Champions of Change Blog

  • The Value of Community Emergency Preparedness

    Lou Casciano

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

    Growing up, I have always been fascinated with the emergency services field.  When I was just a teenager, I worked on emergency vehicles such as fire trucks, police cars, and ambulances for a local emergency vehicle repair facility.  When I became a manager for the facility, I interacted with fire chiefs, police chiefs and other public safety officials.  This increased my awareness for the need for public safety and community service.

    After moving to Hoboken, New Jersey, I read the local newspaper and discovered there was a new program that the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) was launching called the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).  I thought to myself that this would be a perfect opportunity for me to fulfill my desire to give back to the community particularly given my knowledge of emergency vehicles and communications (I am also a licensed Amateur Radio Operator, K2XDX).  I joined the team in April 2010, shortly before Hurricane Irene hit shores of New Jersey four months later.

    Hurricane Irene was, in effect, a “baptism by fire” for me and many of us on CERT.  We had to learn quickly, adapt, and respond to the community’s needs as a result of the frequently-changing environment.  Once Hoboken survived the effects of Hurricane Irene, there were an overwhelming number of applications by residents to join CERT, which was an exhilarating feeling.  I felt a new sense of pride and enthusiasm in my community.  I then became CERT Coordinator in June 2012 and as Coordinator, I became responsible for recruiting, managing, and training volunteers.  At present, the team consists of more than 100 members. 

    Ironically, Hurricane Irene was just a precursor to what was about to happen:  Superstorm Sandy.  Superstorm Sandy was particularly damaging to the New Jersey coast and extremely damaging to Hoboken especially due to the strong storm surge, high tide, and full moon, all of which contributed to Hoboken being 80% flooded.  The storm also created a loss of electricity for more than 10 days.  Simply put, the City of Hoboken was desperate for as much assistance as possible.  I had to think quickly for resolutions to the multiple problems that arose during and after the storm.

    After experiencing these storms, I have learned the value of educating the public on emergency preparedness.  In conjunction with the Mayor’s Office, I am launching a disaster preparedness plan called “Hoboken Ready” through Town Hall meetings, flyers, and social media.  I am also always exploring and testing new technology that will advance communications during a traumatic event.  I believe that with strong citizen volunteers and appropriate resources, all communities have the potential to conquer any challenging environment that they may face.        

    Lou Casciano is the Operations and Training Officer and CERT Coordinator for the City of Hoboken’s Office of Emergency Management.

  • Los Angeles Fire Department Community Emergency Response Training (CERT)

    Stacy Gerlich

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

    Nearly 27 years ago, the Los Angeles (City) Fire Department (LAFD) introduced the first-ever public sector disaster preparedness training for citizen volunteers--Community Emergency Response Training (CERT). Americans have witnessed a plethora of large-scale disasters and the events of September 11, 2001 underscored the need to have trained citizen volunteers. The mission of CERT is to support citizen volunteers in becoming trained volunteers by providing “individualized” organization and leadership resilience training along with learned self-sufficiency following a community-wide disaster. The CERT program expanded across the Los Angeles area and is now one of the largest National City CERT programs with over 60,000 trained volunteers. To continue its perceived success, the LAFD CERT program has defined its new mission; to train ten percent (10%) of the population of Los Angeles (est. 400,000) within the next three years. This endeavor will include the collaboration between the LAFD and Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) in assisting the City’s Emergency Management Department (EMD) in the City of Los Angeles’ mission to achieve ‘Whole Community’ Preparedness/Readiness.

    CERT training provides individuals with knowledge, skills, and abilities to assist first responders in the aftermath of disasters. The main concept of CERT is to strengthen individual communities and neighborhoods as well as increase resiliency to include an all-hazards approach. Although this program has become internationally known, there is more we can do to assist with response and recovery efforts that need to occur following catastrophic events that continue to plaque our nation.

    The following websites offer information on how to start a CERT program, maintain an existing program, literature to assist in educating our citizenry, and training videos that describe and illustrate the importance of CERT training.

    Captain Stacy Gerlich has been involved in CERT since 1990. She served as the LAFD CERT commander from 2006-2013 and is now assigned to the Homeland Security Sections Critical Planning and Training Unit. 

  • The Value of Engaging Volunteers in Preparedness Partnerships

    Linda Haynie

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

    September 11, 2001 had a profound effect on our country, and the events of that day were shocking and horrific.  Four years later, we had another shock as a nation – the devastation and impact of Hurricane Katrina.  While time heals many wounds, the impacts on our lives of events like these can be both diverse and unanticipated.  They can also result in important, positive changes to our nation, our cities and towns, and to us, and developing effective partnerships is a key building block to realizing necessary changes. 

    After seeing these events unfold, I decided that it was important for me to help make our community better prepared for disasters and emergencies.  In 2007, I decided to follow my heart and leave a 25-year career in public sector environmental policy and planning to begin working in community preparedness, first as a public health preparedness planner and finally as Community Preparedness Program Manager/CERT Program Manager at the City of Austin’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

    I became a part of the community that works hard to provide critical information to help citizens prepare for and take steps to protect themselves from the impacts of pandemics, tornados, floods, and other disasters.  Despite these efforts, however, the level of public awareness and preparedness for these threats is often very low, especially in communities that have not been impacted by a major emergency or disaster.  Citizens who believe “it won’t happen to me, it won’t happen here, and it won’t happen today” present one of the biggest challenges to preparedness efforts everywhere.

    Local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) programs are important catalysts for this challenge.  Trained members not only learn how to help out their neighbors and their community in emergencies, they also share what they learn with their friends, families, and neighbors.  This simple step helps shift the balance toward improved community preparedness. 

    We are proud that Austin’s CERT volunteers worked in evacuee shelters during Hurricane Ike, helped staff the City’s Emergency Operations Center during a significant ice storm, helped provide firefighter rehab during major wildfires, and were involved in other critical response activities.   But what about the in between times when no emergencies or disasters are happening?  We focused on forging new partnerships so our CERT members had more meaningful opportunities to better support our community during times of no disasters.

    The result: our CERT program now includes a team of members trained by the City’s Water Utility to conduct informal site inspections for safety concerns and suspicious activities at pump stations and reservoirs.  Another team has accompanied city Fire Department personnel on smoke alarm canvassing events conducted in neighborhoods where a fire death has occurred.  They help install free smoke alarms and/or batteries to assure those neighborhoods are better prepared for fire threats.  Some CERT members have been trained to conduct one-hour personal preparedness modules upon request by neighborhood groups, businesses and others across the community.  Another team has been trained to help staff the State Operations Center when major disasters occur outside of the Austin area.  These partnerships have provided valuable opportunities for our CERT members to get advanced training, to support other important preparedness and response activities, and to stay engaged.

    Linda Haynie recently retired from the City of Austin, where she worked as Community Preparedness Program Manager and CERT Program Manager for the City’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

  • Empowering Resiliency Begins with Change and Working Together

    Gail Toscano

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

    I am honored to have been chosen as a White House Champion of Change. However, this honor needs to be shared with the many dedicated and amazing individuals I work with each and every day.  Our work is a team effort.

    I believe change is the power to resiliency.  My passion is to help change the way our communities think about preparedness in order to motivate them become a resilient community.

    Hurricane Sandy forced our community to recognize that they need to be better prepared.  The better prepared a person, family, or organization is, the better they will recover after a disaster occurs.      

    Empowering communities to become resilient requires change, working together and developing a relationship with our partners. Our goal is to help create a healthy, safe, and prepared community for all of our residents.  

    A comprehensive education program has been developed to strengthen the community to think critically, take action and problem solve.  The program includes training residents of the communities to prepare, respond, and recover by working together with local and government officials. This action will create the community’s ability to coordinate emergency services, assistance and care.  The impact of this project is to create a self-sufficient community that can be ready and withstand the initial impact of a disaster.

    In addition, the program includes individual preparedness workshops for youth, adults and seniors.  The “Kids Home Alone Emergency Preparedness Workshop” was developed by a team of Red Cross volunteers and received the Federal Emergency Management Agency 2012 Individual and Community Preparedness Award for the efforts to make communities safer, stronger and better prepared for any disaster or emergency.  Many youth in our community are home alone for long periods of time as parents are working longer hours and/or several jobs.  The goal is for our youth to leave these interactive and educational workshops feeling confident that they can handle disasters and emergencies to the best of their ability and with the knowledge of safety prevention.  I strongly believe becoming resilient begins with our youth.

    I have been extremely fortunate and thankful to work with such a compassionate and dedicated group of Red Cross volunteers and community partners to implement these programs. Thanks to these individuals and our funding partners we are able to provide these programs for the communities in Northeast PA Region of the American Red Cross.

    Gail Toscano is the Preparedness and Resiliency Manager for the American Red Cross Northeast PA Region.

  • 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. 

  • Increasing Public Safety: Sharing Information the Public Wants, the Way They Want it

    Michael Parker

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

    Many of us enter policing thinking the profession is all about enforcing the law.  But by handling thousands of arrests and seeing the jails fill, one's perspective evolves.  For me, preventing crime before it happens, building public trust, and reducing unnecessary fear have become the most rewarding successes.   

    New eCommunications systems have brought dramatic changes to the public.  They quickly adopted these new technologies and have invited the government to be a part of the socialmedia program.  Although the new systems presented great opportunities for law enforcement and emergency services, many felt it was too difficult, a fad, or that we needed to first develop a thick handbook of rules.  Chief executives successful in eCommunications either empower a “knowledge-worker” to lead, or a few lead it themselves.  Nationally, examples of excellence and innovations in eCommunications range from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the American Red Cross and the International Association of Chiefs of Police Center for Social Media.  In 2009, Sheriff Leroy D. Baca empowered me to lead. 

    The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) has worked to become online partners with the County’s 10 million residents, other policing and firefighting agencies, and emergency services.  The LASD website was redesigned with LASD Nixle text and email messaging, as well as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Pinterest pages which were successfully implemented.  Because people, especially generationally, want information differently, over 100 LASD community-specific and topic-specific accounts were activated to complement LASD Headquarters messaging.

    By working with the public – news media and emergency services agencies to use these systems for routine messaging and coordinating localized crises – we are also training ourselves for the inevitable bigger crises to come. 

    To help make multi-agency participation easier, I have been awarded the privilege to make presentations to thousands of first responders at over 50 major conferences.  Meanwhile, we have provided 8-16 hours of formal training to over 1000 personnel from 150 agencies, including five foreign countries.  We accomplished this by working through the newly formed Electronic Communications Triage Unit of Sheriff's Headquarters Bureau (SHB eComm), California Peace Officers Association, and Peace Officers Association of Los Angeles County.  Through training and joint handling of actual incidents (eMutual Aid), we are an increasingly cohesive multi-agency crisis management team, with the public as key team members. 

    These new ways to communicate and coordinate directly with the public were impossible just a few years ago. Yet now they seem to be everywhere.  By engaging the community, we are increasing public safety, preventing and solving crimes, and reducing fear.  Alongside many excellent leaders, I am proud to be a part of the change and the solution.

    Captain Mike Parker is the lead Public Information Officer and Unit Commander of Sheriff’s Headquarters Bureau of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.