Evolution of the Colorado Resiliency Office
Building Resilience After the 2013 Front Range Floods
Faced with hard-hit communities up and down the Front Range after devastating flooding, the Hickenlooper Administration rapidly created the Colorado Recovery Office in the Fall of 2013. The Office initially acted as a facilitator of recovery resources for flood-impacted communities, prioritizing initiatives and securing grants at the state and federal level. As those recovery efforts matured, the office convened a diverse working group of state agencies and other stakeholders to evaluate and minimize vulnerabilities from shocks and stresses in the future.
The Colorado Resiliency Working Group (CRWG) focused on several key sectors including community, health and social, housing, economy, infrastructure, and watersheds and natural resources. For each sector, an agency was appointed as lead to support facilitation on the topic. CDOT, for example, was the state stakeholder chosen to facilitate considerations around infrastructure. Together, they helped develop the Colorado Resiliency Framework, the first of its kind in the nation. Upon adoption by Governor Hickenlooper in 2015, the office was renamed to the Colorado Resiliency and Recovery Office and focused the mission of the Recovery Office, with the CRWG made as the Framework’s steering committee.
With the passing of an update to the Colorado Disaster Emergency Act in 2018, the office is now housed under the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) and renamed as the Colorado Resiliency Office (CRO). The Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management primarily oversees recovery efforts, though is supported by the CRO. Coordination among local and state agencies has never been stronger, and the structure of the CRO has piqued the interest of numerous other states looking to implement similar programs.
CRO’s Expanding Role to Support Communities Across Colorado
Over the last few years the CRO has been providing workshops, trainings, and targeted resiliency planning projects for disaster-impacted communities. A local/regional resilience framework process was piloted with the Counties of Boulder, Larimer, and El Paso around long-term shocks and stresses, serving “as a springboard for resiliency planning throughout the state.” This springboard is taking shape with recent onboarding of a new local resiliency planning manager and the development of a local resiliency program designed to meet the diverse needs of communities across the state.
“The evolution of recovery and resiliency is changing,” said CRO’s Resiliency Program Manager Rob Pressly. “Large and small scale events are constantly happening not only from drought, fires, rockfall, mudslides, but also economic vulnerabilities. The conversation is broadening out in context to include where workers housing is or the risk of a community losing coal jobs. There is a need to act now to minimize future losses and risk.”
CRO has been hosting various workshops and conferences for partners and leaders, with new resiliency training and resources for communities being developed. Communities eager for resources available now can check out the online Resiliency Resource Center. This online portal explores what resiliency is, how it’s relevant, and has tools to assist with a preliminary assessment of risks communities should be aware of. Keep a look out for a CRO statewide survey to stakeholders in the coming weeks through University of Colorado-Denver to evaluate issues and what resources will be valuable.
Advice for Community Leaders on Resilience
Unless a community has been through a disaster, it is difficult to assess all of the potential impacts it could have. Mr. Pressly gave the example of Estes Park after the flood, “The city was islanded. It was hard to get people out, and then those who live outside back in to work… it took a while for businesses to recover and the idea of hardening infrastructure took effect, only then becoming front and center.” Rebuilding roadways in tandem with improvements to natural environments, as seen in the US 34 Big Thompson Canyon work, became a critical focus of not only recovery efforts, but in long-term planning considerations across sectors.
Pressly sought to reassure small towns who are faced with limitations. Resilience is “not asking you to create new plans or change the way you work. Resiliency is incremental, and a good start can be just understanding what you’re vulnerable to.” Administrative activities already ongoing “can be tweaked to make it more resilient” with this mindset. Minute decisions today could pay dividends of benefits for years to come.
“Come to us,” emphasized Pressly. “Address resiliency before the next shock event, as recovery is the hardest time to implement resiliency. DOLA is here to serve communities and we can provide training, guidance and technical assistance. We can serve as conveners and facilitators, and if there’s a hesitancy [locally] it can be done at another level.” While there is currently not an official peer-to-peer network across the state for resilience, CRO at the minimum can help make connections with other counties and cities working on recovery and resilience.