Preparedness and Resilience Complement Each Other

Reader Contribution by Jan Spencer
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The author’s property has a small ecological footprint and elevated resilience. Photo by Jan Spencer

Two words — preparedness and resilience — have attracted an increasing amount of interest in recent years. They are closely related but seldom identified together.

The Difference Between Preparedness and Resilience

Preparedness refers to being ready when disruption to normal life occurs. Disruptions and disasters can be natural or human caused or in combination, such as floods, fires, power failure and earthquakes. Other disasters can include chemical spills, draught, terrorism, dam failure, social/economic malfunction, sea level rise and more. Climate change is a disruption wild card.

Mainstream preparedness can include stashing food and water at home and having a “go bag” for emergency exit for self or family.

Many cities have programs that can help residents prepare for disruption and disaster with their neighbors. For example, here in Eugene, Ore., we have Map Your Neighborhood, a program with step-by-step “how-to” literature explaining how to organize 12 or 14 nearby homes. Even Neighborhood Watch can boost preparedness. Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training offers instruction for light search and rescue, medical triage, community preparedness and more.

Go bag with basic preparedness items. Photo by Jan Spencer

Resilient lifestyles, homes, and neighborhoods can take preparedness strategies to a higher level and at the same time, address multiple social, economic and environmental issues.

Preparedness is a very smart move for individuals, families, friends and neighbors. But it does nothing to address the causative factor of many conditions that contribute to the need to be prepared in the first place. That causative factor is human over consumption of energy, resources and stuff.

Addressing Root Causes of Instability

Our consumer culture is a leading cause of deepening disruptions to life as usual. Human-caused climate change, which is the result of excess carbon dioxide produced by cars, power plants, jet planes and affluence, is already disrupting ecosystems, creating climate refugees, overtaxing river systems, contributing to wild fires and creating more erratic weather. All those conditions are leading to immense disruption to life as we know it. And we are only in the early going.

Ecological Footprints Of Countries Map. Photo by New Economics Foundation

Interest in preparedness can lead to interest in resilient lifestyles. From this perspective, resilient lifestyles require significantly smaller ecological footprints. Resilient lifestyles use less energy and resources and they contribute far less to human caused disruption from the personal scale to societal. But resilient living is not the ultimate goal — that would be sustainability.

What Makes True Community-Scale Resilience?

A resilient lifestyle, moving towards sustainability, would include more people sharing a home and making much less use of cars, jet planes, and motorized recreation. It would have a diet far more based on plants and local agriculture. A resilient lifestyle would make more time available for participation in community affairs.

Prepared and resilient properties would produce useful amounts of food, energy, and water on site, making it less vulnerable to disruption. It would have features such as grass to garden, fruit and nut trees, significant rainwater collection, passive and active solar energy, an ADU and more.

Prepared and resilient neighborhoods would produce more diverse important needs at a larger scale. It’s a place where neighbors actively look out for each other. Neighborhood Watch and Mapping Your Neighborhood can not only look after property and preparedness, but after neighbors meet, they can make more ambitious plans to reduce eco footprints, build community, share skills and resources, plus be prepared and resilient.

A high level of residential cooperation may sound beyond reach, but ask people who live at East Blair Housing Coop in Eugene, N Street Co-housing in Davis, Calif., Enright Ridge, or many other locations all over the world where people practice “intentional” living to build social well-being and reduce the impact on the natural world.

Imagine a group of two, three, five, or 10, neighbors meeting by way of Neighborhood Watch or Next Door and deciding to coordinate and cooperate with each other for their collective preparedness and resilience. Fences could come down, there could be shared child care, shared tools and skills. When people come together for a common cause, they can become an idea factory and come up with healthy plans no one even thought about before.

Mapping Community Assets

A good place to begin is mapping which community agencies and resources exist, including those that work well in other places but may not currently be available near you.

Illustration by Jan Spencer

Neighborhood associations are a natural partner for preparedness and resilience. Many cities have neighborhood programs and in Eugene, where I live, several already have preparedness committees. Those committees could include resilience and permaculture in their educational outreach. Cities could promote permaculture and resilient living.

Imagine schools, faith organizations, businesses, nonprofits, social media groups all encouraging their members to meet, coordinate and cooperate to build prepared and resilient lifestyles, homes and neighborhoods. The long-term goal: to bring about a society and economy that exists within the boundaries of the natural world.

Preparedness is gaining traction near and far as a personal and community concern. Preparedness can be the entry to a more ambitious set of actions that can lead towards resilience, sustainability and reducing the conditions that cause and add to disruption. We have many allies and assets to work with in our own lives, at home, in the neighborhood and in the community.

A preferred future can start with a visioning drawing. Illustration by Jan Spencer

Resources to Get Started

Many individuals and organizations are already moving beyond preparedness. There are many books, articles, YouTube videos, and websites pointing the way towards a preferred future.

You can find links to presentations and podcasts with topics such as eco villages, urban food systems, pushing back on cars, empowering young people, mindful economics, permaculture and much more at

I will leave you here with a 30-minute tour of my quarter-acre property in Eugene produced during a visit from Raintree Nursery:

Jan Spencer has been transforming his quarter-acre suburban property for 15 years. The project shows what home economics and suburbia can look like — taking care of more needs closer to home. Read Jan’s book, Notes from the Suburban Frontier, as well as listen to his podcast, check out hisYouTube channel, and find community-building resources at He is available for making presentations about transforming suburbia, economy and culture. Read all of Jan’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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