Editors’ Note: Megan Kurtz is the Chair of the Board of Directors for the Camp Fire Collaborative. The Camp Fire Collaborative (CFC) “unites community partners to strengthen, align, and facilitate their unique contribution so that a healthy and vibrant region emerges through the recovery effort.” Following the Camp Fire in Northern California in November 2018 the Camp Fire Long Term Recovery Group formed, and in the Spring of 2020 the Group decided to merge into the Camp Fire Collaborative a 501(c)(3) to allow for a collaborative management model and approach to long-term recovery. Megan also works in the Office of the President at California State University, Chico working on ensuring Chico State stands together with the community of Butte county through long-term recovery. Here Megan shares her reflections over two years post-fire, the lessons she has learned, the roadmap she has followed and the community she has formed.
It has been two years and five months since I started working in the recovery after the Camp Fire which destroyed several towns and upended 40,000 people’s lives in Butte County, California. The two and half year mark is not really one of significance for any particular reason other than the fact that my new neighbors, of just two years ago, are moving back to their newly rebuilt home on their property in Paradise, CA. Their move marks a moment worth noting in the road to recovery, but it is a moment that can go overlooked. They are some of the lucky ones who have navigated the lanes of their recovery well and get to go back “home.”
To those of you in community long term recovery: this is hard, this work we are doing. I admit, I am tired. We are told by all the experts when we start organizing in those first few months that it is hard and that we need to remember we are “running a marathon, not a sprint.” Yet, that phrase feels like a distant concept at the beginning. You know you need to slow down in order to persevere, but there is such a strong collective community adrenaline that keeps you pushing to get things done that you forget to check your pacing guide. You keep on keeping on perhaps ignoring signals – yours and others – to slow down. But just like a lot of other things in life, you don’t know until you know.
Watching my neighbors pack up I am feeling a renewed sense of awareness in how disaster recovery calls communities to work together. I am seeing a mark in the road we have trodden, a vantage point to take in. With this grounding awareness also comes an overwhelming sense of responsibility to make sure to look back and take stock of everything we have learned so we can share with other communities who are just starting. I hold hope that in the sharing of our experience we can help others, be it in lessons learned or ways to keep stamina up and maybe they will not be so tired by the time they start to see their new neighbors moving back. But then I also remember another thing we are told at the beginning: “Every disaster is different, and every community must find their own way forward.”
In the adrenaline rush of those early days of response we started using the phrase “find your lane” to figure out where our work and talents fit in the plan. But, just like with driving, staying in one lane is frustrating, and it isn’t always realistic. Not to mention being told to stay in your lane, or suggesting to someone that they stay in theirs, can put up unintended barriers in communication and a perception that there is no way to merge work. To be a good driver we have to be aware of what is happening in all the lanes around us, don’t we? We need to trust the drivers in the other lanes, and use healthy communication tools to indicate what our plans are if making a move. It is important that we know how to navigate this large freeway of long term recovery so we don’t cause accidents and hurt feelings of our partners. Staying in our own lanes means that we need to know how we most comfortably travel but we also must anticipate what is ahead and allow for changes. We need to make sure we see, and plan, for rest stops. If we need to use other lanes to move over to an off ramp, then we need to be able to trust the traffic around us to let us do so. And, we also must trust them to let us back on the freeway when we are rested and ready to re-engage. Organized lanes are important for long term recovery planning and work, but using your blinker wisely allows the flow of traffic to run smoothly and keeps everyone safe. As with driving there needs to be an innate respect for one another’s life and work, noticing someone else’s blinker, slowing for a merge and allowing a change in navigation is important to moving us all along sustainably and safely.
As I watch my neighbors load up their moving van with their possessions they have thoughtfully replaced over the last two years I have a settling realization that the work, the journey is starting to pay off. People are moving back home. I go over to lend a hand with the last few boxes and bid them the best of luck getting settled in. They are only moving 21 miles away, but as they turn on their blinker to turn out of our neighborhood, I have a feeling I may never see them again. That is okay, because that means we are doing good work moving forward in our long term recovery.
Megan Kurtz is the chair of the Board of Directors for the Camp Fire Collaborative which is the recognized communication point for the FEMA and Cal OES recovery processes. Megan also serves as the California State University, Chico Campus-Community Liaison in regards to the Camp Fire recovery. Prior to her work in the CSU, Chico President’s Office, Kurtz worked for 12 years in Student Affairs at CSU, Chico in various roles within the TRIO Program Student Support Services. Kurtz is a faculty member in Recreation, Hospitality, and Parks Management, with a focus on leisure, life, and wellness. She is a CSU, Chico alumna with a bachelor’s degree in communication studies and a master’s degree in education, in curriculum and instruction.
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