How to reduce the risk of wildfire and other climate change-related disasters

By Karen Baker, Special to CALmatters

Millions of Californians face an unprecedented increase in natural disasters brought about climate change with an accompanying increase in risk. Unless.

Imagine if everyone is prepared in advance of an emergency, and we all know what to do and where to go to keep safe. Imagine if every Californian in every neighborhood is armed with vital information to help themselves and their neighbors before disaster strikes.

California’s emergency planning in the traditional sense is held up as a model. California is known for integrated disaster management, incident command systems, and having plans and programs for fire, earthquake and other crises.

But we face many barriers, given our size and diversity. We must change our approach by investing in people power to complement traditional emergency services which is why a new grassroots strategy has been adopted to connect people to each other and build inclusive resiliency.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s California For All Emergency Preparedness Campaign dedicates $50 million to ready the state’s diverse and vulnerable communities for the next emergency. There are multiple elements with our approach.

First, we are focusing on local organizing. Through grant awards, the state is investing in community-based organizations bringing together residents across lines of poverty, overcoming language barriers and conquering other demographic challenges.

This work will identify gaps in local emergency plans and foster conversations with area leaders on how to address the needs and priorities of different people so neighbors can help each other.

We also seek to empower volunteer groups such as Listos, AmeriCorps, Fire Safe Councils, and CERT (Community Emergency Response Teams). In the 13 years since I’ve been involved in the disaster preparedness arena, I’ve seen the power of training and its impact at the local level.  

Community Emergency Response Teams already are connecting neighbors to resources. Our new campaign replenishes California-based chapters and enables them to expand to all corners of the state.

To reach non-English speakers, the Spanish-language eight-hour training by Listos brings cultural and linguistic relevance to emergency preparedness content to empower families and communities. Training in other languages is in development, as well.

At a recent California For All conference in San Diego, we officially launched the Community Emergency Response Teams and Listos teams as part of the campaign to expand their work this summer in local communities.

Our aim is for all these campaign components to work side-by-side in times of blue sky so that perhaps when the sky turns gray, we will all know what to do, where to go and how to help each other.

Karen Baker is California’s Chief Service Officer and a key architect of the California For All Emergency Preparedness Campaign, [email protected] She wrote this commentary for CALmatters.

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