Flood Impacted Communities Should Explore ‘Good Recovery’

Disaster-stricken communities, including those in Colorado impacted by the widespread September flooding, should pause before beginning the path to recovery, according to one University of Colorado Boulder sociologist.

Professor Kathleen Tierney said that after a disaster people want to quickly rebuild, when it would be beneficial to take time to explore ways to improve the original infrastructure.

“There are lots of examples of other communities deciding to do something different,” Tierney said in a Nov. 8 CU Boulder statement. “Recovery – good recovery – takes time and it takes a lot of effort. There are no short cuts and people who attempt to do things very quickly and to take short cuts often end up unhappier in the long run.”

Tierney is director of CU’s Natural Hazards Center which collects and shares research and experience related to preparedness for, response to, recovery from and mitigation of disasters.

Some towns and communities are on the path to recovery. Colorado 119, which runs through Boulder Canyon, opened to the public last month and on Halloween Lyons welcomed back long-evacuated residents.

Last week, Tierney was one of four of CU social scientists to discuss natural disaster in a public panel. During the event she said decision makers affect the outcome of natural disasters by the regulations, policies and building codes they put in place.

“The point I’m making tonight is so-called ‘natural disasters’ are also the product of social, organizational and institutional forces,” Tierney said.

The Natural Hazards Center is allotting seven Quick Response grants ranging from $1,200 to $2,500 to researchers studying issues related to Colorado’s September floods.

“These researchers are trying to collect info that normally disappears — perishable data — so we can respond better to disasters in the future,” said Jolie Breeden, a coordinator of the Quick Response Program.

CU professor of economics Nicholas Flores said during the public panel that the Boulder Creek mitigation Gilbert White did with the city of Boulder “kept Boulder from looking like Lyons,” which was heavily damaged by flooding on the St. Vrains River.

White founded the hazard center and created the Boulder Creek Flood Notebook, an online plan for studying the next great flood to strike Boulder.

Flores also echoed his colleagues who told I-News at Rocky Mountain PBS last month that climate change could make natural disasters in Colorado more frequent.

“The conjecture is that with climate change the intensity of problems is going to increase,” he said.

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