Communities are generally defined by all those affected directly by a disaster. Yet communities include a variety of intersecting groups which may be defined by geographic location, cultural, ethnic, socioeconomic, institutional accidental visitor criteria or by their functions in disasters (e.g., police, firefighters). Disasters may also create new groups such as evacuees and bereaved groups. Community groups cohere through social networks, hierarchies, established codes and institutions and channels of communication. Assessment therefore includes strengths and vulnerabilities of the community as a whole, its groups, networks, leadership, hierarchies, communication and capacities of its institutions especially of its emergency services, local government and health and welfare systems. Assessments are made of vulnerable parts of communities, such as hospitals, retirement villages and ethnically and personally isolated groups. Their special needs and how they may be met are assessed. Special sources of information for community assessments include prior sociodemographic profiles and other community assessments and current disaster command post and community leaders.
23 The following points should be noted in community assessments: •
It is important to develop an assessment style that is relevant to the particular community (such as civilian / military, urban / rural) its current tone, mood, morale and culture (such as psychological mindedness and capacity to deliver services in a psychological framework).
• Assessments may be undertaken through visiting places and people formally and informally, attending briefings and by convening meetings. • Assessments are made by different people at different hierarchical levels. They need to be integrated by persons who do not have operational responsibilities and have requisite experience and knowledge to make overall “meta assessments”. • Assessments should be mapped over time and carefully integrated in the overall management process. • Assessments should be monitored for potential adverse consequences.