The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has included seven core capabilities in the mitigation mission area. I am going to focus on the ones most related to the Social Determinants of Vulnerability Framework: risk and disaster resilience assessment, community resilience, and long term vulnerability reduction. Mitigation is “the thread that permeates the fabric of preparedness” and is intended to minimize the risks associated with threats and hazards (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2013a, p. 6). Effective mitigation starts with a risk assessment to identify the threats and hazards a community faces and determine the associated vulnerabilities and consequences (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2013a). Assessing risk and disaster resilience allows decision makers, responders, and community members to take informed action to reduce their risk and increase their resilience (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2013a).
The United Nations (UN) has promoted a promising risk-based framework for making cities more resilient (Dickson, Baker, & Hoornweg, 2012) that is consistent with other risk frameworks. This approach to risk is promising because it includes an often forgotten element, a socioeconomic assessment. The incorporation of this type of assessment includes the social dimensions of vulnerability. The social conditions in the Social Determinants of Vulnerability Framework can be used as the factors considered for assessing the social dimension of risk in American cities. The Framework identifies the relationship between the pre-incident social conditions and the post-incident outcomes. We cannot control all the reasons people are socially vulnerable, the occurrence of all disasters, or all of the post-incident suffering. However, we can affect social isolation, which is the most central socially vulnerable factor.
Social isolation is the product of a lack of social justice and social capital which are both important aspects of resilience (Chandra et al., 2011). Social justice, social equity, and social capital are related concepts. Social justice means the institutions serving the community enable them to contribute to decisions about their community and prevent inequality. Social equity means people get what is right for them. Social capital is the relationships people have with each other, their community, and institutions. Practical approaches to improving community preparedness, and therefore resilience, include connecting socially vulnerable people with others in their communities as well as government and community organizations that provide services meant to improve their well-being and quality of life.
Community resilience is an end state of effective risk management (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2013a), which is a foundational component of mitigation. The key aspects of community resilience are leadership, collaboration, partnership building, and education and skills building (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2013a). Cities can lead collaborations with community partners to customize community education and training based on the populations in different neighborhoods.