With debris from last year's tsunami in Japan reaching our shores, the reminders of disasters are frequent. The earthquakes in Italy this past May and the usual round of flooding all show that people must be prepared to work together to be resilient.
This is the message of the "Resilientville" program which launched its outreach-training workshop this past May 2.
"When there is a major disaster like an earthquake communities need to be resilient and bounce back as quickly as possible or else it could be a long time before they’ll be the same place to live and work as before" says Daniel Homsey, Director of San Francisco’s Neighborhood Empowerment Network (NEN). Developed in partnership with neighborhood leaders across San Francisco, the NEN is collaborative of community organizations, city agencies, non-profit & faith based organizations, and academic institutions, and is sponsored by the San Francisco General Services Agency and the Department of Emergency Management.The NEN’s mission is to leverage the resources of its member organizations to develop tools and resources that empower communities to achieve truly independent resilience.
Homsey is undaunted in his work to get the word out that a healthy, safe and connected San Francisco is better prepared for a major emergency at all levels, especially at the neighborhood level. Other groups and programs, such as the Neighborhood Emergency Response Team program (NERT) have been working to raise the communities awareness about the importance of being prepared in the event of a disaster.
"It is important to reach as many people as possible and foster involvement in our Cities' preparedness and response with the understanding that it ultimately affects our recovery," said Mindy Talmadge, San Francisco Fire Dept. public information officer. "NERT has worked since 1990 (Shortly after the Loma Prieta Earthquake) to unify neighborhoods and foster emergency preparedness at the individual and organizational level," she said. Talmadge praised Homsey's work.
Since joining the City Administrator’s Office under Ed Lee over four years ago, Homsey, a fourth generation San Franciscan and SFSU alumni, has been tireless in his efforts to nurture the development of innovative programs and outreach efforts to empower San Franciscans to take an active role in stewarding their community. To date the NEN has generated resources such as empowersf.org and Citidex, both tools that help residents build more resilient communities. Resilientville is the latest addition to this suite of tools.
As a training tool, Resilientville seeks to bring together community leaders to create an immersing learning experience about the power of community building and its important pay-off in times of unforeseen challenge. Homsey advances that communication and cooperation is are essential qualities in any successful community, especially in the face of an emergency. "It is our goal to help key stakeholder organizations in our communities to get to know and trust each other today so that they can work seamlessly together in the days, weeks, months and even years after a disaster stikes.” he said. Homsey believes it is very important that neighbors, community centers, churches, etc are acquainted with one another well before a major disaster, "rather than meet each other for the very first time just minutes after disaster strikes," he said.
"The first 72 hours after a disaster are critical; organizations often must create collaborative strategies on the fly to meet the immediate needs of their community’s residents, therefore having a culture of coordination and cooperation already in place is a big benefit.” Homsey said. He hopes that through the role playing experience that the Resilientville program offers, community leaders will see the the benefit of reaching out to each other today across traditional silos and work to develop strong, effective working relationships, with the understanding that the potential benefit of such an investment will come at an undisclosed, but critical time.
Homsey has visited other places impacted by disaster such as New Orleans, Louisiana where Hurricane Katrina hit. "When government agencies like FEMA were struggling to get organized some of the very first on the scene to respond were the faith-based organizations and local non profits." said Homsey. He also recently went to Christchurch New Zealand, which is still recovering from the devastating earthquakes of 2010 / 11, on an information sharing visit with officials. Homsey in fact ran the Resilientville exercise in Wellington, New Zealand for about 30 local emergency managers on April 30th just before it was officially launched here in SF on May 2nd.
Working with Homsey is Michael Pappas, Executive Director of the San Francisco Interfaith Council. With a membership of 800 congregations, the council supports the Resilientville program and hosted the May 2 workshop-exercise at St. Mary's Cathedral on Geary Blvd. Pappas noted that "Groups and organizations like San Francisco Community Agencies Responding to Disaster - (SF CARD) and The American Red Cross were partners in the Workshop." "Resilience means creating partnerships," he said. "Traditionally, a religious congregation's response to disasters has always been the role that churches and religious organizations take on when the community needs help," he said. "The congregation and its resources (which is more than a building, it includes its members) can be a neighborhood's greatest strength," Pappas said.
While the workshop, at which Resilientville debuted, was funded privately through the SF Interfaith Council funders, Pappas insists the program is open to all members of the community, including merchants, neighborhood organizations, civic groups and coalitions. All congregations and organizations within a community or neighborhood need to work together, coordinating with hospitals, fire and police and other agencies in the occurrence of a major disaster. Pappas views the Resilentville program as an effective way to achieve this goal.
"It is my hope, said Talmadge that the dialog resulting from those using Resilientville will result in many more people taking concrete actions including participation in the classroom led hands-on training offered in NERT and the organizational efforts of the NERT teams in each neighborhood," she said.
Pappas and Homsey are eager to have other community leaders use the exercise in their communities. Since the launch this past May, "we have been in an incubating stage," said Pappas, "collecting data and getting input from the various communities around the City."
For more information about Resilentville and NEN - The Neighborhood Empowerment Network visit the NEN web site at www.empowersf.org or contact Daniel Homsey at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 415-554-7114.