“Whole Community Resilience” is an incredibly complicated way of saying “getting locals involved with disasters.” It is the most basic, intuitive, and neglected part of the American system of disaster management. Why is this? Why do we acknowledge the importance of community efforts and then leave them completely out of our plans?

Well first, we ignore it because it is messy. For a long time, we separated official efforts and community response into two neat boxes: those with walkie-talkies and those without. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and regional emergency management concentrated their efforts on streamlining the coordination of police, fire, EMT, National Guard, and a handful of other key responders. They have done a fantastic job testing interoperability, providing training and guidelines, and funding these organizations. Yet in recovery after recovery, we continued to see success in areas that utilize everyday citizens, and failure in those that send everyone home. Why?

In a nod to the success of local involvement in preparedness and recovery, FEMA has announced their 2012 Whole Community Resilience Challenge. Each community is eligible for up to $35,000 in funding to implement programs that increase community involvement in preparedness and recovery. This grant can also cover the cost of our Recovers.org platform for interested communities — and any community organization can apply (support@recovers.org). This is a huge step forward for FEMA, and reflects the incredible leadership and changed vision of the organization.

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Obligatory bald eagle picture accompanying information from FEMA.

Lost in translation

But who is going to find, read, and apply for something called “The 2012 FEMA Whole Community Resilience Challenge,” using the appropriate lingo to describe their project? I believe that a large part of the problem with local involvement is one of translation — you know, saying “Whole Community Resilience” rather than “getting everyone involved locally.” Just the wording can keep a lot of us from getting involved in this particular project, let alone joining our CERTs, VOSTs, VOADs and MRCs.

I am hoping that by providing a translation and link to the application today, I can encourage those of you reading to apply for this grant through a community organization. Do me one better — get involved locally.

Caitria O’Neill is the CEO of Recovers.org. She received a B.A. degree in government from Harvard University in 2011. She has worked for Harvard Law Review and the U.S. State Department, and brings legal, political and editorial experience to the team. O’Neill has completed the certificate programs for FEMA’s National Incident Management System 700 and 800, and Incident Command Systems 100 and 200. She has also worked with Emergency Management Directors, regional hospital and public health organizations and regional Homeland Security chapters to develop partnerships and educate stakeholders about local organization and communication following disasters.