Fargo-Moorhead a model for coping with disaster

MPR Photo/Ann Arbor Miller

As the Fargo-Moorhead community faces its third major flood in a row, researchers are studying how people there cope so well with repeated disasters.

Local researchers are teaming up with the Terrorism and Disaster Center at the University of Oklahoma to study community resilience.

Fargo psychologist Kit O' Neill is one of the researchers. She's part of a local group called Red River Resilience that formed after the record 2009 flood. She said national disaster organizations like FEMA and the Red Cross have noticed how well Fargo-Moorhead residents bounce back from disasters. They're interested in learning more about why some communities are more resilient after disasters.

"We're hoping we can not only advance the science but be in the forefront of developing resilience as a model community for the United States," O'Neill said.

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The study will start in the next week or two as researchers identify 1,000 flood volunteers who will fill out a detailed survey.

The plan is to have those same people fill out another survey after this years flood.

"That would definitely contribute an important aspect to the literature to date," O'Neill said. "Not many communities have an opportunity to do a before and after look at community resilience."

The science of community resilience is relatively new.

Researchers think strong community involvement, strong civic leadership, good communication and social support networks are key factors in how a community responds to disaster.

While the survey will follow 1,000 Fargo-Moorhead residents, O'Neill said other researchers are examining civic leadership and communication during the flood. It will take about a year to gather and analyze the data.

"We can't assume what makes one community resilient is exactly the same as another community but we do believe there are common factors that will operate across the continuum and those are the factors we're trying to identify," she said.