Extreme Weather and Health: Action through Geospatial Community Engagement

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Wednesday, 5 February 2014: 2:00 PM
Room C213 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
Sheila Lakshmi Steinberg, Brandman University, Irvine, CA

Extreme weather is an increasingly important force which significantly affects many people and environments throughout the world. Extreme weather may appear in the form of tornados, cyclones, extreme heat, drought or floods. These encounters may range in severity, scope, and degree of detrimental impact across both local and regional geographies. The coping mechanisms that people employ to deal with extreme weather in various environments, can vary depending on geographic location, culture and resources available. This paper explores the notion that the ability of communities to cope with extreme weather and climate hinges on first identifying and then building upon the strengths of people and place. These can be identified and harnessed through using the sociospatial perspective and accomplished using geospatial technologies such as Geographic Information Systems. The sociospatial perspective adopts a holistic perspective of space, place and social indicators. Such strengths are intricately based on instances of human and social capital, proximity and access to resources. Community response to extreme weather could be greatly enhanced by working with the people who know the intricacies of their local physical and social environments to create a map of social connections, hazardous geographies and points of interaction. By developing policies which leverage geographic points of social interaction and patterns of local communication, community leaders can better prepare for ample health and economic response systems to be in place before extreme weather events strike. When and event occurs it is essential to understand spatially where the most optimal places are to initiate and deploy a response in the local community which will effectively meet health needs of the local populace in an effective and efficient manner. In this paper, different strategies of community engagement to maximize positive coping strategies for health risks that emerge from extreme weather are explored. A discussion of best practices for community engagement across different environments, both urban and rural and different physical geographies are considered.