Partner in Preparedness Spotlight: I Didn’t Know the Red Cross Did All That!

Today’s em4SF blog post comes to us by Rob Stengel, DEM’s Emergency Services Planner and resident expert on mass care and shelter and who works closely with the American Red Cross, Bay Area Chapter in a variety of capabilities.


A while back, I received an email with an Excel spreadsheet attached that listed the number of responses for FY 12 by our local County Office of the Bay Area American Red Cross.  On the spreadsheet were 58 entries, each with a date and address along with other details about the response.  What struck me about the spreadsheet was the realization that while the Red Cross had a direct and very personal connection to each of the 58 incidents, probably 98 percent of our wider community has no idea of the role that the American Red Cross plays on a daily basis in responding to local emergency incidents where persons are displaced from their home.

Red Cross working shoulder to shoulder with the City in the our Emergency Operations Center.

These emergency displacements are generally the result of residential fires, but small flood events, police actions, power outages, and even water main breaks have also resulted in displaced persons and triggered a Red Cross response.  Regardless of the time of day, and regardless of the location, the Red Cross responds – not 80 percent of the time, not 95 percent of the time, they respond in each and every instance when there is a need for Red Cross services.  In fact, many of these incidents seem to occur during evening and early morning hours while the rest of us are sleeping, and they often occur in areas of the City where we might not be fully comfortable walking around back alleys to reach an SRO unit at 1 in the morning.

Red Cross responses are volunteer lead; in fact 98 percent of the Red Cross workforce is comprised of volunteers.  These dedicated neighbors faithfully respond when any San Franciscan is unable to return to their home due to a disaster. In addition to operating shelters, the Red Cross often provides assistance that we might never associate with the Red Cross.  Whether it is helping someone to move their belongings to a new residence, retrieving a lost wheel chair, providing mental health services or replacing a pair of glasses or medication destroyed by a fire, the Red Cross service parameters seem to grow proportionately with the need.

All smiles in the Emergency Operations Center. It sure is nice to work with such dedicated and friendly folks!

Often the Red Cross response will be augmented by the City’s Human Services Agency, Emergency Response Coordinator, Ben Amyes.  Ben will work with Red Cross volunteers, typically at the incident scene, to bring City resources, or more specialized resources, into play, as required to meet the care and shelter needs of displaced and affected persons.  We all know the Red Cross is front and center for the big national disaster incidents, but how many are aware that approximately $276,000 was spent by our SF County Red Cross in FY12 on local response operations here in the City to help 559 San Francisco residents displaced by emergency incidents.  The funds were used to cover temporary housing costs (generally hotel accommodations), pay for sheltering costs, taxi fares, individual/family cash assistance (which can be hundreds of dollars), and a range of other emergency assistance costs.  As a nonprofit organization, the Red Cross raises funds from the private sector, but it is important to understand that this 24/7 daily response to local residents is done without any financial reimbursement from the City, the State, insurance companies or any other responsible party or branch of government.

Going back to those 58 entries, a good question to ask is what would have happened if the Red Cross did not respond?  As a community, we are grateful that we have the Red Cross as part of our emergency response network.  They touch many lives in our community often when those lives are at greatest need.

Partner in Preparedness Spotlight: San Francisco Interfaith Council

This week’s blog comes to us from DEM’s Private Sector Liaison, Jim Turner.  


San Francisco is a big city with a tight community of neighbors and neighborhoods representing diverse populations and beliefs. As a community, we recognize those of us who step forward to make the city a better place for everybody – the most vulnerable amongst us as well as the successful and hearty. Rita Semel, is one of those San Francisco heroes that will soon be honored by the San Francisco Foundation at the 2012 Community Leadership Awards on October 2 at the Herbst Theater.

Rita is a stalwart fixture in the efforts to create a healthy and inclusive San Francisco community. As an activist representing the Jewish community of San Francisco, she is a recognized leader in bringing together and sustaining bridges amongst the city’s diverse religious and ethnic communities. Rita was integral in the creation of San Francisco Interfaith Council (SFIC) where she remains a founding board member. The SFIC is an important partner in preparedness to the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management (DEM) and has played a large role in increasing the preparedness and post-disaster capabilities of our city’s congregations.

The San Francisco Interfaith Council Executive Director Michael Pappas (pictured third from the left) celebrating Buddha’s B’day w Tzu Chi

As SFIC’s Executive Director, Michael Pappas, recalls that the seeds for the organization began in 1988. Then Mayor Art Agnos appealed to the city’s congregational leaders to assist with the overwhelming issue of the homeless population in San Francisco. Since 1990, in response to this issue, the SFIC with the assistance of Episcopal Community Services has organized the Interfaith Council’s annual winter shelter. Co-led by Rita for these past 22 years, the shelter opens every year from November through February to house and feed hundreds of homeless men.

In October of 1989, soon after this meeting with Mayor Agnos, the Loma Prieta earthquake shook San Francisco and the Bay Area. This earthquake was integral in laying the foundation for the city’s congregational leaders to come together to not only address homelessness, but also the disaster preparedness of San Francisco. In the early 1990s, the SFIC raised its voice in support of the formation of SF CARD – San Francisco Collaborating Agencies Responding to Disasters highlighted as an SF hero and Partner in Preparedness Spotlight in a blog posting earlier this month. In 2006, spurred by memories of Loma Prieta and the more recent catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the SFIC held its first Congregational Disaster Preparedness Workshop.

A Thanksgiving prayer service at Konko Church

The SFIC has held four biennial preparedness workshops in partnership with the DEM, the last one occurring months ago, focusing on the importance of partnership, preparedness and community in an effort to build a more disaster resilient and ready San Francisco. Each one has brought together hundreds of the city’s congregational leaders to discuss the important role of congregations as providers of essential relief services and pastoral care. At the most recent workshop, the Neighborhood Empowerment Network launched Resilientville, a tabletop exercise focused on the power of community partnerships.

As National Preparedness Month 2012 comes to a close, we salute the work of the San Francisco Interfaith Council and its role in creating a better prepared San Francisco community. The efforts of Rita Semel, Michael Pappas, and the other board members of the SFIC have helped not only to ensure the unique diversity and character of our city, but also ensures its resilience and ability to bounce back from anything that may come our way.


About the author:

Jim Turner joined DEM in 2011 after 15 years of private sector work tackling important issues in technology, alternative finance, sustainability and CSR issues, and emergency management.  As a Project Manager, Trainer, and Strategic Communications Adviser he has led cross-sector work groups to benefit Bay Area resilience as part of UASI funded planning initiatives and Fritz Institute’s BayPrep project. Jim, a New Orleans native, also teaches Business Communications at University of San Francisco as an Adjunct Professor. He can be found on Twitter @resiliencyjim and @affinityjim.

It’s “Do Something” Day!

You may be wondering what this blog title means and well, our thinking is that today is as good as any day to do something to promote your preparedness and resilience during this fall season of preparedness. So, as we approach the autumnal equinox this weekend, we hope you will be inspired by our weekly ‘do something’ message and…do something!

Today’s ‘do something’ message is about learning CPR.  And you can do so this Tuesday, September 25th in downtown San Francisco in Justin Herman Plaza. It’s free; it’s easier than you might think (no more mouth to mouth!); you get a free kit to train your family; and you might just save a life! So, your official ‘do something’ mission should you chose to accept it easy: register for the American Heart Association’s Hands-Only CPR Training next Tuesday (and then you can count the training as next week’s ‘do something’!).

To get you in the mood, check out this fun video about hands only CPR (hope you dig disco!).

One Month Out to ShakeOut!

We are one month away from the the 5th Annual Great California ShakeOut, California’s state-wide drop, cover and hold on drill. We hope you will participate and help to spread the word about registering and participating in the drill planned for Thursday, October 18th at 10:18am.

The purpose of the ShakeOut drill is practice and preparation: knowing what to do before, during and after an earthquake and preparing our homes, workplaces and schools for any type of an emergency.

How to Participate? 

Register yourself, your household and your workplace for the drill at and join the rest of California on October 18th by practicing drop, cover and hold on at 10:18 am. Additional ways to participate include posting ShakeOut posters in your organizations public areas and/or handing out post cards to promote awareness of, and participation in the drill; has a lot of print-ready ShakeOut flyers and posters. Finally, tweet about your ShakeOut experience (#shakeout)!

And remember…ShakeOut. Don’t Freak Out. 

Preparedness Spotlight: Prepare to Prosper Training Video

When it comes to disaster preparedness for people with disabilities, thinking about building capacity to prosper is a powerful message. This message is effectively presented in Prepare to Prosper, a video that shares the preparedness stories and planning tips from Bay Area residents with disabilities. The video follows Jim, a man with a physical disability, and his quest for an answer to the question of “how do I get prepared for the next disaster?” He meets Ana-Marie Jones of CARD – Collaborating Agencies Responding to Disasters, and learns that the key to preparedness is not a focus on some distant fear; the key is preparing to prosper every day. Rather than planning on the quickest way to get help to arrive, the message of prepare to prosper encourages all of us to think creatively and resourcefully about our daily living environment. We may find we already have many assets in place to allow us to prosper. In short time, Jim’s lesson in preparedness becomes a lesson in how to be the best he can be in any circumstance. Because we at DEM believe most are more prepared than they think, we say amen this message!

CARD worked with the Center for Independent Living (CIL), SF Independent Living Resource Center (ILRC), and the Community Resources Independent Living (CRIL) to create the video. “It’s an honor to work with the leaders of the Independent Living Centers; and I’m absolutely delighted to have CARD’s Prepare to Prosper approach and curriculum shared across the region. We’re all excited to be part of changing the preparedness paradigm” says Ana-Marie, a passionate advocate for ending America’s disaster victim cycle and building resilient communities, where even the most vulnerable members will survive, thrive and prosper in the face of disasters and emergencies.

The video also shares prepare to prosper tips for personal assistance services’ providers and community-based organizations that support persons with disabilities. The production was funded by a Homeland Security Grant obtained by the California Emergency Management Agency (Cal EMA).

For more information on ways for using video as part of a larger community preparedness effort, please contact one of the agencies highlighted in the video.

1. Yomi Wrong, Center for Independent Living (CIL)
2. Jessie Lorenz, SF Independent Living Resource Center (ILRC)
3. Sheri Burns, Community Resources Independent Living (CRIL)
4. Ana-Marie Jones, CARD – Collaborating Agencies Responding to Disasters

We hope you watch and share this great video!

Here’s the video available with audio description: