Van Dispatch: Our Farewell
The day started with our new friends at a local eatery for a traditional breakfast which grew from the original team to everyone we had interacted with during the week to say goodbye. For a brief time, the discussion was less about earthquakes and damage and more about the shared experience as friends.
Afterward we were taken to the same building we began in, the Crisis Center located in the former parks and gardens department, one of the few municipal buildings still usable. When the mayor arrived he asked to hear our thoughts and recommendations on the situation in Van.
Given the enormity of the circumstances, we each picked one or two of our thoughts that we felt had the highest priority and shared those. I told him I thought his administration was providing admirable leadership and doing an amazing job of keeping people focused given the challenges they faced and thanked them for allowing us to interrupt their important work so that we can learn more about their situation.
The people of Van are the very definition of Resilient. But without leadership at the community level, individual resilience will begin to wane and as people grow frustrated they will begin to act more like refugees than survivors. In an effort to prevent that from occurring, we recommended several projects whereby the council members could help to build community and engage them as a whole in doing work as a group to care for each other and begin repairing the town.
I told the mayor that this was more than a local government visiting a local government, but that it was one community linked to another community, as members of their community who now live in ours was the nexus for this mission.
One of our primary concerns was the ongoing safety of the population given that there were many unstable buildings with commerce taking place literally
in their shadow. Both the engineers in our group stressed that this was a very dangerous situation and we respectfully suggested that the municipality work with the community to relocate their shops and other commerce until the areas could be secured.
The engineers went on to recommend that changes be made to both the way construction was done and the building codes now so that during recovery they didn’t inadvertedly recreate the same scenario. Fuad drew examples of how very simple construction changes would prevent these buildings from collapsing.
Lewis acknowledged the difficulties and the challenges that the mayor faced and shared that this was a common experience among elected officials facing disaster and told him he was not alone. He also recommended that Van take advantage of low cost or free mechanisms to raise funds and awareness such as social media and to bring tourism back to Van so that they can recover their economy.
After the discussions we presented the mayor with a gift from Mayor Ed Lee, After the Ruins, 1906 and 2006: Rephotographing the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire, which he graciously received and expressed his thanks to the mayor and the City of San Francisco as well as the Fleet Week Association and Bechtel.
The mayor asked one thing: that Van not be forgotten. I pledged to him as just as others had told our story for the past hundred or so years, we would continue to tell his.