What’s on our minds

We share what we learn and what we’re doing so that others can learn from us and we can learn from others. Comments welcome!

Wildfire game success!

With great success (but little fanfare), we unveiled our new wildfire game last week. Thanks to Napa Valley Grapegrowers, we play-tested our design at the Napa Fire Resources Fair on April 11.

Our goal for the event was to give people a taste of how we use games and experiential learning to spread social resilience and disaster preparedness. We wanted to pique curiosity and have people walk away wanting more, and help each participant decide on one thing they want to do to prepare for wildfire.

We succeeded beyond our most optimistic dreams.

Everyone who played the game happily spent 15-20 minutes at our table, and took away at least one insight. After playing the game, Caroline Feuchuk remarked that,

“I love that you didn’t make me feel bad about not having a leave-kit, or whatever.”

She was excited about going home and preparing a go-bag with her husband. Another participant, who lost his home in the 2017 fires, offered encouragement,

“I know what you’re trying to do with this, and it’s great!”

In addition to participants’ enthusiasm, three local organizations want to talk about how they can use the game and approach in their trainings. FEMA even asked if we were selling it!

This response was more than we even hoped for! Participants’ delight reinforced our conviction that fun is more motivating than fear. The interest of other organizations showed that we are on the right path. Experiential learning and games are powerful tools for spreading social resilience and disaster preparedness!

We look forward to presenting an improved version of the game at our next event: May 6 at the Fire & Earthquake Safety Expo in Healdsburg CA.

Come play with us!



Special thanks to the game design experts who contributed their ideas and insights:

  • Gary Milante, for opening our eyes to the many ways we can take this to the next level, and great support and insights on the day!
  • Joe Lasley, for immediately opening our thinking on game design to go beyond RPG. That eventually allowed us to settle on a very visual board game.
  • Gijs van Bilsen, for guiding us to fun and approachable ways to integrate players’ knowledge, suggesting using cute tokens to help people step away from fear, and suggesting that we start by letting people personalize their “character.” That all led to starting using tokens to explain their household, and eventually, moving pets, family members, and bags around in a little lego “car.”
  • Aaron Vanek & Antonio Ruiz Ezquerro, for brainstorming a wide range of possible game mechanics with us, and helping us to find a way to incorporate a physical takeaway into game play. That led us to incorporate chance (in the form of The Wheel of Fate), and making sure we had a clear but simple game narrative.
  • Amanda Giampetro, for great suggestions on improving our process!
  • Claus Raasted, for pushing us to simplify, simplify, simplify, and keeping us focused on the player experience (rather than the learning outcome).

Misunderstandings, Mistakes and Grief


In this message of support for Mesut Bilgili and his collaborators in Life After Disaster, we offer a few recommendations for managing misunderstandings, mistakes and grief:

  • Assume misunderstandings
  • Trust in mistakes
  • Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.

It’s all part of collaborating in a crisis.

Spontaneous leader helping Turkish earthquake survivors: Go Mesut!


Did you know that we have a secondary mission to support spontaneous leaders who are stepping up in a crisis? At this time, we don’t have the resources to look for people who might benefit from our support, but a few people have found their way to us.

One of them is Mesut Bilgili who is starting “Life After Disaster,” seeking to connect survivors of the recent horrendous earthquakes in Turkey with the expertise and resources they will need as they begin to rebuild. Here is what he had to say about his efforts (and the benefits of getting a little encouragement from us).

Go Mesut!
— Susanne

P.S. The “7 tips” he references are the 7 tips for spontaneous leaders that came out of our COVID-19 research.


——– Forwarded Message ——–

Subject: Life After Disaster Update
Date: Sat, 25 Feb 2023 15:00:02 +0000
From: Mesut Bilgili
To: Susanne Jul


Hello Susanne,

We had a productive week, and I want to update you on where we are currently and where we are headed. I anticipate thanking you more than a few times along the way 😊.

  • We created a small volunteers group in a short time. There are 22 local individuals directly supporting us at the moment. I am not counting the international contacts.
  • We assigned a coordinator for Hatay region.
  • I met with Jasmine, Jennifer, and Thomas, and all of them were very helpful. Although Jasmine’s platform is not yet ready, she introduced me to a lot of resources. Thomas provided us with coaching on how to kickstart our efforts and what to pay attention to. Jennifer has been a great support throughout. She’ll support in any and every way she can. I can’t thank you enough for this.
  • We are forming an advisory board, and Jennifer has accepted to join it. Once again, thank you. Her involvement will open new doors for us when we need it most.
  • We have distributed essential goods to 50 families. While our focus for the upcoming weeks will remain on addressing immediate needs, our main goal is to develop and support projects that will have long-term benefits.
  • We will start working on a book called “Life After Disaster,” which will feature both expert opinions and first-hand survivor accounts. It will be used to create awareness and raise funds
  • We will organize a roundtable to discuss “Building Back Better” for the affected region. I believe it is crucial to define clear goals before investing in any projects.

Would you be interested in joining our advisory board as a leadership advisor and helping us encourage people to take responsibility? I have already mentioned your organization and explained your 7 steps in the presentations I give. The help we will need is mostly knowledge and advice-based.

Since I can’t thank you enough for all the encouragement and support, Susanne, I appreciate everything you’ve done.

Best Regards,

Nine measures of disaster recovery

On the ninth day of Thanks and Giving, we give to you … nine measures of disaster recovery. Well, … there are many more than nine, but we’re not going to bore you with them all.

Imagine a man, Joe, who has lost a leg in an accident. Because of the injury, Joe has to reconsider his job. He gets depressed and his personal relationships suffer. Eventually, he receives a prosthetic limb and is able to walk, run, and even participate in sports. He gets a new job, and his depression lifts.

At what point in this story can we say that Joe has “recovered”? When he is done with hospitals and doctors? When he can walk unaided, or he can be active in sports? Perhaps his recovery is not reasonably complete until his professional and personal lives are stable, or when his depression is under control.

We want to say that it’s when Joe is “back to normal.” But, clearly, he cannot return to his pre-injury life, so what does “normal” mean? Joe’s “recovery” depends on his finding a new normalcy.

The same is true for communities who suffer a disaster:

My neighborhood will never be the same. Because of [the wildfire]. And I, you know, we used to have a quiet, sweet little neighborhood and it’s not like that anymore. … I’ve gone through grief at the loss of my neighborhood and gratitude that my home is still here. … People are gone. My dearest neighbors don’t live here anymore. They live in Felton. People whose children I knew since they were born. And, just the character, the neighborhood changes, because some of the characters are gone.

— Judy S. in Three CZU Fire Survivors Tell Their Stories | Creative Crisis Leadership 

As is evident in Joe’s and Judy’s stories, “recovered” is not an easily defined goal. Rather than asking, “Are they recovered?”, we should instead ask,  “How much have they recovered?” or “Have they recovered enough?” To answer such questions, we need something (or many somethings) to measure. Before we can measure, we have to define what we want to measure. 

A working definition of recovery has very real and practical implications.  When should the Red Cross and FEMA stop support for survivors of a hurricane? What costs should insurance companies cover? What preparedness measures lead to better outcomes?

We need a working definition in order to perform fundamental disaster management tasks, such as  assessing service needs, setting policy, and measuring effectiveness of preparedness activities,

All partners involved in recovery have an interest in looking at how their actions impact the overall progress of the recovery effort. Each entity must identify their strategies and benchmarks for how they will measure their efforts both qualitatively and quantitatively.

National Disaster Recovery Framework, pg. 52

Of critical importance to measuring recovery is the appraisal of the effect of preparedness efforts on individual and community recovery,

Recovery is not an isolated mission to be engaged only during post-disaster conditions. Complete recovery post-disaster involves the coordination and concurrent efforts of all mission areas. Through proper preparedness and activities pre-disaster, post-disaster recovery needs can be reduced, and recovery efforts can be accelerated.

National Disaster Recovery Framework, pg. 52

Defining “Recovery”

The UN Office of Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) defines recovery as:

The restoring or improving of livelihoods and health, as well as economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets, systems and activities, of a disaster-affected community or society, aligning with the principles of sustainable development and “build back better”, to avoid or reduce future disaster risk.

Recovery | UNDRR 

Yowza. There is a lot packed into that sentence. Let’s unpack it one phrase at a time.

“The restoring or improving …”

How much should be recovered? The UN definition does not settle for just ensuring survival, but says that recovery entails restoring, or even improving on, pre-disaster conditions. For example, In Joe’s case, getting him a prosthetic may not be enough, he may have to lose weight to be able to use it.

FEMA’s National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF) offers more insight into why “recovery” covers more than simply returning to what was:

Recovery is more than the community’s return to pre-disaster circumstances; because of the time recovery takes, simple restoration may result in lost opportunities. This is especially true when the community determines that pre-disaster conditions are no longer sustainable, competitive, or functional. … Community recovery decision-making is best informed by evaluating all alternatives and avoiding simple rebuilding or reconstructing of an area that continues to be at risk.

National Disaster Recovery Framework, pg. 49

The NDRF highlights another complication of defining recovery, namely, that the goals for “restoring” and “improving” may differ from one community to another:

Each community defines recovery outcomes differently based on its circumstances, challenges, recovery vision, and priorities. One community may characterize recovery success as the return of its economy to pre-disaster conditions, while another may see it as the opening of new economic opportunities.

National Disaster Recovery Framework, pg. 49

“… of livelihoods and health, as well as economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets, systems and activities,…”

What aspects of recovery do we consider? Recovery is a broad concept that encompasses everything that makes our quality of life what it is. In Joe’s case, are we looking only at his physical well-being or are we considering his emotional and social needs as well?

Recovery extends beyond simply repairing damaged structures. It also includes the continuation or restoration of services critical to supporting the physical, emotional, and financial well-being of impacted community members.

National Disaster Recovery Framework, pg. 1

Unfortunately, it is not easy to know what aspects of life to measure, nor is there agreement on what should be measured. Elizabeth Jordan and Amy Javernick-Will explored the disaster management literature’s use of measurable recovery indicators. They report on the use of the following indicators of recovery, and broadly group them into four facets that are similar to those in the UN’s definition of recovery: social, economic, environment, and infrastructure.

Social Indicators:

  • Emotional
  • Equity
  • Population Return
  • Quality of Life
  • Social Services

Economic Indicators:

  • Employment
  • GNP
  • Gov’t Revenue
  • Income
  • Housing Values
  • # Businesses
  • Standard of Living

Environmental Indicators:

  • Air Quality
  • Erosion
  • Land Degradation
  • Sustainability
  • Water Quality

Infrastructure Indicators:

  • Debris Removal
  • Housing
  • Facilities & Lifelines
  • Transportation
  • Risk Reduction

Measuring Community Resilience and Recovery: A Content Analysis of Indicators, pg. 2195

Predictably, which facets to consider are in the eye of the beholder:

It is clear that [academics and practitioners] often view recovery and resilience from their unique disciplinary perspectives.

Not surprisingly, the social science articles are more likely to cite the social indicators of recovery than the other article types. It is interesting to note that the articles by practitioners are most likely to cite recovery equity, population return, sustainability and housing restoration. Across all article types, there is an interest in economic recovery; however the indicators used to assess economic recovery vary.

Measuring Community Resilience and Recovery: A Content Analysis of Indicators, pg. 2198, 2195

Jordan and Javernick-Will go on to conclude that,

… we still lack a set of indicators that can be used to assess recovery across a variety of disciplines and cases and build a comprehensive theory of the process.

Measuring Community Resilience and Recovery: A Content Analysis of Indicators, pg. 2191

“… of a disaster-affected community or society, …”

At what level of analysis are we taking measurements? Are we measuring recovery of individuals, entire communities or something in between?  In Judy’s case, we could focus on the recovery of individuals in her neighborhood by measuring the number of homes that were undamaged or rebuilt. However, to understand the impact that she describes, we might want to consider a community-wide measurement such as population return.

In the words of Jordan and Javernick-Will,

The unit of analysis for recovery can vary; resulting in studies of recovery at various scales, including communities, households, individuals, businesses or infrastructure systems. Recovery progress may be assessed differently depending on the unit of analysis. For example, a community, as a whole, may have “recovered” while some individuals are left out of the process.

Measuring Community Resilience and Recovery: A Content Analysis of Indicators, pg. 2191

“… aligning with the principles of sustainable development and ‘build back better’, to avoid or reduce future disaster risk.”

Should recovery efforts reduce the risk of crisis from further disasters? Many feel that recovery is not complete if another flood or tornado can come by and destroy what has just been restored. Therefore, recovery should include improvements to increase the communities’ resilience for the next time lightning strikes.

… many researchers now claim that a successful recovery should not return the community to its pre-disaster condition, but rather should result in an increase in disaster resilience.

Measuring Community Resilience and Recovery: A Content Analysis of Indicators, pg. 2191

It is vital that communities not only can recover to pre-disaster conditions, but that they are also provided the resources and support that can help them build sustainable and resilient processes, capabilities, and systems to effectively move forward.

National Disaster Recovery Framework, pg. 52


It’s impressive how much the UN packs into its one-sentence definition of recovery!

Effective recovery takes many actors working together who must cooperate and coordinate their efforts. As an example, take a look at the chart below analyzing the recovery of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

The sequence and timing of reconstruction after Katrina in New Orleans with actual experience (solid lines) and sample indicators for the first year along a logarithmic time line of weeks after the disaster. The long-term projections (dashed lines) are based on an emergency period of 6 weeks, a restoration period of 45 weeks, and a 10-fold historical experience for reconstruction.

The sequence and timing of reconstruction after Katrina in New Orleans with actual experience (solid lines) and sample indicators for the first year along a logarithmic time line of weeks after the disaster. The long-term projections (dashed lines) are based on an emergency period of 6 weeks, a restoration period of 45 weeks, and a 10-fold historical experience for reconstruction.
Reconstruction of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina: A research perspective | PNAS (2006)


This complex effort can take a long time. Jordan and Javernick-Will observe that,  

An additional challenge is that the timescale of recovery is not clear. It is difficult to determine the appropriate timeframe to measure recovery. Sustainable recovery may take years, and therefore measurements of recovery and post-disaster capacity must be taken throughout time until well after a disaster has occurred.

Measuring Community Resilience and Recovery: A Content Analysis of Indicators, pg. 2191

Any effort of such complexity, taking place over an extended time, requires that all actors taking part share measurable indicators of progress:

… Measuring and communicating the progress of recovery increases public confidence in the recovery process by promoting transparency, accountability, and efficiency. It enables local leadership to identify ongoing recovery needs and engages partners in providing assistance and problem resolution.

National Disaster Recovery Framework, pg. 50

We at Creative Crisis Leadership are dedicated to easing community recovery with pre-disaster preparedness through our community workshops. Our mission is to increase social resilience, which is about helping individuals and communities recover better and faster. As a member of the disaster recovery theater, we have an obligation to measure whether our work is truly effective.

If you are interested in working or partnering with us to develop measures of learning outcomes, recovery or social resilience, or further other aims of our research program, please get in touch.

To celebrate the thanks of Thanksgiving and Giving Tuesday, today, we give a very special thanks to the participants in our Research Roundtables, and our research colleagues, especially: Zeno Franco, Jasmine Qin, Joe Lasley, Daniel Aldrich, Duncan Shaw, and Louise Comfort.


In case we don’t win the lottery, please a small donation to
support our work.
We thank you for all that you give.


Eight wishes for 2023!


On the eighth day of Thanks and Giving, we give to you … eight wishes for 2023!

  1. We wish for no disasters to happen so no one has to suffer pain and loss.
  2. We wish for all communities to be socially resilient so they recover faster and better from disaster.
  3. We wish for everyone to act, improvise and overcome together in crisis so our work is complete.
  4. We wish for more talent and time on our team so we can help more communities prepare to be unprepared.
  5. We wish for us to complete the Twelve Days of Thanks and Giving quickly after our holiday break so we can apply what we’ve learned to grow our impact.
  6. We wish for unicorns and porcupines to inspire hope and joy in the world.
  7. We wish for us to win the lottery so we don’t have to ask you to donate now to help (some of) our wishes to come true.
  8. We wish for YOU to have a safe, prosperous and joyfilled year.

May we all receive all that we need.


To celebrate the thanks of Thanksgiving and Giving Tuesday, today, we give a very special thanks to the people who have supported our work this year, including Jock Mackinlay and Polle Zellweger, Maurita Holland, Dick and Rita Juhl, Norma Bowles and George Furnas.


In case we don’t win the lottery, please a small donation to
support our work.
We thank you for all that you give.