Parks and Recreation: Protecting Public Health

April 21, 2022, Department, by Kristine Stratton

Kristine Stratton 410

For an enhanced digital experience, read this story in the ezine.

We have talked a lot recently about parks and recreation as part of the public health system — that parks and recreation serve as Community Wellness Hubs. The American Public Health Association describes public health as promoting and protecting the health of people and the communities where they live, learn, work and play. As part of the public health system, parks and recreation have an inherent role of safety and protection that plays out in numerous ways.

There are the operating practices that reflect the role parks and recreation play in supporting the safety of our patrons. May is National Water Safety Month, an annual awareness campaign that NRPA supports to highlight water awareness and swim safety in coalition with the American Red Cross and the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance. You can read more about this in the article titled “Recognizing Water Safety Month” on page 44. Our professionals play a critical role in delivering aquatics programs rooted in solid safety practices, and in doing so, they increase the overall water safety of the communities they serve.

Another public health protection practice that we have grown all too familiar with is that of emergency response. And yet, no matter the status of your emergency response plans, there is always room for improvement and updating. We’ve witnessed public health events, like the pandemic, extreme weather occurences, wildfires, power outages, work stoppages, incidents of violence, and on and on. The threats are extensive and the importance of reviewing emergency response plans and assessing vulnerabilities cannot be overstated.

As part of NRPA’s ongoing efforts to curate content and organize resources, we have been adding to our library of online learning sites we partner with to ensure that our members have access to helpful courses and resources. We recently added a series of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) links that support park and recreation professionals’ critical role in emergency response preparedness. These are tools that support the development of plans in accordance with the National Disaster Recovery Framework developed and updated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

There is a statement in the framework that really hits home and links so beautifully with parks and recreation’s community focus, which is: “The guiding principles remind us of the importance of how we work together to support survivor needs and build resilience.” There is arguably no government function that more directly links to all members of the community than parks and recreation, and through our community engagement practices, we are best positioned to engage in emergency response preparedness and the critical work of supporting survivor needs and building overall community resilience.

The National Disaster Recovery Framework delves into another important topic area that we are covering in this issue — that of technological threats. Preparing against the threat of cyberattacks is a universal concern and one that the park and recreation field must address through operating practices and staff awareness-
building and training. More information on this challenge is shared in the article, “Protecting Against the Digital Unknown,” on page 34.

In my March column, I wrote that an essential truth is that parks and recreation are critical community infrastructure. We must all leverage that truth through thoughtful emergency response plans, strong safety practices, and defensive steps aimed at protecting against cyber threats. The world is getting more complex and challenging, but park and recreation professionals are adaptive, solution-oriented, and definitely up to facing these challenges.

Kristine Stratton is President and CEO of NRPA.