As 2015 draws to a close, many of us have disaster on the brain. At a time when we already long to be close to the ones we love, celebrating and enjoying the bounty of the holiday season, we’re lately even more compelled to draw our friends and families closer.
As of press time, we’re little more than a week past the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris that killed at least 130 people and wounded dozens more. In the western United States, a storm system that brought whiteout conditions to highways in Colorado threatened to inflict damaging tornadoes on Texas and points east. This coming winter, a strong El Niño weather system is expected to heavily influence weather and climate patterns in ways we cannot solidly predict.
In all these instances, municipal services — often and particularly park and recreation agencies — may be called on to help citizens survive and cope with disaster. Our parks, sports fields and community centers are where we gather in the best of times to feel a deep sense of connection, support and freedom — that’s why it hurts us so deeply to see sports events and cultural celebrations attacked by terrorists.
It’s why Manhattan Beach Parks and Recreation’s Idris Al-Oboudi was so shaken when an earthquake struck his community, as author Sarah Thompson discusses in our cover feature, "A Big Threat to Our Little Campers: Protecting Children in Disasters." When our safest-feeling spaces are attacked, either by man or nature, it is, indeed, a “shake-up call,” as Al-Oboudi puts it. Disaster is a painful motivator for preparedness, but, as Thompson details, park and recreation agencies are well-placed to be on the front lines of support should disaster strike.
Happily, Thompson’s piece — as well as "From Devastation to World-Class Recreation," by Sarah McLaughlin, which details the state of New Orleans’ recreation landscape 10 years after Hurricane Katrina — also highlights the remarkable resiliency of our communities to rise from disaster, often better than before. In the right circumstances, disaster can sometimes make way for improvement in our emergency response protocols, the way our communities are engineered and how we enhance our communities through parks and recreation.
While it may be tempting to despair in what can feel like an unceasing wave of tragedy, the park and recreation professionals and agencies highlighted throughout this issue give us ample reason for hope. Parks and recreation provides the means to cultivate a sense of connection and empathy for our neighbors, colleagues, friends, families and patrons. It’s there to support us, whether we need a quiet walk or a place to shelter safely during a tornado.
With the new year on the horizon, it’s a great time to count the blessings we enjoy and pay them forward, while remaining ever vigilant in the communities we serve. Our patrons look to us to lead — in times of good and ill — and we must be ready.
Gina Mullins-Cohen is NRPA's Vice President of Marketing, Communications and Publishing, and Editorial Director.