In 2013, the City of Longmont experienced “flooding of biblical proportions” when the average annual rainfall amount fell in just four days.A few years before the flood, city engineers learned of changes made to the local floodplain maps maintained by FEMA. While at the time flooding seemed highly unlikely, City of Longmont, CO officials viewed this possibility of severe flooding as a public safety issue and began strategizing how to inform, engage, and prepare the community.
While flooding seemed highly unlikely, City of Longmont officials viewed this possibility of severe flooding as a public safety issue and began strategizing how to inform, engage, and prepare the community. Before the flood came, in looking to inform and engage residents, special efforts were taken to reach vulnerable populations living in mobile home parks located very near the creek. These residents might not have been reached through more traditional communication methods such as local newspapers, emails, or websites.
When the unexpected happened and a once in a generation flood came – the city was ready. The flooding of 2013 proved to be both a test and an opportunity. The flooding was devastating, but the city was prepared. The Emergency Operations Center distributed information to residents through websites, social media, and reverse 911 notifications. Emergency personnel and staff worked around the clock responding to phone calls and providing real-time updates on evacuation areas and shelter locations.
The city was fortunate to suffer no loss of life from the catastrophic event, although many residents were displaced. As the cleanup was underway, Longmont seized the opportunity to create a more sustainable community. A desire to maintain and expand upon the community unity displayed during the flood evolved into an increased focus on ensuring that all in the community were able to become resilient.
The main focus after a disaster typically is on restoring physical infrastructure and making it more resilient, while social infrastructure frequently is ignored or forgotten. A local collaborative formed immediately after the floods, BoCo Strong, that focused on increasing the social capital of existing social networks through outreach efforts that let each community know what others were already doing in the areas of community development, economy, health, housing, infrastructure, and the natural environment. In this way, efforts were coordinated for maximum effectiveness.
Before the flood, special efforts were taken to reach vulnerable populations living in mobile home parks located very near the creek who might not have been reached through more traditional communication methods.
Through a series of neighborhood meetings and door-to-door visits conducted in both English and Spanish, every resident in these lower-income areas was contacted and encouraged to create an action plan and to sign up for the reverse 911 emergency notification system.
One group identified as being underrepresented in existing efforts was the Latino community. Approximately 26 percent of Longmont’s population identifies as Latino. After reviewing community assessments and holding community conversations, gaps in active outreach and inclusion of monolingual Spanish-speaking community members became apparent. The Longmont-led effort Resiliency for All/Resiliencia para Todos (RFA/RPT) identified those barriers and developed recommendations to help create a bridge between a vulnerable sector of the Latino population (monolingual Spanish speakers), community resources, and local governments in the City of Longmont and throughout Boulder County. The study met with focus groups and captured personal stories from bilingual youth, cultural brokers and community members.
The resulting report and multilingual video is being used as a tool to raise awareness of how Longmont and other communities can better address the needs of this population. Boulder County Emergency Management translated its Emergency Preparedness Guide into Spanish and developed a bilingual (English and Spanish) door hanger to use during future emergency situations to notify residents to evacuate. These two items were a direct result of barrier identification in the RFA/RPT project.
Jennifer Loper, Public information Specialist
Department of Public Works & Natural Resources
1100 S. Sherman Street
Longmont, CO 80501