Margaret Davidson is our hero for many reasons. She has a clear voice in a cluttered world. She knows how to zero in on the crux of the problem. And, she is very funny. That’s why she is an inspiration in the disaster-resilience movement and why we asked her to be one of the keynote speakers at our 2014 FLASH Annual Conference: Resilience Revolution.
A lawyer by training who later earned a master’s degree in marine policy, Margaret is Senior Leader for Coastal Inundation and Resilience for the National Ocean Service. One thing she makes clear, however, is that when she is speaking her mind, she is speaking for herself—and that’s all the more reason to listen.
Margaret understands the need to keep spreading the story of disaster resilience. But she also knows how real people think. During her talk, she cited a study that indicated how residents who live along the San Andreas Fault understood the earthquake risk, but how they also had their own stories about why they were at less risk than others around them. Margaret said psychologists call that cognitive dissonance. But she puts it this way: “Yes, you can be aware that ‘bad stuff’s’ happening (not the exact words she used). It’s just that you don’t think bad stuff’s going to happen to you.”
That’s the tell-it-like-it-is attitude that makes a fearless speaker such as Margaret so valuable to the disaster-resilience cause. She sees the paradox clearly, but doesn’t throw up her hands in resignation. The solution? Tell better stories to the homeowners than the ones they tell themselves. Tell them about the risk and about preparing and mitigating on the front end, so they can bounce back after a disaster strikes.
Margaret also believes that we must have faith in our ability to use better communication to create partnerships that break through. “Since the time of Homer, we learned that the way we best communicated important social messages was through storytelling. FLASH knows and practices this. Person-to-person storytelling. Trusted sources giving us the right kinds of information.”
We have the choice – she says in her inimitable way – to teach people to “raise” strong villages with strong structures or keep having to “raze” those villages after disasters.
Margaret ended her insightful address by reminding all assembled that FLASH is a rare and high functioning coalition because of our DNA that includes academics, creative professionals, community leaders, construction trades, emergency managers, engineers, first responders, government agencies, insurance professionals, journalists, meteorologists, policymakers at all levels, scientists and volunteer groups of all faiths. She reinforced the need for us all to draw on our collective strength as a diverse coalition and redouble our efforts, because severe weather events are becoming more frequent, more destructive, and more expensive.
We are the answer, Margaret says. So let’s keep building partnerships. Keep pushing beyond our comfort zones. Everything that matters is riding on our efforts.