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Post-Disaster, Larimer Wants To Know: What Did You Learn?

Courtesy of Sergeant Marc Weber
Larimer County Sheriff's Office
Firefighters douse the flames from the High Park wildfire in 2012.

After the disaster, there’s the debrief.

It's the process where first responders review "what worked and what didn’t work and what do we want to learn for the next time," said Larimer County Director of Emergency Management, Lori Hodges. But following the historic 2013 Colorado floods, she had a realization.

“It occurred to me that there aren’t really a lot of avenues for citizens to talk to other citizens at that level,” Hodges said.

Until now.

As part of Larimer County's Lessons: Next Generation project, they've created a "Lessons Learned blog," where community members can share their disaster stories and the lessons that came out of them.

Part storytelling, part how-to guide – the online project aims to use one generation’s experiences to steer another’s actions. The site will be a hub for stories, photos and videos.

“You know, we could do preparedness training and we could teach people stuff, but really learning from a neighbor about what they went through and how they would do it differently, I think, has a really big value,” Hodges said.

Pinewood Springs resident Laura Levy's contribution was an admission of a bad habit she had before the floods: letting her gas tank run low.

Credit Courtesy of Laura Levy
Pinewood Springs resident Laura Levy shared this photo of her family during the 2013 floods. Gas cans stored at the family's home proved to be lifesavers during the disaster.

“When the flooding started I had a quarter tank in my car. It would have been so easy to fill it up in Lyons on my way home," Levy said. "We used the car to check on neighbors, four-wheel up to a spot where we could get spotty cell service… to charge up our phones. And ultimately, we four-wheeled out over a temporary road to evacuate our vehicle. Fortunately, my husband always keeps extra gas cans filled in our garage. We used that for the generator and for the car.”

Larimer's Hodge points to lessons such as these as an important aspect of social capital.

If a community is not very well connected – they don’t know their neighbors and they don’t have community picnics or regular meetings where they can get to know their neighbors - that area can be a lot more fragile to disaster, she said. Without those networks in place, disaster recovery is more difficult and takes longer.

While they are specifically looking for stories and lessons from the 2012 wildfires and the 2013 flood, Hodges said stories from more recent events, including the June 2015 tornadoes that touched down in Berthoud, will be accepted.

Eventually, Hodges hopes to compile the content into a book/video that can be distributed to neighborhoods.

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