Resilient SF

Earlier this week Mayor Lee announced the launch of – a web portal that becomes the doorway to a program we’ve had in “soft launch” for almost a year. Finally we’ve got almost all of the pieces together and we can take this from concept to reality.

What is it you ask? Well, that’s a long story that’s evolved over several years of learning, but here’s the shorthand version.

To start, here’s my  guiding principles for this (I say “my” because other partners may have some that are different…which is OK):

  • people are more prepared than they think,
  • strong communities before a disaster will be strong after a disaster,
  • relationships are the key to everything, and
  • the only people that can drive change are people themselves.

We started looking at all the transactions that take place every day in San Francisco and started to see how those seemingly disparate interactions related to overall community resiliency. Most, if not all neighborhood or community based programs have a common goal: improve living conditions in some fashion or another. Be it removing graffiti, picking up trash, building a playground or implementing a neighborhood watch they all serve that common purpose of making things better. What happens, if we look at core behaviors, is community problem solving and relationship building.

After a disaster there are a whole bunch of problems to solve that will require the community to come together and speak as one. There will be enough problems at the macro level that will cause delays in recovery, so it’s critical that people be able to work out the micro level on their own.  Seemed like a no brainer to get on board and support any and all programs that get people out of their houses and talking to each other. If we ‘professionals’ all agree that the worst time to exchange business cards is during a crises, doesn’t that hold true for when to meet your neighbors?

So why not just pull together neighborhood parties around disaster preparedness? Well, you could if that’s what people wanted to talk about. But, truth is, most people don’t want to talk about disasters. They do want to talk about crime, graffiti, community beautification projects and the like.

Government will continue to hit a wall so long as we keep trying to drive the conversation. We need to listen. We need to open our minds to the possibility that by becoming a trusted partner in things the community cares about the end result will be a stronger community and a better relationship between the community and government. That will go a long way during a disaster. A lot longer than some freeze dried food.

So what about stuff? Government is supposed to direct people to get stuff? People will need water, food, flashlights, duct tape (hey it’s useful! not just for sealing doors!)….this doesn’t change any of that.  It just changes how and when we bring it up.

My basic philosophy is that people are more prepared than they think. Most people have stuff, the basics of a plan, and an idea of what to do. The trick is getting them to see that and fill the gap. For that, you need the relationships.  Resilient SF does two things in this regard; it builds a platform where we can have those conversations and it multiplies the number of avenues to deliver the message. By partnering with the Department of the Environment (for instance) we not only support their goals, but they have the opportunity to inject core preparedness behaviors into the interactions they have with the community.

If neighbors know each other and have a common bond, they’ll take care of each other. We see this happening in small towns all the time. We need to bring that mindset back to the urban environment. One neighborhood at a time.

By scrapping the traditional view of preparedness and eliminating a reliance on kits and plans we begin to see the strength in a community lies in the community itself. If we listen to the community and partner with them to accomplish their goals we open the door to encourage behaviors and actions that meet our goals. And when you stop and think about it, at the elemental level they are pretty much the same: strong communities who look out for each other.


About sfdemrob

Director of Emergency Services with a single mission: make the idea of community resiliency synonymous with San Francisco.

Posted on June 25, 2011, in Resilience. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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