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Conceptualizing community resilience to natural hazards – the emBRACE framework

emBRACE resilience framework for community resilience to natural hazards


The level of community is considered to be vital for building disaster resilience. Yet, community resilience as a scientific concept often remains vaguely defined and lacks the guiding characteristics necessary for analysing and enhancing resilience on the ground.

The emBRACE framework of community resilience presented in this paper provides a heuristic analytical tool for understanding, explaining and measuring community resilience to natural hazards. It was developed in an iterative process building on existing scholarly debates, on empirical case study work in five countries and on participatory consultation with community stakeholders where the framework was applied and ground-tested in different contexts and for different hazard types.

The framework conceptualizes resilience across three core domains:

  1. Resources and capacities,
  2. Actions, and
  3. Learning.

These three domains are conceptualized as intrinsically conjoined within a whole. Community resilience is influenced by these integral elements as well as by extra-community forces comprising disaster risk governance and thus laws, policies and responsibilities on the one hand and on the other, the general societal context, natural and human-made disturbances and system change over time. The framework is a graphically rendered heuristic, which through application can assist in guiding the assessment of community resilience in a systematic way and identifying key drivers and barriers of resilience that affect any particular hazard-exposed community.

This article* reports on the development of the emBRACE framework for conceptualizing community resilience to natural hazards.

*Download the full text from the right-hand column.

Methods and Tools

Developing an interdisciplinary, multi-level and multi-hazard framework for characterizing and measuring the resilience of European communities calls for the application of a multifaceted approach that adopts interdisciplinary methodological processes. Our research strategy had four strands:

  1. Intensive structured literature reviews. The first sketch of the community resilience framework was informed by the early review systematizing the different disciplinary discussions on resilience into thematic areas. As the project continued, specialized literature reviews complemented this first review by focusing on different aspects of the emerging framework and considering more recent publications.
  2. Empirical case study research in five European countries. Research to investigate community resilience related to different hazard types on different scales was conducted in five sites, comprised multiple Alpine hazards in South Tyrol, Italy and Grisons, Switzerland; earthquakes in Turkey; river floods in central Europe; combined fluvial and pluvial floods in northern England; and heatwaves in London. A number of qualitative and quantitative methodologies were adopted in the case study research in order to develop the final community resilience framework.
  3. Participatory workshops with stakeholders. Three workshops were conducted in case study sites in Cumbria, England; Van, Turkey; and Saxony, Germany to add the perspectives of different community stakeholders on the local and regional scales to the framework development. The aim of the participatory assessment workshops was to collect, validate and assess the local appropriateness and relevance of different dimensions of community resilience and indicators to measure them.
  4. Internal review and validation processes. The final strand involved a review with project partners as well as external experts on community resilience to validate and reflect on the findings and insights from the previous three research strands.

The emBRACE Framework

The emBRACE framework conceptualizes community resilience as a set of intertwined components in a three-layer framework. Together, the three-layers constitute the heuristic framework of community resilience (see Fig. 1), which through application can assist in defining the key drivers and barriers of resilience that affect any particular community within a hazard-exposed population. The framework is explained as follows.

Intra-community domains of resilience – resources and capacities, action and learning:

  • The capacities and resources of the community and its members constitute the first domain of the core of resilience within the community. We differentiate five types of capacities and resources. Natural and place-based capacities and resources relate to the protection and development of ecosystem services, and can also refer to cultural resources, to local public services and to access to jobs and markets. Socio-political capacities and resources account for the importance of political, social and power dynamics and the capacity of community members to influence political decision-making
  • Two types of actions are key to community resilience: civil protection and social protection. The civil protection actions refer broadly to the phases of the disaster management cycle, i.e. preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation. Resilience actions undertaken by the community can be related to these phases. Social protection actions include hazard independent resilience actions, e.g. measures of vulnerability reduction and building social safety nets. For example, the presence of an active community-based voluntary and/or charity sector capable of providing social support (e.g. food banks) and funding for participatory community endeavours (e.g. a community fund).
  • Learning shapes intracommunity resilience as it may lead to a number of social outcomes, acquired skills and knowledge building. We conceptualise social learning as consisting of different elements from the perception of risks or losses, its problematization, to the critical reflection and testing/experimentation in order to derive new knowledge which can be disseminated throughout and beyond the community, enabling resilience at a range of societal levels.

Intra-community resilience domains are embedded in two extra-community frames:

  • Disaster risk governance – which comprises laws, policies and responsibilities of disaster risk management at the local, regional, national and supra-national levels. From the case study research it became clear that community resilience and its constituent resources and capacities, action and learning processes are strongly interacting with existing formal and informal laws, policies and responsibilities of civil protection and risk management more generally
  • Indirect hazard-related context, social–ecological change and disturbancesforming influential boundary conditions for community resilience. First, the wider social, economic, political and environmental context. Second, the social, economic, political and environmental conditions changing overtime. Third, a broad variety of disturbances can influence the community and its resilience is partly closely interlinked with the perceived or experienced changes and the specific context factors.

Lessons Learnt

Considering the intertwined components of the proposed framework, research can be guided by acknowledging the complexity of the possible interactions between the resources and capacities, learning and actions domains in shaping community resilience.

Research and practice rarely include all elements we have identified but often focus on some specific domains and their interaction in more detail. Whether the framework is to inform scientific or more practical applications, in most cases it will be necessary to adapt the framework to the specific context in which it is applied, e.g. cultural background, hazard types or the socio-political context.

The framework should be subject to further research both for conceptualizing community resilience and applying the framework in various contexts.

Suggested citation:

Kruse, S., Abeling, T., Deeming, H., Fordham, M., Forrester, J., Jülich, S., Karanci, A. N., Kuhlicke, C., Pelling, M., Pedoth, L., and Schneiderbauer, S.: Conceptualizing community resilience to natural hazards – the emBRACE framework, Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 17, 2321-2333,, 2017.