Community Resilience to Disaster: Adaptive Capacities in Virgin Gorda’s Community Response to Hurricane Irma

Josephine Giersing, Matias Thuen Jørgensen

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Abstract

In 2017, Virgin Gorda was completely devastated by category 5 hurricane Irma. This greatly affected all life on the island, including the tourism sector, where key infrastructure was destroyed and incoming tourist numbers dwindled to less than half of its normal level. Despite this downturn, the island has seen a relatively fast recovery, with tourist numbers returning to normal levels in 2019. One of the co-authors is a resident on Virgin Gorda. This ethnographic study combines her autoethnograpic reflections with 13 semi-structured interviews with relevant local stakeholders, to investigate what caused this small and isolated community to respond quickly and effectively to the disaster and to rebuild a more disaster resilient community. We find that even if the community was largely unprepared for a hurricane of this magnitude, community resilience and adaptive capabilities offer useful explanatory tools. Immediately after the catastrophe the community managed to mobilize otherwise dormant capabilities, by forming a volunteer group ‘Virgin Gorda Recovery Operations Centre (VGROC)’. This allowed for a quick and effective disaster response and subsequent recovery. After the hurricane, this organization and the community as a whole is attempting to organize its adaptive capabilities to prepare for future hurricanes, making the community increasingly adaptable and disaster resilient. Thus, we find that a community’s adaptive capacities may appear in three different stages: dormant - where they are unknowingly present in the community; mobilized - where the community activates otherwise dormant capabilities; and organized – where the community is aware of its capacities and organize them for future mobilization. In addition to the theoretical implications, we hope that the learnings from Virgin Gorda’s disaster response can also help other small island communities with limited access to outside resources to organize dormant adaptive capabilities and in-turn to enhance their resilience to disaster.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Event10th International Conference on Tourism (ICOT2020): Tourism in uncertain times: Issues and Challenges - Online
Duration: 17 Sep 202018 Sep 2020
Conference number: 10
https://iatour.org/icot2020/

Conference

Conference10th International Conference on Tourism (ICOT2020)
Number10
LocationOnline
Period17/09/202018/09/2020
OtherDue to current concerns around COVID-19 it has been decided that the 10th International Conference on Tourism (ICOT2020) will be held between 17-18 September 2020 as a virtual conference. The decision has been made as the wellbeing of our participants is of our primary concern.
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Bibliographical note

Due to COVID-19 it has been decided that the 10th International Conference on Tourism (ICOT2020) will be held between 17-18 September 2020 as a virtual conference.

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