Photo Credit: Public art projects, such as the Flood Level Marker Project in Boulder, Colorado, can help the public learn about natural hazards in their community. Photo by Women Environmental Artists Directory,

Every year mitigation and hazard professionals from across the globe gather to attend the Natural Hazards Center’s annual workshop in Broomfield, Colorado. An associated symposium, organized by the Natural Hazard Mitigation Association (NHMA), brings academics and practitioners together to discuss innovative research, science, and experiences related to hazards and community resilience.

This June, I had the opportunity to attend both the workshop and symposium. It is one of the rare conferences I attend that doesn’t focus exclusively on wildfire. More often, practitioners are discussing the latest significant flood event, earthquake insurance, tornado shelters, regulatory changes, or updates to floodplain mapping.  All of this ties into the broader conversation on hazard mitigation planning, but it also offers me a unique chance to sit back and absorb insights from other hazard practitioners.

I picked up many gems at this year’s sessions, including the following three tips that can be applied to FAC:

  1. To the extent possible, plan for the unexpected and consider auxiliary benefits. In recounting the 2013 Colorado flooding that impacted Boulder and many other communities throughout Colorado, Boulder Mayor Matt Appelbaum expressed the difficulty in planning for the unknown. He repeatedly cited that, despite their planning efforts, no one ever thought flooding of the magnitude they experienced could occur. Through well-thought planning, however, including bike paths and designated open space in key areas to link green infrastructure, the devastating impacts of the flood were minimized.
  2. Creative and simple communication with the public matters! Breakthrough research on how to simplify emergency alerts is helping emergency managers connect better during disasters. Educating the public with simpler language also matters. For example, rather than communicating in probabilities, which often results in misinterpretations, talk about likelihood that an event could occur in any given year. Engaging the public through creative art installations or other unique efforts can also help build awareness related to disasters. San Francisco opened an educational “store” called the EPICENTER to help the public learn more about earthquake risks and building techniques, and Boulder installed artistic markers along their creek path to show where previous floods had occurred.
  3. Make sure your elected officials are familiar with, and prioritize work related to local hazard mitigation plans. Linda Langston, President of the National Association of Counties, shared her insight on why elected officials need to prepare themselves for disasters: if they aren’t ready for an emergency and one happens on their watch, chances are slim they’ll get re-elected. She advised all of us to work with our elected officials to ensure they are aware of their local hazard mitigation plan and help them understand the consequences for being unprepared as a leader during emergencies.

These are just a few of the many insights I picked up during the week. It was a welcome way to learn new tips and reminders from other professionals and apply them to our wildfire mitigation activities.

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