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Boulder Flood Relief: A Community Response to Crisis

bfrcontactIt was Wednesday evening, September 11th, 2013 when the floods first began. What once was a consistent, light rain began consuming the streets, neighborhoods, and mountains of northern Colorado. As a resident of Boulder, I first noticed flooding streets around 10pm when attempting to attend a university function at CU Boulder. I got in my car, drove through downtown Boulder and noticed that intersections were being backed up with cars, individuals were running from cover to cover, cars were swerving in and out of lanes as a strategy to avoid 2ft-deep puddles in the middle of the street. Having never experienced a flood prior to this, it did not hit me until later on that evening that my inclinations of the incoming flood were real. I received a text from the University of Colorado Boulder alert system; indeed flash floods within Boulder County were real, significant, and happening now.

After going home that evening, I knew something major was about to occur. Quickly we were notified via text message that the CU campus was going to close the following day and that communities on campus were being evacuated from their homes to avoid the rising waters. This was just in Boulder. The devastation in the mountains and the surrounding towns were even more intense.

That was Wednesday. On Thursday night I received an email from some fellow graduate students in the Communication Department at the University of Colorado Boulder. The email, composed by two activists and graduate students at CU Boulder, urged fellow community members to get involved with relief efforts. They were organizing a group the following day to assess needs and see what they could do to help.

After witnessing my neighbors line their homes with sandbags, shovel mud, water and debris out of their basements and gather food and clean water in preparation, I knew I needed to do something more. At around noon on Friday, September 13th, I stopped into a workspace in downtown Boulder that was donated to the group for the day. Occupy Boulder Floor Relief, their operating name at the time, consisted of CU Boulder graduate students, activists, and community members throughout the greater Boulder area. These activists each utilized their diverse skills as assets to build an organizational network from the ground up. The individuals who helped organize flood relief were much more dedicated, and determined than I could have expected. They and other allies throughout the community were creating a movement of community members dedicated to creating a horizontal network of volunteers ready and willing to help those in need. This was only the beginning.



In the next week, community volunteers worked together to organize official flood relief, sign up volunteers willing to help their neighbors, and reach out to people in need. We quickly realized the honest resilience of the community could attend to crisis in a unique and dedicated way. In a week, Boulder Flood Relief emerged. In about 9 days, what once was a community of individuals eager to respond to crisis became an official non-profit organization. Collectively the organization, now going by the name Boulder Flood Relief, was formed into a registered charitable organization with the State of Colorado, entitled Boulder Relief, Co., a grassroots response to crisis.bfr3

Boulder Flood Relief, an organization built by members of the community for the community, is a horizontal organization that is drawing upon the skills offered up by volunteers. Using social media and online organizing, we have been able to match volunteers with those in need in a streamlined process. In just three weeks, Boulder Flood Relief has signed up over 2,000 volunteers and attended to hundreds of individuals in need. Operating in the fashion and model used in OccupySandy, BFR activists know the power of communal action. Of course, there are protocols in place that help to negotiate and navigate volunteers and homeowners, but BFR also navigates under the assumption that community members have the ability to do the best, most honest work. The beautiful thing about this emergent organization is it that each decision made internally is created through consensus, which enables volunteer members to feel empowered both in and out of the field.


While the American Red Cross, FEMA, and United Way are bound by protocols that limit the immediacy of their responses, Boulder Flood Relief volunteers can respond to their neighbors rapidly. Each day BFR dispatches volunteers to houses who have indicated that they need help. We have organized an extensive online platform that enables neighbors to list their skills, availability, and proximity to those in need as a way to connect larger communities together. Additionally, we have created an extensive questionnaire that allows those in need of help to list their condition, situation, and tools needed to complete specific tasks. For Boulder Flood Relief, the ability to organize and sift through needs helps us direct volunteers to prioritized projects and tasks.

BFR has now sent out hundreds of volunteers to neighborhoods in the Boulder County area. Even as we embark upon the one-month anniversary of the flood, there is still work to be done. While Boulder Flood Relief’s efforts in Boulder and Longmont have so far been successful, there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done. Surrounding towns like Lyons and Nederland have hundreds of displaced individuals who will need extensive support. Additionally, mountain towns that were cut off from transportation during the flood will need to be restored and revived. There is no question that even though life seems to be continuing as normal under the bright Colorado sun, so many are still in need of help. Relief efforts like Boulder Flood Relief give the community a platform to connect neighbors together. And in the wake of the 2013 Colorado flood, it will take this kind of grassroots compassion, strength, and resilience to rebuild.


To donate, sign up as a volunteer or ask for help, contact Boulder Flood Relief at www.boulderfloodrelief.org.


About Constance Gordon