Standard advice about preparing for disasters focuses on building shelters and stockpiling things like food, water, and batteries. But resilience the ability to recover from shocks, including natural disasters comes from our connections to others, and not from physical infrastructure or disaster kits.
Almost six years ago, Japan faced a paralyzing triple disaster: a massive earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdowns that forced 470,000 people to evacuate from more than 80 towns, villages, and cities. My colleagues and I investigated how communities in the hardest-hit areas reacted to these shocks, and found that social networks the horizontal and vertical ties that connect us to others are our most important defense against disasters.
We saw this play out in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene in Vermont. Communities with pre-existing vibrant use of Front Porch Forum rebounded more quickly after the flooding than those without.