We’re living in a period of unprecedented change. Each week brings stories of new disasters – climate, social, political, personal. And, at the same time, there are amazing new insights revealed and innovations created which have the potential to improve lives. It is quite a time to be alive.

 

Since the Triple Disasters in Japan on March 11, 2011, NewStories attention has been drawn to disasters. We know from our own experience that disasters shift mindsets and consciousness, a conclusion that is backed up by extensive research. We also know that disasters also release an overwhelming force to return to the old normal. Even if we didn’t like it, at least we knew what it was!

 

It’s a challenge, to be sure, to look into the future, facing the fact that more disasters are inevitable. Some are focused on what can be done to prevent disasters and we applaud that work. NewStories, on the other hand, is more focused on how we individually and collectively are preparing for disaster, recovering, often over years, and use disaster as a springboard for regenerating new possibilities rather than simply returning to what was before. This happens in connected community.

Purpose

We need to change our story so we can change what’s possible when it comes to communities and disasters in our Northwest region.

The old story is that disasters are cataclysmic and tragic events beyond our control and when they happen, we have to get back to the way things were as quickly as we can. That old story is incomplete. We need new ones. Here are a few:

  • Connected communities, where people feel like they belong and are valued and included, are essential in preparing for and responding to disasters.
  • Disasters illuminate underlying community problems and issues in ways which make them visible, undeniable and approachable if we choose to act.
  • Many people in disaster affected areas experience a big wake-up call, an invitation to think about what is really important in their lives.
  • The bigger the disaster, the greater the opportunity to define new visions and new priorities within our communities and to build our community’s will for new action.
 We need these stories. They provide insight, inspiration and information that can help us build the communities and lives we want, right now. The purpose this network for Preparing for the Possible is to help people and communities step into these new stories and to discover what else is possible in our lives in these times.

What's Next?

We are working on 4 aspects of Preparing for the Possible in 2019:

Ready Together. Working in Partnership with Transition US and the City of Renton Emergency Management Office, we are launching a new project which helps near neighbors get ready for future disasters, together. The project includes:

  • A Handbook to be used by clusters of 8-15 near-neighbors in communities across North America to guide a series of seven meetups to get ready together. 
  • A virtual learning support system including website, organizing guides, online salons around different topics and an online learning community.
  • A rigorous evaluation component to continuously evolve.

Our primary intent, is to normalize and familiarize simple steps to be more prepared that folks do just as a matter of course – like putting on seat belts when one gets in a car. By engaging clusters of neighbors in more than 500 communities we hope to create a tipping point in preparedness.

Regenerative Responders. Working in partnership with Living Guild and Regenesis Group, we are launching a joint venture on ways to use disaster as a springboard to create a regenerative path forward which emerges from the story of the land itself, the stories of those who have inhabited the land for many decades and hundreds of years, and the hopes and aspirations of those living there now. Sometimes we think of disasters as a turning point. Usually they are not. The overwhelming push to return to the old normal is overwhelming. For those who choose a new path, the way forward is hard. Greenburg, Kansas, with a population of 1500 when it was 95% destroyed by a tornado in 2007 vowed to come back as the greenest city in America. Now, with a population half that size, it is still struggling – and moving forward. The fishing village of Onagawa in NE Japan was 85% destroyed in the 2011 tsunami and decided to rebuild as a community keeping safety and beauty as key aspirations. The work to rebuild continues. 

We believe a regenerative approach can help residents create new communities that are healthy and resilient. We are prototyping these approaches in work with people from the community of Paradise, California, destroyed by wildfire in November, 2018.  

Northern California Fire Affected Communities Network. We are working with the Napa COAD (Community Organizations Active in Disaster) and others to pull together an action-learning network of the people working to on the ground in Napa, Sonoma, Lake, Mendocino and Butte  Counties to build a new future after the now annual cycles of devastating fires.

Preparing for the Possible Network. These first three projects feed into our regional initiative to create an action-learning network that stretches from Northern California up through Oregon and Washington, through British Columbia and then east to Alberta, western Montana and Idaho. The purpose of this network is curate the knowledge, experience and stories from communities across the Northwest, hold “Jams” in communities to help members learn more about 

  • Community leadership; 
  • Powerful ways to convene community meetings;
  • Ready Together; and, 
  • Regenerative Responders. 

The Good News

The things we are writing about here are already happening in communities throughout the region. Numerous initiatives are working to build healthy and resilient communities.  In many places folks are figuring how how to be prepared for disasters.  In those same places, government and citizens are working together to created community-based systems to recover quickly after disaster hits. 

When we say region, we’re referring to the lands where NewStories has worked over the last two decades. This region stretches from northern California through Oregon and Washington, up into British Columbia and Alberta, and over into Idaho and Montana. Someone asked us recently why we were not doing any work in Puerto Rico. Our response was that we would show up in a heartbeat if invited, but we haven’t walked on those paths or mingled in that culture. The Northwest of the US and Southwest of Canada are our home. We know these lands. 

There’s an amazing array of good, strong local work throughout this region. Unfortunately, it is often barely visible in the communities where it is happening and is largely invisible elsewhere. Let’s change that. 

Preparing for the Possible is an idea that’s been growing and that we’ve discussed with many people in 2018 and look forward to continue doing so in 2019.