Photo Credit: An emergency management coordinator describes the opportunity for collaboration and partnerships between emergency management and wildfire resilience practitioners. Photo by Boulder County Emergency Operations Center

Interviewer’s note: During my five years working with FAC Net, I’ve discovered a passion for understanding how communities prepare for, respond to and recover from natural disasters. This led me to investigate what emergency management as a profession means as it relates to FAC, and how Offices of Emergency Management (OEM) and emergency managers play an important role in FAC efforts. Last fall, I met Andrew Notbohm at a Boulder County resilience summit, where he told me that there was a role for me to play as a volunteer at the County’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC), which I jumped at and has been a great learning opportunity.

I recently interviewed Andrew to get his take on how emergency managers relate to the FAC framework. Based on his background in wildfire mitigation, and current role as an emergency management coordinator for Boulder County (see his bio below), Andrew illuminated how Boulder County OEM integrates FAC partners in its work.

Not working with your local office of emergency management yet? Read Andrew’s interview below and get inspired to start connecting with your local emergency manager.

Emily: What does a “normal day” look like as an emergency management coordinator? And what is your favorite part of your job?

Andrew: The great thing about emergency management is there really isn’t a “normal day.” One day I might be coordinating an exercise in our EOC, and the next day, I’m collaborating with a community group on wildfire preparedness or writing an operations plan for our damage assessment teams. There’s a ton of variation when you’re dealing with mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery, especially since we’re working in the context of all hazards, including floods, wildfires, pandemics, cyber risks, terrorism and so forth.

I love that I learn something new every day. Emergency managers work with so many different partners and communities, each with their own identity, perspective and understanding of risk. Every day is a unique challenge and new opportunity to serve the community.

An event we hosted earlier this year, which was a great success, was the first ever Boulder Wildfire Summit. After a two-year hiatus without a significant wildfire, we thought it was important to bring together city, county and state leaders, nongovernmental organizations and subject-matter experts, to ask the question, “Are we prepared for wildland fire season as a community?” Eighty-five participants were divided into five focal areas: policy, response, multi-agency coordination, mitigation, and preparedness/resilience/recovery. The summit enhanced awareness and identified gaps; it also fostered new relationships and reinvigorated old ones.

It’s a good day as an emergency manager when elected officials, community members and practitioners are in the same room talking and getting along. Building and maintaining relationships is an essential part of what we do.

Emily: What are some successful partnerships or collaborative projects that Boulder OEM has with partners working on wildfire resilience in Boulder County?

Andrew: I’m extremely proud of the work I’ve done with Boulder County’s Wildfire Partners program; first as a technical specialist helping develop the program, and now as a supporter through OEM and as a member of Wildfire Partner’s advisory committee. I’m also a mountain homeowner and have a program-certified home. Wildfire Partners is a great example of a mitigation program building community resilience. The program stresses specific, individual mitigation actions, while emphasizing the need for larger community action, through partnerships and social capital.

I’m also happy about the work my office has done in Boulder County with the Intermountain Alliance (IMA). My office helped establish the IMA after the Fourmile Canyon Fire, as a forum for mountain communities, incorporated and unincorporated alike, to assist each other with disaster preparedness. The IMA focuses on the specific need of mountain residents and developing strong partnerships and response capabilities, including the creation of the Mountain Emergency Radio Network. The IMA exists today as a pillar and voice for mountain communities in Boulder County.

Emily: What’s unique about Boulder’s approach to emergency management?

Andrew: First, I think our structure is unique; Boulder OEM serves both the City of Boulder and unincorporated Boulder County. Too often in Colorado, as a home-rule state, towns and counties have separate emergency management programs. As we know all too well, disasters don’t follow neat jurisdictional boundaries and it’s easy for groups to work in silos. Having an integrated city/county program allows us to take a more holistic approach to emergency management.

Emily: What is one thing you wish other wildfire mitigation professionals knew about emergency management, and how could organizations better engage with their own OEM?   

Andrew: I wish that there was a better understanding of what emergency managers do during disasters, and that a higher value was placed on EOCs. Too often, EOCs are not used, or are underutilized, during response.

Part of the solution to that is for EOCs to have a clear mission and strong local partnerships. Our mission in Boulder is clear; to assist with support and coordination efforts during emergencies, and to deal with consequence management. Consequence management is loosely defined as measures that bolster public health and safety, restore essential government services, and provide emergency relief to governments, businesses and individuals affected by a disaster. During response, emergency managers should be thinking about what recovery looks like and what resources will be needed once the incident is stabilized. We do not focus on not wildfire management or suppression strategy and tactics.

One-on-one discussions and people working on computers in an EOC

Emergency Operation Centers are often underutilized by FAC practitioners. Credit: Bounty County Emergency Operations Center

I also think that there is an opportunity for wildfire mitigation professionals to help emergency managers with recovery efforts, pre- and post-disaster. Mitigation professionals usually have strong ties to the communities they work in; they know local geography, culture and neighborhood character. They can therefore help keep emergency managers up to speed with issues on the ground and needs in the community.

Emily: What does FAC mean to you in the context of emergency management?

Andrew: What I love about FAC is that it is a “whole community” approach. An old friend of mine in the fire service was fond of saying, “Wildfire risk isn’t a fire department problem, or a neighbor problem, or a natural resource problem, rather, it’s a community problem.” Addressing our “wildfire problem” doesn’t fall on the shoulders of one agency or group; it needs to be addressed collectively, with strong partnerships, at multiple scales. I think FAC is a step in the right direction toward achieving this goal because it aims to bring everyone to the table.

Andrew Notbohm is currently an emergency management coordinator with Boulder Emergency Management. Before joining the Boulder OEM team, Andrew was a wildfire mitigation specialist for Boulder County Land Use, a wildland fuels coordinator for the Colorado Springs Fire Department, and owned a successful tree service that specialized in creating defensible space and maintaining healthy forests.

Natural disasters have played an instrumental role in Andrew’s life since moving to Colorado. In 2002, while a program director for a camp outside of Durango, Andrew coordinated the evacuation and sheltering of over 200 staff and campers in response to the Missionary Ridge Fire. Ten years later, during the Waldo Canyon Fire, he responded as a field observer with the Colorado Springs Fire Department, an assignment that made him uniquely qualified to contribute to two important post-fire studies: FAC’s Lessons Learned from Waldo Canyon (NIST’s A Case Study of a Community Affected by the Waldo Fire — Event Timeline and Defensive Actions (PDF, 59.5MB). In 2013, during the Boulder Flood, Andrew coordinated response teams to assess over 1,000 homes that had been impacted by floodwaters.

Andrew paddling on the river

Credit: Alyssa Alt

Andrew is a proud Boulder County mountain-resident and holds a degree in geography from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In his free time, he enjoys fly-fishing, working on his van, and exploring western whitewater via multiday trips on his 14’ raft.

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