Resilient Communities

As we approach the summit, we wanted to revisit the resilience sectors from the 2016 BoCo Strong Resilience Assessment. Looking at the qualities of resilience as well as the actions that we’re already taking in Boulder County helps to ground our conversations about the present and inspire our goals for the future.

First up is Community:

Resilient Communities

In resilient communities community members are involved, have the information and tools needed to make informed decisions, are connected to one another, and are connected to decision makers. Changing hazards are understood, are clearly communicated to residents, and are addressed in local plans and policies. Tools such as land use, building codes, comprehensive emergency management and hazard mitigation work in concert and reinforce mutual goals. Government is coordinated across departments and scales and easily accessible to residents.

What’s Already Resilient About Communities in Boulder County

Town, municipal and county governments in Boulder County work hard to identify and be responsive to residents’ needs and interests. Basic services in communities across the county are strong:

  • Water quality is excellent, both in municipalities and from most private wells;
  • Wastewater and solid waste disposal is efficient, effective and affordable;
  • City and county infrastructure is regularly assessed and, in general, adequately maintained;
  • Resident input on possible actions is solicited and incorporated into decisions.

There is comprehensive hazard and exposure mapping both within municipalities and at the county level. In particular, we work to understand and refine the location of floodplain boundaries, have developed and enforce floodplain regulations, and where possible have bought floodplain land for use as Open Space, providing public benefit as we reduce risk.

Building codes and standards in the county are continually reviewed and updated to assure that structures meet national standards and will be robust against local shocks and stresses. Land use and building codes have been thoughtfully developed, are publicly disseminated, and are enforced for new construction and renovations.

We have a strong emergency response system, including a proactive county emergency management team, a state-of-the-art emergency operations center, strong coordination among first responders built through regular table-top and scenario planning sessions, warning sirens, information campaigns, and reverse 911 calls to alert specific geographies about specific immediate threats.

Following the 2013 flood, communication and collaboration between county governments has increased. In particular, the County Collaborative, composed of representatives from Longmont, Lyons, Jamestown, Louisville, Lafayette, Nederland, the City of Boulder, and Boulder County was formed to develop, prioritize and implement flood recovery projects. This has resulted in a significant increase in inter-jurisdictional communication.

What Should We Do to Increase Resilience?

Integrate emergency communications centers in the county. There are multiple separate emergency communications centers – including the Cities of Boulder and Longmont, the University of Colorado, and Boulder County — that should be better integrated.

Provide emergency warnings and first responder services in English and Spanish. Emergency warnings and response services are only provided in English. We have no Spanish reverse 911 capability and our first responders are, in general, not bilingual. This first step needs to be part of a larger effort to set-up, support and resource bilingual service provision, community education, and outreach.

Increase integration of building codes and land use policy across jurisdictions. There have been numerous issues during flood recovery where both homeowners and local jurisdictions have been unable to clarify how best to move forward due to conflicting policy information. Clarifying and integrating policy across jurisdictions (up to and including the state level), and improving communication of policies is needed.

Build trust among county residents and improve public engagement in planning and decisions. Though our governments work hard to be responsive to residents needs and interests, we still have significant populations unhappy with decisions that are made. We need to find ways to engage the public that foster productive discussion of competing ideas, engage a broader cross-section of the population, use a broader range of communication avenues, support an atmosphere of collaboration and compromise, and increase public confidence that their views have been heard and considered.

Institutionalize the County Collaborative and work to expand it to include representation from all governments within the county. The County Collaborative, convened post-flood to coordinate county recovery, has resulted in a significant increase in inter-jurisdictional communication within the county. However, the future of this group beyond the flood recovery process is in question. County jurisdictions need to commit to maintaining the Collaborative, and to revitalizing and refocusing the group to address individual community and collective county needs.

Develop a regional coordination body to develop and champion regional integrated land use, housing, and transportation planning. Though the County Collaborative has been effective at connecting local jurisdictions for flood recovery and the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) has been an effective platform for regional transportation issues, there is a gap in broader inter-governmental co-ordination and collaboration. In particular, a regional council of governments able to develop and champion a regional, integrated land use, housing, and transportation plan is lacking. In its absence, regional issues will continue to be locally addressed, solutions that could help mitigate challenges are likely to lack the scope and scale they need, and towns will continue to compete with each other, lowering the bar for zoning and tax requirements.

Institutionalize the learning and cross-sectoral communication fundamental to both recovery and resilience. Local governments, though proactive and interested in resilience, have yet to formalize support and resources to act on resilience. Governments need to move from being reactive to reflecting, planning, and aligning plans with other jurisdictions in preparation for both response and recovery.

Identify ways to build in transitional support for transferring networks and knowledge as people leave jobs and new people come on. Frequently, employee productivity and successful outcomes are dependent more on the networks people can mobilize and the skills and capacities they can tap from that network than on their individual talents. Yet we rarely explicitly recognize the value of these networks, and consequently lose this capacity when people leave a job.

Develop a new staffing model for disaster response and recovery. Our current approach of “surging” for disasters has been pushed to the limit with the 2008 economic downturn, 2010 Fourmile Canyon Fire, and 2013 Flood. Asking our city staff to take on substantial response and recovery roles in addition to what they are already doing and maintain that extra load for months or years is burning people out. We are losing talented staff, and with them valuable institutional knowledge and networks. We need a more sustainable approach to disaster.