When El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn reached out to homeowners associations to communicate with victims of the Black Forest fire, he was tapping into a powerful network.
Over the years, many HOAs have built active websites and thorough databases of email addresses and phone numbers. Many use chat rooms to discuss issues. They have Facebook pages to reach people. They send out email blasts. And they’ve conditioned residents to check in frequently online to stay in touch.
That wasn’t always true.
About 10 years ago, longtime neighborhood activist Jan Doran had the vision that HOA websites and databases could be valuable tools for reaching their residents. And they could be leveraged to link various HOAs so one group could see what the others are doing.
As president of the Council of Neighbors and Organizations, or CONO, Jan encouraged HOAs to start building these digital networks. CONO is a volunteer group of HOA members who lobby the city and advocate for issues important to neighborhoods, especially in development issues and city planning.
“It has always been my vision for HOAs to be talking to people they represent and to be talking to each other,” Jan said. “That’s how it all started.”
Glenn recognized that power when he urged folks, while the Black Forest fire was still burning, to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and get on his list as he built his grassroots network. He was taking advantage of the infrastructure Jan and CONO are largely responsible for building.
Glenn described it as a no-brainer to harness the HOA communication network when disaster struck in Black Forest, destroying 509 homes and killing two people.
In coming months and years, the county will need to stay in touch with families that have scattered in search of temporary housing. There will be lengthy discussions about rebuilding in the forest and myriad issues to debate.
“We need an efficient way to disseminate information,” Glenn told me. “And we need boots on the ground telling us what’s happening in the neighborhoods.
“But you can’t do anything until you have a way to communicate.”
Glenn said the county will continue to rely on newspapers and television news to get the word out about fire recovery efforts and issues facing homeowners.
“But we are going to use all forms of communication,” he said. “We wanted to put a big net around the burn area so we have a reliable communication network. We want to get them involved and engaged early, so when it comes time to rebuild, restore and recover, they have a seat at the table on Day One.”
Since issuing his call at a several news briefings on the fire, more than 100 HOAs and individual neighborhood residents have responded, signing up to be part of Glenn’s network.
He noted that many of the tiny subdivisions across Black Forest have inactive HOAs or none at all.
“This is an excellent opportunity for them to establish a neighborhood network,” he said.
That’s just as Jan Doran envisioned it: Neighbors getting together to talk, help each other, work with their elected leaders and solve problems.
“It just makes,” she said, “all the sense in the world.”