienced the loss of a home due to a California wildfire, I know this devastation and trauma can take many years to recover from…. far longer than the story remains news. A big part of how we as individuals or as a community recover depends on how resilient and prepared we were before the disaster struck. By resilient, I mean how strong are we in our own mental and physical wellbeing in order to handle our personal recovery and be there to help others after our world is shattered by a disaster.  How prepared are we to fend for ourselves: such as having emergency food supplies and a garden, knowing which neighbors have what skills, and even tending to injuries?

As Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I would include preparation and personal wellbeing under the category of prevention. In permaculture, one of the key design principles is to “plan for disaster.” What are the common weather events in your area and how can you prepare ahead of time? What destruction would result from, say a “Hundred Year Event” of fire, flood, earthquake, tornado, or hurricane? Many areas are starting to see “Hundred Year Events” occuring every few years. The hurricanes in the  Caribbean and the fires in California are frightening examples of disastrous “new norms” plaguing the world. 

The more our communities and cities are designed with disasters in mind, the smoother recovery will be. Where are trees planted? Are exit or safety routes prepared for large numbers, all using them at once? Is there a local, renewable energy source available? Has community asset mapping been done to better know your neighborhood resources? Neighborhood potlucks are an effective way to strategize disaster planning with others. 

 “Design from Patterns to Details” is another permaculture principle to apply both in the design process before and recovery efforts after. What are the larger systemic changes that can make a community better able to recover, and how can those aspects be applied to neighborhoods, and to individual houses? Moving from the Macro to the Micro and back out again helps patterns be recognized that can make strategies more efficient and effective. Emergency phone trees could be an example of this. While a city may send out emergency notices by phone to those who are registered for such notification, not everyone may be on the list or cell phones may not work. The idea is to tighten the pattern closer to home to make certain neighbors are aware, as well as taking care of your own family and pets. Planning things out advance helps add a sense of calmness, if and when an emergency arises. 

The Transition Movement, with over 1,200 community projects around the world in 50 countries, is a great resource for preparing this ounce of prevention in advance of disaster. The Transition Movement’s resources and training guides offer great insight on how to bring these concepts to your community in advance of problems. 

“Use local renewable energy,” is another principle that could help limit the mega fires of the West Coast. Many of California’s recent fires have been started by the mega power lines that are connected over huge territories. If California instead had microgrids of locally produced renewable energy that provided to smaller areas, it would limit the mega-fires.  Such strategy could save many lives, significant destruction, as well as slowing additional factors affecting climate change, such as pollution from gas or coal power plants. 

Another great resource  for learning how permaculture can help in the recovery efforts and the importance of community is the podcast by Sharable, called “The Response.” This series looks at how communities come together after a disaster. Abundant Earth Foundation is very proud to have supported Sharable in the production of a short film about the recovery efforts in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. A core ethic of permaculture is Care for People. This film explores this ethic at a level that will expand your heart and provide an understanding of the importance of personal and community resilience.

Of course, all of this is complicated. However, the point is foresight, compassion, and personal wellbeing will help us on the wild road ahead. Incorporating permaculture principles before, during, and after emergencies could lead to the avoidance of a disaster and assure a faster recovery when one does hit. 

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