Erin Reome and resilience

SERA Senior Associate and Resiliency Planner Erin Reome is being honored next week with a Women of Vision award from the Oregon DJC. This award recognizes women who are shaping the built environment with their technical skill, leadership, mentoring, and community involvement, and we thought it would give us a great chance to highlight some of the incredible work Erin and her resiliency colleagues have been working on. Erin has been a leader in SERA’s resiliency work, selflessly giving her expertise, energy, and countless hours to support communities impacted by wildfires across Oregon.

When wildfires hit Oregon in the summer of 2020—on top of the worsening pandemic—Erin wanted to do something. She recognized that small cities and rural communities across Oregon were utterly unprepared to deal with the smoke and wildfire crisis. There would be a huge need, and Erin knew she could help.

Erin reached out to the Oregon Chapter of the American Planning Association (OAPA) and offered to volunteer to help small communities with the wildfire recovery effort. OAPA recognized the need and supported the project through its Community Assistance Planning Program (CAPP). Erin’s initiative quickly snowballed into weekly calls with FEMA and various jurisdictions that had been impacted by the wildfires.

Erin and her fellow volunteers learned that because so many properties had been destroyed, small planning departments were utterly unprepared to deal with the influx of building permits for new construction while also executing plans for long-term recovery. Erin’s team decided to offer guidance to communities about what long-term recovery might look like and how to take a devastating situation and turn it into an opportunity by building back in a more resilient way.

Erin’s initiative eventually led to the completion of three community assistance projects for communities that didn’t have funding for wildfire recovery or didn’t know what they needed.

In one example, which was supported by SERA as a pro bono project, Erin and her fellow volunteers produced a report for the City of Talent. Called the Talent Almeda Opportunity Framework, the report is a “one-stop” resource and a first step toward longer-term community recovery. Like the other work produced by Erin’s team, the report focused not only on how to recover from wildfire events but also on how to minimize impacts from other natural disruptions and rebuild a more resilient community as a whole.

Another focus of Erin’s volunteer work in response to the wildfire crisis was to make sure that traditionally underserved members of the community are not left out of recovery planning. Many residents impacted Holiday Farm Fire, for example, are essentially living off the grid in small homes and RVs. Because these homes are not counted as permanent dwellings, the residents weren’t contacted, nor were they eligible for wildfire recovery assistance. Erin and her fellow volunteers interviewed social workers and shelter managers to get a better understanding of who was being left out of the process and how to reach them. They brought awareness to the situation and recommended that municipalities create public resilience hubs, safe places where people can prior to an event or during the recovery process.

“Doing this volunteer work was my lifeline through the pandemic,” said Erin. “It gave a sense of purpose that I was doing something immediately useful for communities in need. Being able to connect with communities to help people with things they needed at that moment was rewarding and therapeutic.”