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Feature Article - August 2013

Disaster Recovery

Playgrounds & Parks Rebuild Following Wrath of Storms

By Deborah L. Vence


Some of the biggest natural disasters on record in the United States have occurred in the past several years—Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the EF5 tornado in Joplin, Mo., and Hurricane Sandy, also known as "Superstorm Sandy," which tore through most of the eastern United States, including New Jersey and New York, last year.

The storms destroyed a multitude of homes and businesses, and took the lives of thousands. The ongoing mission since these series of storms has been to find a way back to normalcy, to try to move forward and rebuild what was lost—and that includes getting parks and playgrounds back in shape.

In fact, recreation professionals say the best way to accomplish this is to have the right methods and systems in place in preparing for and recovering from disasters.

"I think without a doubt there are people who have a checklist of things that they can do. But, almost every jurisdiction, in some capacity or other, depending on the frequency with which they may be threatened—whether it's by winter condition, water, in the form of floods, or drought, and fires, hurricanes and tornadoes and earthquakes—almost every jurisdiction has some link or some involvement in disaster preparedness," said Bill Beckner, research manager at the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA).

In this issue of Recreation Management, we discuss how parks and recreation organizations can best prepare for a natural disaster, and how some parks and playgrounds hit hard by the storms are rebuilding their way back already.

Getting Prepared

One of the most important factors in preparing for a disaster is to have parks and recreation professionals at the table.

Regardless of whether there is a city manager or county manager, those who are involved in disaster preparedness might not necessarily see where the relationship is in having recreation experts involved. However, recreation professionals can be responsible for helping to organize activities for children to help comfort them and divert their attention away from a crisis, Beckner said.

When communities are prepared, they have "recreation staff to entertain, or organize people into activities, things of that sort," he said. "It's going in and starting the process of thinking about what can happen and what the impact will have on the community."

Equally important is to have an emergency response plan in place, such as in California, which has one for every district in the state, noted Mark Hada, Superintendent III, Public Safety/Sutter's Fort State Historic Park/State Indian Museum, Sacramento, Calif.

"Contained within the plan are various scenarios for emergencies that may become relevant to that particular district. All plans have some commonalities, such as evacuation and recovery. Then each plan has specifics that will impact an individual district area. For example, coastal units (i.e., beaches) will have a Tsunami Response plan," Hada said.

Also, "Park units with large amounts of open recreation area will have fire plans," he said. "The plans will include information on who should be coordinated with, the order it should be done in, and what portions of parks contain particularly sensitive areas, hazardous materials, and, of course, where the visitors are, to name a few."