It’s hard to believe that even though the mountains aren’t quite closed off, fire season is right around the corner. Last weekend’s Duck Pond Fire along I-70 near Gypsum demonstrated that it’s never too early to start thinking about disaster preparedness and planning.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, our community sprang into action and the Aspen Community Foundation established the Community-to-Community Disaster Relief Fund to channel resources to affected areas. The fund was activated again for the 2010 Haiti earthquake and other natural disasters in the United States
Then, in 2018, disaster struck in our own backyard with the Lake Christine fire. Although the fire caused extensive damage, fortunately it was not as devastating as it easily could have been.
As a community foundation, the Aspen Community Foundation is committed to connecting giving with need. In reflecting on the impact and response to the Lake Christine Fire, it became apparent that due to the unique makeup of the greater Roaring Fork area, a more coordinated disaster response system was necessary to equitably meet the needs of the community. This event highlighted the lack of coordination between organizations as well as the disparities and gaps in communication between different populations.
In 2020, the pandemic emerged as another type of disaster impacting our community. Knowing that disasters often have a long tail of recovery and that a coordinated response has a wider impact than individual efforts, ACF is committed to exploring ways to maximize the response over the entire recovery period.
ACF has contracted support from the Center for Disaster Philanthropy in 2021 to help create a playbook and structure to better coordinate efforts between government agencies, nonprofits and philanthropists to better respond to the needs of people affected by disasters. This work focuses on preparing for natural disasters.
Since February of this year, ACF has convened stakeholders from Pitkin, Garfield, and Eagle counties for three meetings to explore what might be possible for our region, identify gaps, and begin to create a rollout structure. in the event of another disaster.
The first meeting brought together more than 50 partners from across the region. County emergency management teams across the valley shared structures already in place from a government perspective. Partners then discussed unmet needs in past disasters and communication gaps within the community.
Several partners involved in this process represent those who need additional support in times of crisis. Jill Pidcock, Executive Director of Arc of the Central Mountains, says, “Emergency and disaster preparedness is important to all of us. The Central Mountain Arc supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities as well as access and functional needs. Helping people plan ahead for their own lives enables and empowers people to protect themselves and gives them peace of mind when it comes to disaster. Our stakeholders have additional factors to plan and create accommodations such as: durable medical equipment, alternative communication methods, unique medical needs, different levels of independence. »
In the second meeting, Kim Maphis Early, meeting facilitator for the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, shared four models that other communities have used to better prepare for disasters and partners explored what might work best for our region. In the end, the partners agreed to move forward with the creation of a structure of community organizations active in disasters (COAD).
The April meeting marked the last meeting with the whole group as Early shared the next steps in creating the structure. Representatives from nine organizations have volunteered to create a steering committee to further develop the structure and continue to create the response plan to ensure equitable and accessible help is available when needed.
Angela Mills, Executive Director of United Way Battlement to the Bells, learned from this process and joined the steering committee to continue supporting the process. “Our region presents unique challenges to disaster response, but the courage, commitment and creativity of our shareholders is energizing. The group of people who have attended meetings since the beginning of this process and those who are now involved in the planning process will ensure that our region has an inclusive and community-centered COAD, set up for success” , she said.
While this community may have unique challenges in times of disaster, it also has a committed group dedicated to improving outcomes in times of adversity.
Tamara Tormohlen is Executive Director of the Aspen Community Foundation.