Celebrating Everyday Heroism in our Diverse Communities

Emily White

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

After nearly a decade with the American Red Cross, I’ve witnessed how communities respond to and recover from disasters of all kinds. I’ve seen ordinary people perform extraordinary acts of heroism and selflessness and realized how much we rely on each other when disaster strikes. Although emergency personnel deploy immediately after a disaster and humanitarian organizations like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army serve the community until the last disaster-related needs are met, our agencies simply cannot be everywhere at once. Every one of us, the ordinary people who live and work together and form the fabric of our communities, has the ability and the responsibility to take care of one another when disaster hits home.

My mission is to prepare as many people as possible with the skills and resources necessary to become those powerful yet humble heroes who can help when a disaster strikes their family, workplace, or community. Recognizing that neighbors are the true “first responders” in any crisis, the Red Cross Gateway to the Golden State Region launched Ready Neighborhoods, a four-year initiative designed to transform 50 targeted neighborhoods into models of disaster readiness. This collaborative effort is led by local individuals and organizations within each community and is facilitated by the Red Cross and sponsored by Pacific Gas and Electric Company.

Ready Neighborhoods programming empowers local residents and organizations with the skills and tools they need now—before disaster strikes—to effectively respond when the time comes. Resources are focused on low-income, immigrant, and underserved communities that are most adversely affected by disasters and face the hardest road to recovery. The programming utilizes the Red Cross Community Resilience Strategy, a framework that involves all sectors of the community to build relationships and trust and leverages local assets to promote preparedness and resilience in a culturally appropriate way.

The youth are also vital and will conduct neighborhood assessments using the “Map your Block” tool supported by our partners at San Francisco Department of Emergency Management, Neighborhood Emergency Response Team, and SF SAFE. At Save-a-Life Saturday, youth volunteers also teach lifesaving skills to hundreds of community residents.

Since the launch of Ready Neighborhoods, the Red Cross has trained nearly 50,000 individuals in 16 neighborhoods through a team of volunteers teaching in Cantonese, English, Mandarin, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese. More than 500 residents are now prepared to open and operate community shelters. Together with our partners we are increasing the resilience of our communities, and everyday people—our neighbors, friends, colleagues, and families—are honing their own preparedness superpowers to become the next everyday heroes.

Emily White is the Regional Director of Preparedness for the American Red Cross Gateway to the Golden State Region headquartered in San Francisco. 

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