Frontline communities

About frontline communities 

Frontline communities are groups of people that have disproportionately carried the burden of harm from exploiting natural resources, economic disinvestment, under-investment, and or social and political disenfranchisement. As a result, these are the same under-resourced communities that bear the disproportionate impacts of disaster.

This must change.

Environmental events are not inherently unjust. Vulnerability to the effects of a disaster is informed by gender, race, ethnicity, language, socio-economic status, special needs, age, housing tenure, and (most importantly) how government, philanthropy, and civil society respond to residents. 

North Bay Organizing Project

A few examples of frontline communities include:  

  • people who live in rural areas. 

What makes up a frontline community will vary from place to place and might include groups not listed here, so getting to know residents and understanding their specific experiences is important. Community-based and grassroots organizations are a great place to go for this information.  

Impact of disasters on frontline communities 

There are many examples of the devastating impacts of disasters on frontline communities in California. In Stories from the Frontline, three examples portray the varied experiences of frontline communities with disaster risk. These are fictional characters to protect privacy and respect the experience of frontline communities, but they are based on real experiences. Read them to learn about what frontline communities face before, during, and after a disaster. 

Honor the wisdom, experience, and energy of frontline communities  

Frontline communities hold deep expertise and capacity for planning for, responding to, and recovering from disasters and understand the complex, unjust system that awaits. They are the first people impacted and often the last people to receive the benefits of formal disaster response systems.  

An example that centers frontline communities is UndocuFund. In coordination with the Graton Day Labor Center and North Bay Jobs With Justice, the North Bay Organizing Project formed UndocuFund to support over 7,800 families suffering from the economic and health impacts of successive fires in Sonoma County. UndocuFund is a direct response to support undocumented immigrants who do not qualify for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). 

The tools on this website are all publicly available so that every individual and organization can center the experience, knowledge, and recommendations of frontline communities in their planning, funding, and advocacy for natural hazards and disasters. Many community-based organizations are doing the hard, consistent, and often taxing work of supporting frontline communities so that they can thrive in the face of disasters. We aim to showcase the impactful work of these community-based organizations along with how philanthropic and public agency efforts can work in deep collaboration with them. 

On being trauma-informed and healing-centered  

The Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration says, “Individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that an individual experiences as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.” Frontline communities hold individual trauma from their experiences with harm, neglect, discrimination, and treatment before, during, and after disasters. It’s important to understand how this might impact working in and with these communities in a way that does not perpetuate further trauma. SAMHSA’s Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach is a great resource to get started.  

Collective trauma is witnessing or experiencing an event with a group of people. Collective trauma happens during disasters (COVID-19 is an example), wars, and political upheaval. Dr. Shawn Ginwright writes that focusing only on the individual trauma doesn’t allow the person to heal fully. Dr. Ginwright writes about a shift from being trauma-informed to being healing-centered and what that can do for people who have carried individual and collective trauma.  Check out Enterprise’s Framework for Healing-Centered Community Development for more guidance.