Community-based disaster preparedness (CBDP) approaches are increasingly important elements of vulnerability reduction and disaster management strategies. They are associated with a policy trend that values the knowledge and capacities of local people and builds on local resources, including social capital. CBDP may be instrumental not only in formulating local coping and adaptation strategies, but also in situating them within wider development planning and debates. In theory, local people can be mobilised to resist unsustainable (vulnerability increasing) forms of development or livelihood practices and to raise local concerns more effectively with political representatives. This paper focuses on the potential of CBDP initiatives to alleviate vulnerability in the context of climate change, and their limitations. It presents evidence from the Philippines that, in the limited forms in which they are currently employed, CBDP initiatives have the potential both to empower and disempower, and warns against treating CBDP as a panacea to disaster management problems.