Essential Household Capabilities for Community Resilience During a Post-Tornado Blackout

March 2016 (VOL. 34, NO. 1)

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This paper aims to improve residential preparation for natural disasters and their aftermath by identifying the critical capabilities for adaptation in one highly resilient U.S. county during an extended power blackout after a tornado. We present findings from a survey and structured interviews of residents of Madison County, Alabama who remained in their homes during a blackout following a tornado on April 27, 2011. In particular, we examined the technical capabilities of these individuals that were used to respond to expected needs and to adapt to unexpected issues. We found that even without intentional preparation, participants had technologies to support critical functions but lacked consumables and resources for emerging needs. Nonetheless, participants adapted well because critical items were mostly easy to use, additional resources were available in the community, and their technical knowledge and skills facilitated effective problem-solving and innovation. Critical functions identified for home habitability are listed with examples of versatile ways these functions were accommodated during the blackout. Additional research is needed to validate the proposed list of critical functions and to develop measures that can be used to assess technical capabilities that foster community resilience. Research is also needed to validate the proposed activities that governmental and non-governmental organizations could undertake to foster resilience such as encouraging lay community members to reflect on lessons learned and the usefulness of relevant household items during disaster training and practice drills.