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Learning is Critical to Building Resilience

The Boulder County area experienced several important shocks and stresses in the years leading up to the flood; learning from those experiences helped when the flood came. The 1976 flood in the Big Thompson Canyon to the north, which killed 139 people, proved to be a strong motivator to plan for floods. The 2008 economic downturn brought non-profits and municipal governments together to find ways to handle the increased need for assistance, coupled with declining revenue. This developed a whole set of relationships that made responding during the flood emergency much faster and more effective. The 2010 fire in Four-Mile Canyon highlighted areas where better communications, early warning techniques, resident capacity for preparedness and response, and response and recovery coordination were needed. When the floods hit, the experience from the fire of coordinating agencies, setting up Disaster Assistance Centers, creating forums to listen to communities for what they need, working with emerging community groups, and communicating messages all improved the response. The long time since previous catastrophic floods had hit the area, though, meant that some learning was forgotten. Homeowners that disconnected their sump pumps, neighborhoods that resisted construction of Greenways, agencies that had difficulty adapting their standard operating procedures to the needs of other organizations and communities, and the high cost of creating a more adaptive sewage system all led to the reappearance of previous difficulties in this disaster. Legal liability can also act as a damper on learning as government agencies, and potentially other organizations, seek to insulate themselves from lawsuits by not sharing openly what happened during the disaster.

PERC Reports