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CIRES | Education and Outreach

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Engage youth and teachers to raise awareness of natural hazards and inspire action for resilience in Colorado communities.

The Hazard, Education Awareness and Resilience Task Force (HEART Force) project engages Colorado middle and high school students, teachers, and communities to take pro-active steps in preparing for potential hazards that are becoming more frequent due to climate change. Communities in Colorado are increasingly experiencing major disruptions from environmental hazards, such as wildfire, flood, drought and extreme heat. With this rise in hazardous events, there is a pressing need for communities to become more resilient through better preparation and planning. HEART is a collaborative project implemented by the NOAA Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) and NOAA’s Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) partner Western Water Assessment, CIRES and NOAA scientist and community partners working together to support youth learning about and improving the resilience of their communities.

Interested? Please contact our team at:




Rob Pressly, Colorado Resiliency and Recovery Office at Colorado’s Department of Local Affairs

Taryn Finnessey, Senior Climate Change Specialist at the State of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources

Patricia Gavelda, Colorado State and Local Mitigation Program Planning Manager at Colorado’s Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management

Greg Guibert, Boulder’s chief resilience officer, who is part of the 100 resilient cities and has many regional, state-wide, national and international connections with resilience efforts. 

Juliette Rooney-Varga, PhD, Director Climate Change Initiative Boulder Emergency Service

 Frank Niepold, NOAA climate program office 

Jen Kretser, Wild Center

Lesley Smith, Foothills United Ways 

Beth Barthel, UNAVCO


Partner communities [to date, additional community partners welcome]: 
Boulder County
City of Longmont
Larimer County
Jefferson County
Gunnison County
Garfield County 


School partners [to date, additional school partners welcome]:
Westview Middle School, Longmont
Estes Park High School, Estes Park
The Early College of Arvada, Arvada

Have you ever experienced a natural hazard in your community? A flood or forest fire that impacted everyone’s safety? A drought or extreme heat that had devastating effects on water resources, destroyed crops on farms, or harmed ranches and people’s lives?  Did you wonder “How can I make a difference?” That’s where our role (and YOU) come in! Working together as a team with other students, teachers, local experts, and dedicated community members, you and your classmates and teachers can develop real-world strategies for resilience and disaster response to protect your town from natural hazards in Colorado. Let’s make a positive and lasting change for our future.


We will support you in developing a strategy to protect your community and you will learn about the most common natural hazards in Colorado: flood, forest fire, drought, and extreme heat. Have any of these hazards taken place in your community? What did people do protect the town?


Student teams will explore a locally relevant natural hazard scenario and learn about the background and the science around the local hazards and about existing mitigation and response plans in your community. You and your team will engage in role play being the town’s “problem-solver” to develop plans to become more resilient and prepared in response to a potential natural disaster. The real-world strategies developed by your teams will be shared with your local community in a Resilience Expo. The Resilience Expo will connect students and community stakeholders— community and business leaders, student peers, families, local NGO organizations, and elected officials. Collaborating with the community stakeholders, students are encouraged to implement their plans through local service projects.

Do you have firsthand experience with increasing natural disasters in your community? Do you want to take an active role in helping prepare for potential hazards in the future? Do you want to educate, engage, and empower your students to make an impact (change, contribution, difference) in your community? Mobilize your team of students and work collaboratively with the Hazards, Education Awareness and Resilience Task force (HEART) program. Together, we can empower students and make a positive difference in your local communities. 

Teacher opportunities in the HEART program include: 
1. Professional development workshop. Explore the main four natural hazards in Colorado (forest fires, floods, droughts, and extreme heat) and how to build community resilience by planning for potential events in our future. [opportunity to earn professional development and graduate credit]
2. Classroom curriculum. Four instructional units on the critical environmental hazards in Colorado. Engaging activities that use local data, classroom-tested and expert science reviewed, aligned with new Colorado science standards and developed with a three-dimensional approach.
3. Scenario- based role-play games. Four game variations engage students in thinking about the resilience and preparedness of their community against natural hazards. 
4. Capstone project. Students develop strategies of how to improve community resilience in their local context through a capstone project.
5. Resilience Expo. Students present their real-world resilience strategies to community stakeholders— community and business leaders, student peers, families, local NGO organizations, and elected officials in science-fair style. 
6. Educator Network. Educators interested in teaching about natural hazards can join a network of practitioners, scientists and other stakeholders to learn regularly about teachable moments and stay up to date on the science and opportunities. 

The HEART team offers participating teachers all materials for free, support in implementation and connection with scientists and community stakeholders. 
For selected partners teachers full logistical support for the implementation including the resilience expo and a stipend is provided. Partner teachers work with the HEART team to collect impact data and evaluation feedback.  

Natural Hazards General

Historical High-Impact Weather and Climate Events in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah, 1862–2017 - database of 160+ major historical extreme weather and climate events in the three-state region)

Historical High-Impact Weather and Climate Events – Summary Graphics showing the seasonality of occurrence of these events, etc.:


Monthly Maps of Significant Weather Events in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming - Monthly occurrence maps, by county, for each of 10 event types, including flood, flash flood, and wildfire.


Attribution of Extreme Weather Events in the Context of Climate Change - National Academies Report: (2016) - free PDF available, requires registration

Climate Change Vulnerability in Colorado 

Gordon, E., and D. Ojima, eds. (2015). Colorado Climate Change Vulnerability Study. A report submitted to the Colorado Energy Office. Western Water Assessment and Colorado State University.

Climate Change in Colorado
Lukas, J., Barsugli, J., Doesken, N., Rangwala, I., and K. Wolter (2014).Climate Change in Colorado: A Synthesis to Support Water Resources Management and Adaptation. A Report for the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Western Water Assessment.

Fourth National Climate Assessment 
Volume II: Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States
Chapter: Southwestern US

Floods in Colorado

Historic Floods in Colorado

Colorado 2013 Flood
Lukas, J., Wolter, K., Mahoney, K., Barsugli, J., Doesken, N., Ryan, W., 
Rangwala, I., Livneh, B., Gordon, E., Hoerling, M., and G. Kiladis (2013). Severe Flooding on the Colorado Front Range, September 2013: A Preliminary Assessment.Western Water Assessment.



Drought in Colorado

U.S. Drought monitor

National Integrated Drought Information System

Wildfire in Colorado

Extreme Heat

Extreme Heat in Colorado

National Integrated Heat Health Information System

Hazard Mitigation and Resilience in Colorado

Community Resilience in Colorado

Colorado Resilience Framework

State of Colorado Natural Hazards Mitigation Plan

Regional and Local Hazard Mitigation Plans for Colorado

Colorado Climate Plan


NOAA award number NA18SEC0080007 funded as part of the NOAA Environmental Literacy Program