EP 62 BOCO Strong The Resilient Community

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[TIERNAN DOYLE] Recognizing that there needs to be a cultural change, a systemic change in order to incorporate everybody in these conversations about resilience.

[TODD DEVOE] Hey, welcome to EM Weekly, and today, we’re talking to Tiernan Doyle, from Boulder, Colorado, with a program called BOCO, in which means Boulder, Colorado, right? BOCO Strong. And it’s really kind of cool, it’s a program that talks about disaster resilience inside the community and you might have heard a little bit about it if you listened to the podcast in the past, by one of our other guests that talked about the BOCO Strong program. I was really intrigued, to I reached out, and today, we have Tiernan Doyle with us.

Before we get into the interview, I want to bring up the conversation that we are having in the forums.emweekly.com. The question is by Rick (inaudible), from Wasilla, Alaska. And he asked me about the new FEMA rules that are broadening access to disaster funds to churches. And I’d love to hear what you guys think about this topic, so go over to– if you’re driving, wait until you stop, go to your office or your home, or whatever your destination is, and go to forums.emweekly.com and weigh in. Let me hear what you have to say, what you think about the expansion of disaster funds to churches.

Now, let’s get to the interview about BOCO Strong.

[TODD DEVOE] Tiernan, welcome to EM Weekly.

[TIERNAN DOYLE] Thanks, Todd. I’m really excited to be here, and very happy to have BOCO Strong recognized.

[TODD DEVOE] Awesome. So tell me a little bit about yourself and then how you got involved in your program.

[TIERNAN DOYLE] Sure. So, I am an accidental person in this field. I started out, actually, as a spontaneous volunteer during the floods that we had here in 2013, and helped to start a non-profit around volunteer management, and helping neighbors connect to neighbors, so we could all help each other when help could not be had otherwise. And so, from that, I helped to start BOCO Strong and have continued to kind of (inaudible) for community involvement in disaster resilience ever since that.

[TODD DEVOE] That’s great. Well, first of all, I just want to ask a quick question. What do you define as a disaster resilient community?

[TIERNAN DOYLE] That’s a great question. We’ve had the word resilient become definitely a buzzword lately. For us, resilience as a whole is bouncing back and anticipating our risks, limiting the impact of those risks, and then being able to transform successfully to meet our change to circumstances. But we’ve really been working with community resilience and also with disaster resilience as a subset of community resilience, which is using relationships to find skills in our community that will allow us to adapt successfully to any changed circumstances. To have the ability to transform ourselves and our community in response to natural disasters, long-term stressors, and to recognize skills we didn’t know we had, and increase capacity and relationships.

[TODD DEVOE] So, how did you guys start the BOCO Strong program?

[TIERNAN DOYLE] So, BOCO Strong itself was a sub-committee of our long-term flood recovery group. So we had a lot of sub-committees dealing with everything, from housing during recovery to case management, to volunteer management, and all your kind of regular committees that you have on a long-term recovery group. But one thing that we added in, that sometimes appears and sometimes doesn’t, was community engagement.

And so, we want to be able to talk to all the different communities around Boulder County and build trust and relationships with those different communities, so that they could act as resources more easily. We have a very wide variety of topography and also the culture within Boulder County, and so it takes a lot to reach out to all these different communities and make sure they’re being served as a way that’s culturally appropriate, and that they’re getting resources they need to actually– knees on the ground, rather than just kind of mass application of resources, which has not been at all successful.

So, BOCO Strong started out as that community engagement committee, and so, what we did was we convened conversations with all the flood-affected communities around Boulder County, and found that there are some common lessons that people had learned from the flood, and that communities with strong connections between neighbors, and also connections to non-profit and to local government were much more successful in recovering after the flood than communities that didn’t have those relationships.

And so, we decided that there were still gaps and still a very great need to help foster those relationships and convene more conversations about what it really meant to be resilient and to build community connections, even before the next event happened. And so, we decided to keep BOCO Strong going and build a multi-stakeholder coalition group that could kind of hold that big picture of needing relationships, needing connections, and work with all of the different governments. Since Colorado is a Self Rule state, we have very specific governmental programs, and everyone has their own identity in all of the communities in Boulder County.

And so, having this collaborative group of BOCO Strong allowed everyone to come and share resources, build partnerships, talk about what they were seeing, what could be efforts, which became a big problem after the flood, of course. (inaudible) of benefit, but also, people started kind of re-building the wheel in order to process their recoveries in some other ways. And so, we wanted to be able to really maximize our capacity by talking about what we were doing openly and sharing our lessons as we went through this recovery process.

And so, BOCO Strong got a CDBG-DR grant, the Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery, to do resilient planning. And so, we created four goals out of that, to develop a local VOAD, a Voluntary Organization Active in Disaster network, so that non-governmental responders could be part of the process for the next response and be able to better organize our area, because that was a big problem during the flood.

And then we started a leadership program for community groups to identify what was working well in their areas and what gaps were still existing, so we were hearing directly from the community. We had a resilient specimen, so we had a project coordinator who gathered all of this data and identified what gaps still existed and what projects we could take on next to strengthen our overall capacity throughout the county, and then we also worked to build a better network between organizations that were resilient, so kind of social service organizations, (inaudible) organizations and all of these different folks so that they can share lessons learned and organizational best practices to deliver resources to people when and where they were needed.

[TODD DEVOE] That’s awesome. I want to roll back here a little bit, and you talked about building community connections. And how do you use BOCO Strong to build those community connections?

[TIERNAN DOYLE] So, we use BOCO Strong as a convener of conversations, mostly. BOCO Strong isn’t there to step on people’s toes or to try and duplicate something that’s already working, but rather to uphold that bigger picture and help people step over gaps that are existing. So, for example, we have really strong mountain communities in Boulder County, and they tend to be very individually motivated and are very separate identities.

And so, through the leadership of BOCO Strong, the leadership program at BOCO Strong, excuse me. Leaders from those mountain communities came together and identified, for example, the need for a radio repeater tower in a place called Gold Hill, where the HAM radio network– there was like a black hole in the HAM radio network. And so, they got a grant from Foothills United Way, which is part of BOCO Strong, and were able to put that tower up, complete that radio network, and then (inaudible) HAM radio operators and strengthened that whole amateur radio emergency services network.

So there were community connections built within the mountain communities and then also from community leaders to non-profit, from Foothills United Way, and also to local government representatives. And the mountains, they’re part of unincorporated counties, but they don’t always interact with a lot of government representatives, and so, we’re working through all of this with the flood recovery manager for Boulder County, has also helped to build those connections there. So, we’ve got kind of the trifecta of our community connections. Those neighborhood bond connections to resource providers in the non-profit and also connections to local government.

[TODD DEVOE] So, do you guys do any community event type stuff, or is this more, somebody who’s interested has to find you? How does that work?

[TIERNAN DOYLE] So, it’s kind of a hybrid model. So, we try to have the community lead for community events. So, we go and support. For example, there is a resource fair that (inaudible) has, which is led by the CERT members from my community there. And so, we help support that, and we show up, and to tabling there, for example. We host a resilient event, which is an all-day event for organizations that are working on resilience, or for any community leaders, like mini-groups that want to participate as well, they can come, and we have workshops throughout the day, we do community presentations, so community members can highlight projects that they are working on, so that again, we can build those connections between local organizations, resource providers, and community groups as well as policymakers.

So, we try to do a variety of things, from us, showing up at other people’s event to (inaudible) the resilience grid, as well as posting gill-building events and networking events for people to share what they’re working on.

[TODD DEVOE] What are some of the challenges that you all face when you’re putting this thing together?

[TIERNAN DOYLE] Well, there are always, I think, challenges with collaboration. Collaborative models are becoming more and more popular, but it’s still difficult for organizations to do collaboration strategically, I think. And to identify what their needs are from the beginning and have (inaudible) cards on the table and say, “This is what I want to get out of this collaboration, let’s talk about how we can make this work for everybody.”

There’s not really a functional acknowledgment of how collaboration is going to work, and so, that’s always an ongoing struggle and we get really touchy-feely about collaboration, and much more into the nuts and bolts of it. Like, how are we actually going to make this a success for everybody, and the compromise for everybody as well. So there’s a lot of charming people and diplomacy, especially when you have so many different factors in a room. You know, governmental interest and non-profit interests, and community groups that definitely do not see eye to eye all the time. And it’s kind of stating the obvious here, but luckily, we’ve had some fantastic partnerships and people that are committed to building this idea out.

And one challenge that I am always very aware of, personally, is just procedural. So talking about disaster response from the community side and from the emergency management side, I’m always in all of– our sheriff in our emergency manager here. But I see things much more from the community side, and so, recognizing that communities and disaster response has been something that’s been going on for millennia. While emergency management has been becoming more and more professionalized, and there hasn’t been an acknowledgment on neither side– at least here, of just how messy those lines are and how people are always going to be the first responders in our neighborhood.

And so, trying to shut them out of emergency response without acknowledging how they are responding in the first place creates very difficult situations often times, so just reconciling those two different sides, I think about it a lot, and of course, I have the perfect answer, but people somehow don’t. So anyway, we’re still happily trundling through those issues here.

[TODD DEVOE] Yeah, I like how Daniel Aldrige talks about the zero responder. And yeah, I agree with that 100%. Somebody who has been listening to this for a while knows that I came from the first response world, and I always liked to say we were technically the second responders, because the first responders are always the late person who is there. And so, I do agree with you on that, that we have to do a better job, as professionals, to recognize that we need to train more people to be that zero responder, if you will. So I think that’s a really good point that you just made right there.

[TIERNAN DOYLE] We also are teaching classes about that.

[TODD DEVOE] That’s great, that’s awesome. So the challenge there, that you’re saying, is really trying to build that collaboration and build a unity between organizations, that sometimes is hard to build. And how long did it take you to really solidify the BOCO Strong in the community where it was a recognized brand, if you will, and that people said, “Oh yeah, I know what this is, and it’s something that we can look at with a positive light”?

EP 62 BOCO Strong The Resilient Community[TIERNAN DOYLE] So, we had our first community conversations starting in March of 2014, I think. So, that was quite a while– six months after the flood. And so, it took us a little while to start building that brand recognition, but I have to say, getting the CDBG-DR grant really helped and the key thing was having that multi-stakeholder partnership and steering committee that brings together local government, non-profit, and community partners. Because the networks each of those people brought with them really was vital for establishing trust in the community and getting the word out about what we were doing and how we were doing it.

[TODD DEVOE] And looking back at this process, is there anything you guys would do differently now, with (inaudible) 2020? And the reason why I ask this question is that if somebody else is trying to replicate maybe what you guys have done, could they learn from that?

[TIERNAN DOYLE] Yeah, I think there are a lot of things I would do differently, but the biggest lessons that we have learned are about involving vulnerable communities, and how that needs to be done very thoughtfully from the beginning. And it is difficult to sometimes start that process. So, what we do is, we focused on cultural brokers, which are people who are bi-cultural, maybe bilingual, but they have a foot in two different worlds, and so they have trust built up with a vulnerable population, but they also have connections to people who are making decisions, or who are part of a different network and can kind of translate back and forth and be a bridge between those two worlds.

And so, in just this last year, we had a spin-off of BOCO Strong called Resiliency For All, which has been focusing on the monolingual Spanish-speaking community in mainly the city of Longmont, but also throughout the rest of Boulder County. And just having those identified needs for cultural brokers and the absolutely vital need for building bridges to our most vulnerable populations in a way that is, again, respectful of the culture and that is doing it right, it’s really, really important. Because even after the flood, we’ve had countless fires since then, we are a wildfire area.

And so, during one of our fires, we had evacuation orders for a community that had a lot of Spanish speakers in it, and so we had police going door to door, shouting, “Policia! Policia!” And it was very early in the morning, and nobody was answering the door because they were frightened. No one was saying “emergency,” “emergencia.” They were saying, “This is the police, open the door.” And it was just– they couldn’t get people to evacuate. And so, recognizing that there needs to be a cultural change, a systemic change in order to incorporate everybody in these conversations about resilience has been a longer process for us than it should have been.

[TODD DEVOE] Some really good points right there. You’re right, the cultural sensitivity for everything, the way people look at things is really important to understand, so it’s better for communication all the way around, so it’s a really good point right there. Is this program able to be replicated, do you think, if somebody could take the blueprint from what you guys have done and just tweak it a little bit, replicate it in, say, I don’t know, like Georgia?

[TIERNAN DOYLE] I’ve actually had some calls from different places around the United States, asking how and if they could replicate this, and what our process was, what our documents were, and all of the nuts and bolts pieces. And what I think is most replicable about this is that it is flexible to each area. So, taking the stakeholders from key players in your area, whatever non-profits are most active, whatever governmental departments are most responsive to these ideas of resilience and community resilience, and whatever community groups and community leaders are most active in your area.

Those are the key pieces and building these partnerships with whoever is at the table in each area is really vital. And just again, making those connections between those different groups is what matters, and so I think that’s what makes it also incredibly replicable to each area, is because it is adaptable to context and adaptable to the situation of any culture, any community. Just building these connections in the ways that work for each area.

[TODD DEVOE] So basically, at the end of the day, realistically, the community that survives and rebuilds after an event, after a disaster, is really the one that’s connected, and that’s the lesson you guys pulled out of it and sort of put the BOCO Strong together. Is that kind of what I’m hearing?

[TIERNAN DOYLE] Yeah, I’m always preaching about connections and relationships, and it sounds very, very simple and obvious, but what I have found, personally, is that it is the most difficult thing to do. It does require constant updates, as individuals come in and out of the area. It requires always gathering data, identifying gaps, checking in with yourself to make sure that you’re not forgetting people that should be at the table, and keeping that big picture of what matters.

You are only as safe and resilient as your weakest member. Everyone needs to be included in these conversations and it takes a lot of energy to make sure that relationships that are filling the need, that are getting the right people to the table, and that are pushing everyone forward into collective future that is able to knit together these different skills and these different knowledge-basis, at all these different levels of community, non-profit, business, government.

It’s work every day, but I think it’s work that I think is absolutely vital, and it takes resilience plans and it allows us to look at the whole community approach from FEMA, for example, and make it much richer. It allows us to really push that out into the community and say, “I’m not just going to pay lip service to the whole community response. This is us together, working together at all these different sectors to make sure that we are acting together, and we are in a relationship, that we’re sharing information, we’re analyzing what we’re doing, and we’re getting the right people to the table at the right time.

[TODD DEVOE] Do you think that the program like this would work in a large city? Say, like, Los Angeles.

[TIERNAN DOYLE] Yeah, so there’s yes, I do. And I think it would take a slightly different form; I think it would probably– you know, you’d have more subgroups to it. So you might have different coalitions that are sending a representative to your steering committee, for example. But we have a lot of– again, just a lot of different areas in Boulder County, and we’re pretty spread out, and as long as we have a couple of people who are sharing this information and keeping this network engaged, and sharing information, that’s really the core of it.

And so, being able to draw all these different groups, we can still share information and build relationships, and I think that is replicable at different scales. We might just have some more intervening layers to it, but I do think it’s possible anywhere.

[TODD DEVOE] So, if somebody wanted to get a hold of you, how would they be able to find you?

[TIERNAN DOYLE] So, I am out on the internet. I’m on LinkedIn and Twitter, @tiernanz. And I am also happy to take emails, tiernan@bocostrong.org, at any time. And people can also feel free to give me a call, if they’d like, at 700-999-981.

[TODD DEVOE] Cool, and we’ll make sure all that stuff is in the show notes as well, so if you’re driving down the road right now and you don’t have a pencil on hand, no fret. Just go to the website and we’ll have that information available for you. Ok, here comes the toughest question of the day, Tiernan. What book or publication do you recommend to somebody who is really interested in the subject?

[TIERNAN DOYLE] Ok, so this was a really tough one for me. I love books, so I’ve been wracking my brain about this for a long time. I adore Daniel Aldridge’s work, I think they’re fantastic. There are also lots of great emergency management books that I nerd out on. But I have selected, finally, “A Paradise Built in Hell,” by Rebecca Solnit. And I did that because it is just a fantastic record of people being involved in disaster response and the community that arises after a disaster.

[TODD DEVOE] That is the first time I ever heard that one, so that is amazing, that’s cool.

[TIERNAN DOYLE] Alright!

[TODD DEVOE] That’s great. I’m going to have to look that one up myself and take a look at that. So thank you for that recommendation. Is there anything else you would like to say to community organizers, emergency managers, who really want to start building that resilient community?

[TIERNAN DOYLE] I would just say, go for it. Just start talking to people, just find anyone who is interested, and start sharing ideas. There is no perfect answer, we’re all very messy as people. We take information in different ways, and we give them back in strange ways. I’ve been burnt out so many times with this work, but I am absolutely dedicated to the people that I work with and for, and I can’t think of anything that I would rather be doing. So just always keep sight of yourself and yeah, build partnerships. Keep talking and give me a call if you ever need anyone to vent to.

[TODD DEVOE] Tiernan, thank you so much for your time today. It was such a pleasure speaking to you and learning about what your program is.

[TIERNAN DOYLE] I really appreciate the opportunity, it was really great to meet you.

[TODD DEVOE] I’d love to have you back on sometime.

[TIERNAN DOYLE] Sounds good.

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