Supplement Feature - April 2018
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When Disaster Strikes

Preparation Is Key to Disaster Recovery for Parks

By Rick Dandes

Use Social Media, Connect With Local Media

Using social media "is an emerging trend," added Dolesh. "Parks and recreation agencies that have solid communications capability are inherently prepared to use social media, and it can be an effective form of communication."

More and more, the public turns to social media for news and events. It can provide real-time information, which is why it is so valuable. "That first day," Michelet, of BREC said, "we had people fanned out inspecting parks and facilities, seeing what was safe to use, what was too damaged. For example, we had a park that had eight feet of water and you could only get to it by boat when the water was there, but once the water receded it was still dangerous because of the electrical danger posed by downed wires."

Each day BREC would do a news release that told you how many kids were served, where the emergency camps were, and which parks were open and safe to go to. BREC was communicating quickly and constantly to tell people what was going on, but then also quickly offering solutions to problems people were facing at the time.

Establish a relationship with the local news media, Michelet added. "They can get word out, sometimes when you can't. They are looking for stories. You can provide it for them."

In East Baton Rouge, people were posting on social media that the Parish's flooded parks had saved their neighborhoods because they were retaining water like they were meant to and people could get into their neighborhoods.

David Barth, of Barth Associates, Gainesville, Fla., is a landscape architect, certified planner, and Certified Parks and Recreation Professional (CPRP). Barth noted that parks can help protect communities from flooding. "Can I treat the entire park like one enormous stormwater basin?" he said. "So when there is a major storm event the park actually acts as a holding basin for floodwater for a day or two before it gets released, which helps minimize flooding. The park can become a stormwater treatment facility."

That was what happened to an extent in East Baton Rouge, Michelet said. "And our residents appreciated it."

Starting Over

"What do you do in the aftermath? You pick up the pieces," Dolesh said. "Another thing that I have found striking is that park and recreation agencies were focused on people and kept that as their primary focus. Not only how the public was affected and needed help, but also their own employees and how they were able to cope and to respond during and after the weather event."

Organizations like KaBoom! are concerned with disaster relief and recovery. "After Hurricane Katrina," said Flanigan, "KaBoom! committed to build 100 playgrounds in the communities impacted by hurricane Katrina. We far exceeded that number, and we're on play space number 194. What we found is that besides all of the things that families need after disasters: shelter, water, food, all of that is important of course. But what families really needed was to have a sense of community and a place to heal, and so what we were able to do was to go down to Mississippi in one of the hardest-hit areas and bring the community together to build playgrounds. More than 600 people came out, and for a lot of folks who were there, this was the first positive thing that came after the storm. It really helped to catalyze a healing process for that community."

Building those play spaces was also part of their psychological recovery from the disaster, Flanigan continued. "We heard stories about kids who were so traumatized that they were talking about committing suicide. So, being able to have a play opportunity where kids have an outlet and to be able to just be kids helped the healing and resiliency that kids need to get through those kinds of traumas."

This year, after Hurricane Harvey, KaBoom! went to the community partners they work with, and funders such as Blue Cross Blue Shield Texas, to understand the scope of the disaster, and the needs of the community.

"We also were communicating with some partner organizations, such as Save the Children and Child Care Aware," Flanigan said. "They work with all the early childhood centers across the impacted area and understand their needs. They ask what the status is of your facility. Your play space. Through that they understood what the scope of the need was. We then built a playground in Houston at a site where it wasn't directly damaged, but the community that goes to that school were impacted. That was a positive experience for the people who were participating in the community build. And we will be continuing with other builds, another effort to bring play and a positive experience for communities that were impacted by the floods."