Champions of Change Blog

  • Preparing for Those “Ugly” Choices

    Scott Ellis

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

    Being prepared is important for everyone, but it is especially important for people with disabilities, senior citizens, and people with unique needs

    The Independent Living movement is based on the philosophy of people with disabilities having the right to control our lives.  The right to make decisions about our needs, the barriers we face, and how to address those needs and handle those barriers.  Along with those rights come the responsibilities such as planning and assuming the consequences of making choices--the good ones, the bad ones, and sometimes the ugly ones.   An “ugly” choice can be choosing between sheltering in-place or evacuating with your power-chair to a general population shelter when a hurricane is bearing down on you.

    Being prepared for emergencies and disasters is a logical extension of the Independent Living philosophy.  Everyone needs to be prepared, but for people with disabilities living independently, it is a vital responsibility that they must make those “ugly” choices and be prepared for the consequences. Being prepared helps people with disabilities stay in control as much as possible during disasters because they have done a self-assessment.  As a team, we know what our disability needs will be during most emergency situations.  It is then up to us to plan for those situations so that we stay safe, in control, functional, and able to assist others around us, or help the responders trying to help us. 

    I want to say this again: People with disabilities can stay in control and functioning during a disaster or simple emergency if we have done our self-assessment, done our planning, gathered our resources, and executed our plans to the best of our abilities.  That is a basic Independent Living stratagem and a basic Emergency Preparedness tool.  Together these instruments empower people with disabilities to survive!

    No plan fits everyone.  This is especially true for people with different disabilities.  This is where the Progressive Center for Independent Living (PCIL) comes in.  We are a resource for any person with a disability, and we a resource for the Emergency Management community as well.  We bridge that gap of misunderstanding and misinformation between the two communities.  PCIL works extensively with first-responders through PCIL training courses. We include staff and board members with disabilities who are members of the Mercer County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) who have been deployed for real-world emergencies such as flooding.  As active responders, we operate in both communities for the benefit of all.

    I started this by saying that I was honored that what I do every day is viewed in the Champions of Change context, but I view it more a as a firefighter.  A task needs to be done to put out the fire and I’m doing that task, among many, to put out the fire.

    Scott W. Ellis is the Emergency Preparedness Coordinator of the Progressive Center for Independent Living. 

  • Catastrophic Preparedness.... Really?

    JoAnn Jordan

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

    Getting people to think about and plan for an event that they hope will never happen is hard!  Yet, for the past 20+ years, that's what I have been doing - teaching people how to prevent fires and prepare for disasters.  The disaster message has been "be prepared to be on your own for at least 3 days," and over the years, we have seen statistics show that people have been gradually hearing our message and taking actions to be prepared. 

    For the past 2 1/2 years, I have had the great fortune of managing a Regional Catastrophic Preparedness Grant project that focused on motivating people to prepare for catastrophic events.  Yes, bigger than an emergency, more powerful than a disaster, we are talking about catastrophic!  Our dilemma: how to introduce the term "catastrophic" to the public without scaring them or causing them to feel so overwhelmed that they do not prepare at all. 

    The project team hired a marketing firm to help research how to motivate people to prepare for the unthinkable.  We used focus groups to find out what would motivate people to take action to prepare for longer than three days and who would be the best to deliver the messages. 

    Armed with the information gathered, we set out to create a platform for introducing the concept that events that are bigger than disasters are happening more frequently and people need  to be prepared to be self-sufficient for a minimum of 7 - 10 days.  The name of the campaign, “What To Do To Make It Through” came from the concept of surviving - the strongest motivator from the research. 

    A web site was created that included videos of survivors telling their stories.  The primary messages included "be prepared to be self-sufficient for a minimum of 7 - 10 days".  We encouraged people to take three basic steps to prepare: Make a Plan, Build a Kit, and Help Each Other.  These three steps and the order they are in was derived from the research too.  There are many people in our area that struggle with feeding themselves and their families on a daily basis, so we put more emphasis on planning than stocking supplies.  Building a kit is important so we included checklists and focused on cost effective ways to stock supplies.  The third step is Help Each Other, which really resonated with the groups and translated well into multiple languages.   

    The campaign launched in April of 2012 with great success.  The consultant helped us find retail partners to join the campaign and help fund TV and radio advertisements, electronic news, blogs and other social media advertising.  We also advertised in ethnic newspapers and Spanish radio and TV.  The pre/post surveys completed after the first year of the campaign showed we were on the right track.  Our second year showed increases in almost all of the campaign benchmarks.  We also received recognition from several media and marketing awards.  

    My biggest surprise was this: for the most part, people already knew that 3 days of preparedness was not enough; they have probably been ready for a change in message long before we were ready to deliver it. 

    JoAnn Jordan is the Public Education Coordinator for the Seattle Office of Emergency Management.  

  • Preparing Businesses When They Can’t Prepare Themselves

    Ira Tannenbaum

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

    As an emergency manager for the largest city in the United States, I’ve had my fair share of interesting conversations.  When I think back to some of the more memorable ones I always think of a small business owner trying to explain to me why he didn’t think that he could or should prepare for emergencies. It wasn’t that he didn’t think it was important, he explained to me, but rather that in the scope of competing priorities – cash flow, business development, regulatory compliance, rent, payroll, etc. – it was just one that would never rise to the top of his list to justify the time and money. His focus, as he put it, was his business’ daily survival, and the ‘what ifs’ would have to wait. As our conversation drew to a close (for that day), he asked me for one thing as a public sector employee: please don’t add to his already lengthy list of regulations in an effort to jump to the top of the list.

    I spent a lot of time reflecting on that particular exchange because it embodied some of the most significant challenges that emergency managers face today.  We don’t have specific tasks like putting out fires, removing debris or treating patients – we focus our efforts on making sure that the people and organizations doing response and recovery have the resources they depend on to support our communities’ resiliency. Some aspects of an emergency may have straight-forward solutions, but more often than not disasters expose dependencies that many people haven’t even considered. Our dynamic and wonderfully diverse communities are webs of interdependencies that residents and businesses often take for granted. When I thought about this in its most simplistic form, I saw two key elements that we could leverage to enhance the preparedness levels across the whole community.

    Residents rely on local organizations for supplies (businesses), services (community organizations) and often employment, and local organizations rely on community residents to support their businesses and work in their facilities.

    We’ve also seen that local organizations (businesses and not-for-profit groups) maintain a line of communication within their communities (employees, volunteers and residents) that is consistent and trusted, something that we as emergency managers are constantly striving for.

    The Partners in Preparedness program was born out of an effort to present our message of preparedness in a way that encourages businesses and organizations to leverage their trusted communication pathways to promote resilience in a way that is beneficial to them, their audience and the community. Our most important step was sitting down with representatives of businesses and organizations and simply seeking to develop solutions to any of the barriers that were preventing them from engaging in a significant preparedness effort.

    As for that small business owner who sent me down this path, we got together a few months ago to go over a few things. He was pleasantly surprised that I had listened to his challenges and that we had developed solutions to address his concerns without adding to his regulatory burden. I am proud to say that he is now one of our Partners in Preparedness.

    Ira Tannenbaum is the Director of Public/Private Initiatives for the New York City Office of Emergency Management (OEM).

  • Helping My Community in the Wake of a Storm

    Mohamed Ali

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

    My education is in health. In Somalia and Kenya, I studied tropical medicine and conducted biomedical research, and once I immigrated to the United States, I completed a master’s degree in public health. 

    But I’ve found that many of my fellow Somalis face a much different situation. They confront many challenges accessing, understanding, and receiving health services and information. Health issues can be daunting, and few organizations are well equipped to handle the customs and language of my community. As a result, my people are suffering.

    The gap in the refugee health experience weighed on me, and I wanted to do something to ensure my community had access to information that would protect them. Like many opportunities for change, mine came swiftly and suddenly – in the way that storms do.

    Last winter, a major wind and ice storm was headed for the Puget Sound area where I live. The last time a storm of this size hit, over 200 people were hospitalized for carbon monoxide poisoning and eight people died. Most of the victims were from local immigrant communities who did not have access to information that could have prevented the poisonings.

    As a community health leader, I knew it was important to help my community by warning them. I joined forces with other Somali religious leaders, community leaders and staff at Public Health – Seattle & King County. I explained the dangers of carbon monoxide to my peers and organized a rapid communication strategy for getting the message out. We sent an automated phone call to Somalis in King County, and included my personal contact information in case of questions.

    It didn’t take long for the calls to pour in, and through these calls, I learned that a number of Somalis families had lost power. I worked with Public Health – Seattle & King County and local emergency management to identify shelter options and collaborated with Abubakr Islamic Center, a local mosque, to set up a culturally appropriate shelter. Then the Executive Director of the Islamic Center and I rented four-wheel-drive vehicles to deliver hot meals and to transport people to warmth and safety.

    After the storm had cleared, we learned that not a single life was lost and area hospitals reported a 90% drop in admissions for carbon monoxide poisoning compared to the previous storm.

    Since that storm, I collaborated with other health professionals in the Somali community to form the King County Somali Health Board, where I am currently Co-Chair. We work to improve health outcomes through meaningful partnerships and mutual education with health care entities. I’m proud of the work we have done, and even prouder of the of our local Somali community. I hope leaders in ethnic communities around the United States can learn from our experience and find their own Champions of Change.

    Sometimes it’s as simple as a phone call.

    Mohamed Ali, MPH, is the co-chair of the King County (WA) Somali Health Board.

  • Preparedness in the Community and in the Home

    Michelle Hanneken

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

    First, it is not me alone who strives for every citizen in Illinois to be prepared. This mission is that of all of the 230 employees who work at the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. Our goal is a better- prepared state, and we do that not only as an agency, but also through the Illinois Terrorism Task Force as the 60-plus member homeland security policy authority in Illinois, as well as within local units of government. We try to get people across the state to better prepare themselves for a disaster of any kind, as well as encourage them to take the next step and volunteer within their community for disaster preparedness.

    It’s easy to push something you believe in, but it’s another thing to live it. I know I have it covered at home with a very robust disaster preparedness kit, a storm shelter, three different weather apps for my iPhone that I always get teased about, and a communications plan for my household, which includes my husband and 9- and 7-year-old boys. Who knew that freeze-dried food was actually pretty good? As parents, my husband and I feel very strongly about showing our boys that it is wise to be ready. Far from frightening them with what-ifs, being prepared creates a sense of security in our home. We practice our shelter-in-place exercises at both home and the work place. I hope everyone else takes the opportunity to do that as well.

    I am fortunate that one of my primary missions is to interact with local units of government to better prepare their communities through Citizen Corps. After the State of the Union address in 2002, Citizen Corps was developed and administered through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in order to capture the spirit of people who wanted to assist after the September 11th attacks. Each state was to start a Council to oversee the program and efforts of their communities to help coordinate volunteer activities that make them safer, stronger, and better prepared to respond to any emergency situation. I was named chair of Illinois’ Citizen Corps Council in the spring of 2002 and have served in this capacity ever since.

    The nearly 95 counties, cities, townships, and fire protection districts in Illinois that have adopted this program are inspirational. The beauty of this program is that every single one is unique. They are all tailored to what works in their community for their citizens and first responders alike.

    The reality of community preparedness is that there are many ways for people to take care of themselves as well as their neighbors before, during, and after an emergency.  I encourage everyone to think of the unthinkable now—while they don’t need to. When you have to, it can be too late. While I may just be “doing my job,” when it comes to disaster readiness, everyone else needs to be doing it, as well, for themselves and their families.

    Michelle Hanneken is the Homeland Security Program Manager at the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. 

  • 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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