“Back to the Future” – Taking Control and Personal Responsibility Over Our Destiny-reclaiming our future to Engage and Take Action

By Linda Crerar

The main theme of the movie “Back to the Future” (1985) concerns taking control and personal responsibility over one’s own destiny. A situation can be changed even if it seems otherwise impossible to overcome. Lea Thompson, actress and director, who is best known for her role as Lorraine Baines-McFly in the movie, said the film represents how one moment can have a significant and lasting impact on a person’s life.

Three lessons from Back to the Future

  1. Innovation knows no age limit: Moral of the story: Give everyone the opportunity to participate in the brainstorming of new ideas. Sometimes, the person you’d least expect is the one who changes a trajectory.
  1. Stop paying attention to the way things are; focus on where things are headed: One of Marty’s biggest strengths is how he can quickly figure out the long-term ramifications of current actions. That’s not to say there aren’t mistakes — I’m looking at you.
  1. Innovation doesn’t always mean creating something wholly new: Seize opportunity where it comes, never give up and always look to the future.

Preparing for future disasters will require emergency managers to switch from looking backward to anticipating a truly unprecedented future.

Disaster response compounded by public health and climate crisis has transformed the field of emergency managed and broadened the role.   Pandemic response stretched the concept of modern emergency management in ways it had never been stretched before and was compounded by an onslaught of additional emergencies and disasters, ranging from weather incidents to civil unrest. “Things don’t fall into a specific discipline and we need to step us collaboration and vigilance to confront an ever more chaotic future,” FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell.

We’ve seen this enormous shift from disasters being an episodic number of acute events on a regular cycle, with a mega event every three to four years,” to major events now “happening every year, multiple times per year and for a lot of communities, disaster has become a chronic condition — like poverty or homelessness,” said Trevor Riggen, head of disaster response for the American Red Cross.

Our state’s Community and Technical College System (SBCTC) has responded by anticipating the need for online certificate and degree programs in Homeland Security Emergency Management (HSEM), Occupation Safety and Health (OSH), and response programs in Fire Services and Criminal justice that are designed to prepare the next generation of all hazard emergency management leaders. The programs are designed to prepare students to oversee emergency planning and training programs, coordinate disaster response and recovery efforts, and navigate the administrative and technical demands of disaster and emergency management efforts. It is designed to build leaders. Careful consideration is given to help students understand related socioeconomic and cultural diversity issues, preparing them to succeed in all situations and environments. https://www.pierce.ctc.edu/hsem

As our climate crisis deepens, despair is on the rise. Terms like “eco-anxiety” and “climate grief” have spread throughout activist circles as well as popular culture; meanwhile, a raft of academic studies now identifies climate change as a mental health crisis.

Associate professor of environmental humanities from the University of Washington, Dr. Jennifer Atkinson, outlines the existential toll of environmental destruction on different groups – from scientists and activists to students and BIPOC communities. Her presentation Building Resilience for a Climate-Changed Future with Jennifer Atkinson – YouTube , discusses how we can move beyond climate despair and eco-anxiety.

Ecosystems in distress created a condition called Solastalgia. Ecosystem in distress can create significant, chronic distress in the people who call these places home. When someone experiences Solastalgia, their sense of place, home, security, value, and self are undermined and they become unable to take action.  “There is only one way to earn hope and that is by rolling up your sleeves,” says Dr. Jennifer Atkinson.

“Back to the Future” means that we can and must make a difference. Here are steps to start the process:

Existential Checklist for the Climate Generation

  1. Acknowledge
    1. Can I name my feelings? Am I talking openly with others? Am I asking how they feel?
  2. Reframe
    1. Do I see all difficult emotions as “negative”? Can I acknowledge their value?
  3. Rewrite the Story
    1. Am I seeking stories about solutions, or just doomscrolling? Am I living in a story of unraveling and collapse, or a story of “the Great Turning”?
  4. Connect
    1. Am I connecting with others who share my concern? Am I aware that I’m not acting alone?
  5. Take Action
    1. Am I actively engaged in the movement for climate solutions and justice? Am I working to bring about the future I desire?

Resources with Dr. Jennifer Atkinson:

Beyond Climate Despair: Reclaiming Hope in a Warming World by Dr. Jennifer Atkinson. – YouTube

Building Resilience for a Climate-Changed Future with Jennifer Atkinson – YouTube

Recommended Readings:

Preparing for and Responding to Energy Emergencies

Push-to-Talk App Emergency Communication Apps

Social Media in Emergency Management: Tools and Applications for Disaster Response


988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline

Washington 211 (wa211.org)

Washington Emergency Management Division

The Future of Emergency Management after 2020: The New, Novel, and Nasty

Lessons Learned: Short Stories of Continuity and Resilience


Join the next generation of homeland security and emergency management and policy leaders focused on improving disaster response and outcomes. Choose from a certificate program or an associate’s degree enabling you to transfer to a four-year college.

Choose from an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, or one of 4 certificate programs, including:

  • Homeland Security Emergency Management Certificate
  • Tribal Homeland Security Emergency Management Certificate
  • Healthcare Emergency Management Certificate
  • Disaster Risk Management Certificate

Select electives that match your interests or even earn you an additional certificate

Explore all Social and Behavioral Sciences, Public Services programs


Preparedness | Washington State Military Department, Citizens Serving Citizens with Pride & Tradition

For Individuals, Households & Businesses | Washington State Military Department, Citizens Serving Citizens with Pride & Tradition


Carnegie-Knight News21, “‘Everybody Is a First Responder’ in Disasters, Police and Firefighters Say”

Domestic Preparedness, “Moving on from 2020 — a Future for Emergency Management”

Eastern Kentucky University Safety, Security and Emergency Management, Graduate Course Descriptions

FEMA, “2020 National Preparedness Report”

FEMA, Declared Disasters

FEMA, Disaster Information

FEMA, Mission Areas and Core Capabilities

FEMA, National Preparedness Goal

FEMA, Whole Community

The Hill, “Why We Need a Technology Revolution in Emergency Management”

Insurance Information Institute, Facts + Statistics: U.S. Catastrophes

Mass.gov, “Residents Encouraged to Prepare During Emergency Preparedness Month”

NYC Emergency Management, “NYC Emergency Management Kicks Off National Preparedness Month with Seniors Readyfest”

Peter Jutro, “2019 Emergency Management Trends”

Seymour EMS, “The Importance of Emergency Preparedness”