The end of 2021 was something you just can’t prepare for. One hundred year floods and record breaking windstorms, on top of a new COVID variant was not how anyone in the region wanted to slide into 2022. On November 15, disastrous floods and storms hit our region with such force it toppled most emergency response agencies.
Our first indication of this was when Jose Garcia of Everson was swept away in the early hours of flooding after clinging to a tree in a parking lot for several hours. He was on the phone with his family desperately trying to be rescued, but the rescue never came and tragically Mr. Garcia was the first casualty of the floods. All disasters are chaotic in the early hours and days of response, but it was clear that without additional agencies stepping in to support community members, more lives would be lost.
In Whatcom County, the days that followed the flooding were full of late night calls from community partners who were rescuing, literally rescuing people, from rising flood waters in their homes and cars. There were minimal shelter options at the stage. I called Liz Baxter, our CEO, immediately asking permission to start booking hotel rooms, and her immediate response was “of course.”
In partnership with Community to Community, Christ the King Church, Catholic Community Services, and the Whatcom County Health Department, we collectively sheltered over 30 families and nearly 100 people in area hotels. Each agency rose to the occasion and regardless of knowing if reimbursement was possible, just doing what was needed for folks who had lost nearly everything.
In the spirit of targeted universalism, we know that all communities should have resources to be prepared and protected against emergencies and disasters – but if we have learned anything over the last two years, a one size fits all emergency response strategy can have devastating effects on communities that are repeatedly impacted. Community health workers and Promotoras are at the heart of a response, and fiercely dedicated to the communities they serve. They are doing the work often unpaid and unseen. We want to change that in 2022, by leveraging our positions of power and connections to advocate for those workers who are the backbone of community resiliency.
Though these last two months have been some of the most challenging work of my career to date, I am profoundly grateful for each and every one of our staff who stepped into this work immediately. We’ve also learned so much about secondary trauma lately, and are prioritizing self-care for the team in 2022. It’s time to expand the practice of emergency response from a solely patriarchal practice to a model of community well-being and belonging. North Sound ACH does a pretty awesome job on advocating for the latter, so I have high hopes that 2022 is a year of bridging and radical imagination.
— Nicole Willis, COO