Awareness to Action: Volunteer-Driven Initiatives for Community Preparedness

Matt Brisbois

Matt was recognized as a White House Champion of Change in Community Resilience and Preparedness. 

I am honored to represent over 1000 resident volunteers as a White House Champion of Change.  While serving as a congressional aide in Washington, D.C. in 1996-1997, I was exposed to the power and value of committed individuals and the positive impact they have on their communities, whether at the local, state, national or global level.  It was this experience and insight that lead me down the path of public service.

Our CERT volunteer enrollment grew rapidly following Hurricane Katrina.  The city’s existing Emergency Management Plan provided the foundation on which to build a committed corps of volunteers who would spread the preparedness message to their families, neighbors and local organizations. City employees, residents, businesses, schools, and civic organizations have all benefited from the CERT volunteers’ creative initiatives and diligent work.  Through their efforts, Newport Beach now has the highest per‐capita CERT volunteer‐to‐resident ratio in all of California.

“Awareness to Action” is truly the mantra of the Newport Beach CERT volunteers.  The initiative taken by these volunteers to develop programs and training opportunities within their own ranks and neighborhoods is impressive. Examples include the creation of:

CERT Volunteer Board of Directors:  A small group of highly motivated individuals saw a need to support the growing volunteer ranks with resources over and above the standard city offering.  Partnering with the City, they identified and developed training opportunities, marketing and outreach programs and assisted with administrative efforts involved in CERT recordkeeping, process documentation and event planning. 

CERT Volunteers Become Trainers:  Looking for ways to keep CERT volunteers engaged and active in the program beyond the required certification training.  The board identified that advanced skills training was needed in radio and technology communications, mutual aid, CPR, first aid, and survival techniques. 

CERT Volunteers Organize Neighborhood Events & Projects:  The city has over 154 distinct neighborhoods, each with its own unique culture, needs and geography.  Our volunteers are keenly aware of the necessity to create neighborhood-specific disaster plans and outreach/education programs because one-size doesn’t necessary fit all when it comes to preparedness.  As a result of our volunteers’ outreach efforts, fund-raising projects for the acquisition of supplies and equipment are a top priority for many HOA’s, using creative techniques such as silent auctions.  Some HOA Boards are now creating a budget line-item for emergency supplies. 

We have accomplished much in the last two years, and the momentum continues to grow.  However, our volunteers won’t rest on their past accomplishments.  They continue to look forward and anticipate solving new preparedness challenges through creative ideas and adaptive planning.  They are empowered knowing that they have the support of the community and city behind them.

Matt Brisbois is the Life Safety Specialist for the City of Newport Beach, CA.

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