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  • Michelle Fox

BOULDER AND THE GLOBAL CONTEXT Boulder and the Global Context

September 7, 2014 | Boulder, Colorado

One year after the Boulder Flood of 2013, the county came together to host a week of commemoration. Community members, local researchers, city and county staff were invited to share their stories of what happened, what we’ve learned, and how we can come together and bounce forward after this devastating event.

As part of this week-long event ISET-International and BoCo Strong hosted a lively discussion “Resilience: Boulder and the Global Context.” The event was broken into three sections:

  1. Introduction by Marcus Moench, Founder of ISET-International

  2. Panel Discussion of local and international experts

  3. Musical performance by the Railsplitters

All of these discussions (and performances) are available online at


Marcus Moench, Founder of ISET-International, introduced the event by reflecting on his own experiences working abroad, drawing linkages between regions around the world—Gorakhpur, India; Da Nang, Vietnam; and the Himalaya of Nepal—placing Boulder in the global context.

See Marcus’ introduction at:

Marcus’s introduction focused on:

  • There is a lot of global knowledge that Boulder can learn from, and also places where Boulder can contribute to the global discussion on climate resilience.

  • Thinking ahead, rather than remaining focused on the last disaster.

  • Know your neighbors. Personal relationships matter.

  • Recognize that we depend on complex systems (e.g. energy), failure of which can lead to cascading effects.

  • Individuals respond to disasters on their own behalf, before, during and after the event. Understanding what that action might look like and thinking about how to enable or integrate positive behaviors can lead to a thousand 1% solutions.

  • Those without an effective voice get left behind. Politicians move when they feel the heat, not when they see the light.


Garry Sanfacon is the Boulder County Flood Recovery Manager. Garry created and served in the County’s first recovery shortly after the Four-Mile Canyon Fire in 2010. He has extensive experience in facilitation and community organizing.

See Garry’s Discussion here:

Highlights from Garry’s discussion:

  • Garry became the recovery manager for the floods by accident.

  • Recovery is still happening in the mountain communities. Resilience is not something they want to talk about—these people still need help now.

  • We know that there is another disaster coming. Recovery responders are exhausted—what would happen if another disaster hit today? Who would respond?

  • Communities in the “flatlands” of Boulder have a lot to learn from mountain communities who often don’t expect a government service to help out, but instead are well prepared to fend for themselves in a range of difficult situations.


Paty Romero-Lankao is a scientist and “interdisciplinary sociologist” at National Center for Atmospheric Research. Currently, Paty is leading the “Urban Futures” initiative. Cities are key players in the climate arena as emitters of greenhouse gases, vulnerability hotspots and crucibles of innovation. Her research explores the dynamics of urbanization that shape urban emissions, vulnerabilities and risk. She has also analyzed why and how urban populations and decision makers attempt to meet the challenges of reducing emissions while improving their resilience to floods, air pollution and other environmental impacts. Along with other scientists, she is designing urban interdisciplinary studies that inform and are informed by global interdisciplinary research. She has participated in global and local endeavors promoted by UNDP and UN-HABITAT. She was co-leading author to Working Group II of the Nobel prize-winning IPCC AR4, and is currently a convening author of IPCC: AR5, North American chapter. She cares deeply about her family and friends, but she is also passionately engaged in finding options to move humankind toward a more sustainable and fair future.

See Paty’s discussion here:

Highlights from Paty’s discussion:

  • As someone who studies these events, even she found it difficult to really understand the gravity of the situation as it was emerging. Many people don’t expect something like this to happen to them.

  • There is no one solution.

  • Infrastructure: Different layer/levels of problem solving.

  • We must pay attention to design. Sump pumps may not work—water could flow right back in.

  • We need effective public policy.

  • Boulder, as a community, should see the flood as a reminder that we need to develop a series of collective and individual actions to respond to future events like the flood.

Brett KenCairn is the Senior Environmental planner for Boulder County. He has worked across the western US on community-based sustainable development in primarily rural, native, and ethnic communities. He also helped launch several private sector entities in renewable energy development and worked in a non-profit connecting veterans to green job opportunities. See Brett’s discussion here:

Highlights from Brett’s discussion:

  • What does resilience mean in the context of city planning?

  • Sustainability=Stability, yet change is inherent in everything.

  • Resilience=Change.

  • We can’t have stability without change. Acknowledging this compels us to realize that we cannot create robust systems that cannot change—such systems are brittle and will inevitably fail. Instead, we must prepare for disruption.

  • We are not going to be able to stop climate change. It is becoming widely recognized that even the best mitigation efforts at this point will leave us with change to which we must adapt.

  • Where do we start dealing with change? Some things are foundational (ecosystems, water, sanitation).

  • Part of Boulder’s response will be through the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Initiative, which the City of Boulder has been invited to join. Greg Guibert has been hired as Boulder’s Chief Resilience Officer.

  • However, as we think about adaption, we must also continue to look for solutions to climate change. Those solutions are simple, but not easy. We need a clean energy system.

Karen MacClune is the COO and Senior Staff Scientist at ISET-International. Karen received her PhD in Geophysics from the University of Colorado. She joined ISET is 2009. In 2010 she moved to Bangkok with her husband where they co-founded ISET’s Thai and Vietnamese offices. In mid-2011 she returned to the US to focus on developing training and assessment materials for urban resilience building. Following the Boulder floods, Karen, working with several other ISET staff and associates, conducted a resilience evaluation of the Boulder floods, assessing where we were resilient and why, and where we have opportunities to learn and grow from our experiences so that we’re better positioned for the next disaster.

See Karen’s discussion here:

Key Messages from Karen’s discussion:

  • The ISET case study of the Boulder Flood explores what happened, where we were resilient, and where we can learn from the floods and further build our resilience.

  • Boulder has been working on disaster planning and resilience for years.

  • Bike paths throughout town failed safely—as they were designed to. The Boulder Creek Path system has been decades in the making. Funded by city, state, and federal funding, including flood control monies, the bike paths ARE a flood control measure.

  • The flood demonstrated the effectiveness of the creek path, and now we have the public will to mitigate these creeks.

  • Yet, resilience isn’t just infrastructure. There are also human and legal/cultural aspects to resilience, all of which are explored in the case study. For example, the flood enhanced networking and community in many places. Community groups sprung up overnight. College students, and volunteers mobilized over social media networks—people just wanted to help. These personal connections are as important to resilience as well-designed infrastructure.


Thanks to the Railsplitters: Lauren Stovall, Peter Sharpe, Dusty Rider, Leslie Ziegler and Christine King for sharing infectious energy and toe tapping rhythms with us!

Check out the Railsplitter’s performance here:

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