Published: Dec. 14, 2020 By

CU Boulder Natural Hazards Center calls for 1,000 letters to inform Biden transition team on how to respond to hazards, disasters

The transition team for the incoming presidential administration of Joseph R. Biden recently sent an email to institutions around the nation, seeking input and names of experts in four key priority areas—the COVID-19 pandemic, economic recovery, racial equity and climate change.

“So many names came to my mind in all four areas,” said Lori Peek, professor of sociology and director of the Natural Hazards Center in the Institute of Behavioral Science at the University of Colorado Boulder. The priorities “really cross-cut the work that people in the hazards and disaster field do.”

Lori Peek

At the top of the page: Fires in Pine Gulch and Eldorado Canyon have filled the air in Boulder, lending sunsets and sunrises with an eerie color. Taken August  27, 2020. Photo by Jeff Mitton.
Above: Lori Peek

The Natural Hazards Center is a National Science Foundation-designated information clearinghouse for the societal dimensions of hazards and disasters. Founded in 1976 by the late Professor of Geography Gilbert F. White, the center is dedicated to reducing disaster harm through sharing information, connecting researchers, producing novel research and training, and mentoring the next generation of professionals.

Recognizing how many ideas are out there, Peek conceived the One Thousand Letters Project, inviting the people in the CU Boulder community and far beyond to compose 500-word letters to the transition team, to “share your vision for how we can work together to ultimately reduce the enormous harm and suffering caused by disasters, while identifying practical steps that will help move the vision forward.”

“I just want to share the expertise that I know exists here at CU Boulder, but also across the nation,” Peek said. “During this time of transition, it just seemed like our scientific and civic duty.”  

Anyone interested in submitting a letter, including students, should send it to by no later than Tuesday, Dec. 15. The team at the center will read and compile letters and submit to the Biden transition team. Anonymous letters will be accepted, and authors will not be identified without permission, Peek said in her call for contributions. 

She’s heard through the grapevine of larger institutions that the transition team is serious about soliciting information from a wide range of sources, even if they won’t necessarily read each and every letter.

“They are just processing so much information, getting ready to take over the administration of a massive federal infrastructure. I know the likelihood of them sitting down over the next 60 days and reading them all isn’t high,” Peek said with a laugh. 

“But I am synthesizing all that we are receiving into a high-level memo for the transition team, and the letters are important symbolically. A thousand voices don’t even begin to capture the size of the natural hazards and disaster research and management community.”

The Natural Hazards Center has been extremely busy over the past year, not just with its response to COVID-19, but also several destructive hurricanes and a ferocious wildfire season.

It is going to take all of our science and best practices to turn the tide of rising hazards losses."

The center’s CONVERGE facility put out a special call for grant proposals for COVID-19-related research in the spring, providing $1,000 grants to 90 working groups encompassing some 1,200 people in social and behavioral sciences around the world. Peek says the center expects to announce the names of grantees from a second round of associated COVID-19 funding before the end of the year.

Peek experienced disaster up close and personally herself when she and her husband had to evacuate their home when the Cal-Wood Fire raged out of control Oct. 17, eventually destroying some 26 homes and more than 10,000 acres in the foothills and mountains northwest of Boulder. She wrote about her experience in a recent article, imploring others to prepare for the worst. 

“I’m looking out my window right now at the burn scar from the fire,” Peek says during a phone interview. 

The recent brush with disaster has only deepened her sense of urgency to act in the face of widespread disaster losses. 

“It is going to take all of our science and best practices to turn the tide of rising hazards losses,” she wrote in her call for letters. “May we listen to and learn from one another and act together as we imagine new possibilities for a just and sustainable future.”