Jefferson County, Colo. — When one thread in a quilt frays, the entire blanket doesn’t fall apart. When one branch on a tree breaks, the whole tree doesn’t topple. Similarly, in a disaster, when a community comes together to respond to each other’s needs, the entire community has a better chance of making it through.
This September, for National Preparedness Month and on the five-year anniversary of catastrophic flooding in Colorado, Jefferson County Public Health encourages every family, every neighborhood and every community to look at how they can come together to create a more resilient, prepared population in the face of emergencies.
Creating resilient communities
After a summer of wildfires in Colorado, and with the present danger of Hurricane Florence on the eastern seaboard, the potential for disasters and what they leave in their wake is always top of mind for many Coloradans and Americans. However, by coming together within our communities and preparing as a people, rather than just as individuals, we can create more resilient neighborhoods that are better equipped to handle the unthinkable.
The State of Colorado defines resiliency as, “the ability of communities to rebound, positively adapt to or thrive amidst changing conditions or challenges — including human-caused and natural disasters — and to maintain quality of life, healthy growth, durable systems, economic vitality and conservation of resources for present and future generations.”
Understanding what resiliency is — and why it’s so important — is key to being able to withstand disasters. Disasters can, and likely will, happen. It’s how we adapt to them and respond that determines how we survive and thrive.
“That requires planning,” said Christine Billings, MPH, Emergency Preparedness and Response Supervisor at Jefferson County Public Health. “Know your neighbors. Ask the tough questions. Define your community and figure out what your areas of strength and weaknesses are. That knowledge of your community’s strengths creates a unified response and will lead to better outcomes when a disaster strikes.”
Resiliency in action: The 2013 floods
On Sept. 11, 2013, it started raining across 24 counties in Colorado, including Jefferson County. It didn’t stop for more than three days, and the massive amount of rainfall wreaked havoc on many communities statewide. According to the Colorado Resiliency and Recovery Office, the floods killed 10 people, impacted 28,000 households, destroyed 1,800 homes and caused nearly $4 billion in damage.
But that’s just part of the story. When the rain stopped and the response died down, the recovery began. People across the state jumped into action to help those in their communities, and in the areas near theirs, recover from the disaster. That’s something the Resiliency and Recovery Office chalks up to the connectedness and toughness of Coloradans. The people of the state knew it would be a difficult, long road — and in many areas, this struggle continues.
Though Jefferson County didn’t bear the brunt of the storm, our Emergency Preparedness and Response team assisted local emergency management in Jefferson County, as well as response partners in neighboring Boulder County in responding to the overwhelming needs of the disaster.
“The floods are a perfect example of why community resiliency is important. If we jump into action to help one another, and even prepare as best as we can before tragedies occur, we can at least soften the impact they have,” Billings said. “That doesn’t mean the difficult times are easier. It doesn’t mean the losses hurt less. It just means we can help each other through them, and hopefully, we don’t fall quite as far as we otherwise would.”
Recovering from the flood was, and still is, a work in progress. After the experts across the state saw the extreme damages done, they formed the Colorado Resiliency Framework and the Colorado Resiliency Working Group. Billings and Jefferson County Public Health are part of this group and helped work on the drafting and adopting of the framework in 2015.
“The important thing to know about resiliency is it happens at all levels. When you come together with the families on your block to plan for an emergency — that’s community resiliency. When you give feedback on or participate in your city or county’s emergency preparedness plans or exercises — that’s community resiliency,” Billings said. “When you help your neighbors in need after a disaster, that spirit you’re showing is resiliency. It’s woven into the fabric of Colorado.”
To learn more about resiliency, visit http://www.coresiliency.com/. To learn more about Emergency Preparedness and Response in Jefferson County, watch this video or visit https://www.jeffco.us/2271/Emergency-Preparedness.
About Jefferson County Public Health
Public health is what we as a society do collectively to prevent illness and premature death and promote health in our neighborhoods and communities. Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) is committed to promoting and protecting health across the lifespan through prevention, education and partnerships for all people. To learn more about JCPH, visit https://www.jeffco.us/public-health. You can also follow JCPH on Twitter @JeffcoPH and Facebook @jeffcopublichealth.