Topic: Learning networks Resilience Type: Best Practices

Cultivating Community Leaders

Authors: Wendy Fulks

We all know that engaging community leaders is key to local FAC efforts, but what’s the best way to enlist, educate and cultivate passionate, dedicated, action-oriented citizens?

What is the Network Doing Currently?

The first step is to identify key individuals. Most of the Network hub organizations are working with or planning to form steering groups composed of interested citizens, public land managers, fire chiefs, emergency managers, etc., to help catalyze and oversee local FAC activities. Network participants also regularly give FAC presentations at city council meetings, churches, community colleges and events sponsored by other civic organizations. At the national scale, the FAC Network Coordinating Team has plans to engage mayors from small and mid-size cities to facilitate learning and sharing and to help leverage mayors’ networks to expand FAC efforts.

Network participants report that it can be a big challenge to bring community leaders up to speed regarding (1) their community’s wildfire risk, and (2) how FAC concepts can enhance a community’s wildfire resilience.

Several private citizens representing FAC pilot communities attended our annual workshop last month and found the event tremendously educational. Another way the Network is addressing this need is through the development and testing of a FAC Community Self-Assessment Tool, which is a questionnaire designed to be filled out by various sectors of the community. The tool is designed to help communities identify their values at risk and capacity to implement FAC activities in relation to resources, leadership, networks, motivation, skill sets and partnerships. Several hubs will be piloting the tool in the next 12 months and providing feedback that will help us improve it. Some Network participants have told us they will use the tool, in part, to educate and cultivate members of their local FAC steering groups.

What Are Others Doing?

Another way we might tackle the challenge of working with community leaders and educating them about fire risks and resilience is through formal training events. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a customizable course and experienced facilitators at our disposal?

The U.S. Fire Administration has developed a multi-day FAC course aimed primarily at members of the fire service. Several Network participants have attended and given it good reviews.

resilience_leadership projectVolunteering Queensland has developed a course — the Natural Disaster Resilience Leadership Project — that they are offering to various communities in Queensland, Australia.  According to Volunteering Queensland, the project “… is designed to equip community leaders with the knowledge and resources to be better able to build healthy, resilient communities and provide the local leadership needed for community resilience. It assists local leaders by expanding their understanding of community resilience, building their leadership capacity, strengthening their networks and connecting them with local agencies and authorities.”

According to Tal Fitzpatrick, who helps facilitate these trainings, “this project has been extremely successful due to its focus on partnering with local councils, emergency services and on facilitating a process of action planning for projects driven and owned by the participants and the organizations they represent. Despite only initially been funded for delivery in four communities, to date the project has been delivered in over 15 communities, including some in other states of Australia.

Trainings are aimed at enhancing communities’ resilience to a whole spectrum of disasters (not just wildfire). Nevertheless, there are a lot of similarities between the Volunteering Queensland and FAC Learning Network approaches, including the following tenets:

  • Becoming resilient is a process that does not have an endpoint;
  • It’s important to have tools for measuring resilience and adapting, and for learning from past incidents;
  • Community engagement/education, cross-sector collaboration and investing in local leaders are key; and
  • Business resilience can also be enhanced through this process.

It’s really exciting to see the excellent work that is happening in the FAC Network pilot communities related to raising awareness and mobilizing citizens. Much of this work is focused on community leaders, and there are many different ways to enlist their support and keep them engaged. As a Network, we’ll continue to learn from these efforts and also from programs such as the Natural Disaster Resilience Leadership Project.

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