Preparing for Wildfires in Oakland

The Problem

Oakland is susceptible to wildfires, an ongoing concern in northern California, and also experiences small recurring earthquakes.

  • Many low-income households in Oakland are located in areas at greater risk of disaster, leaving communities that already experience systemic inequity further exposed in the event of the disaster.
  • Low-income seniors, who may have disabilities or limited support systems, are an especially vulnerable population in the city.

The Solution

Through the Cities of Service Prepared Together program, Oakland collaborated with residents to develop an action plan, and supported trainings and community projects to better prepare residents for potential disasters.

  • The city carried out a six-month deliberation process engaging eighty stakeholders, including community and nonprofit organizations, local businesses, and residents, to develop their Resilience Action Plan.
  • Based on the results of this process, the AmeriCorps VISTA members developed tools, resources, and training that prepared communities to successfully negotiate natural and man-made disasters.
  • The city also awarded mini-grants to community organizations in support of their preparedness efforts, such as organizing neighborhood emergency preparedness trainings and distributing emergency supplies.

The Results

The city trained hundreds of residents, especially members of one of its most vulnerable populations — seniors.

  • AmeriCorps VISTA members worked with community groups to coordinate several multilingual Neighbors Helping Neighbors and CORE (Communities of Oakland Respond to Emergencies) trainings, which were existing emergency preparedness workshops provided in multiple languages.
  • More than 100 seniors in Section 8 senior housing and an additional 100 residents of Fruitvale were trained in emergency preparedness and then equipped to train others. Each participant left with an emergency go-bag, a bag that contains supplies, such as water and a flashlight, that residents can quickly grab in case of an emergency.
  • Nearly 600 Oakland residents were trained in all and more than 300 emergency toolkits were given out. Overall, more than 150 organizations participated in the development and implementation of the program.
  • The city secured additional funding from the Helmann Foundation to support a full time program manager position to continue the preparedness work of the AmeriCorps VISTA members.

Keys to Success

The disaster preparedness workshops were an important way to create relationships with citizens who did not typically engage with local government.

  • Through extensive outreach at senior centers and by facilitating Mobile Mayor events through which the mayor visited residents in their neighborhood, AmeriCorps VISTA members engaged Spanish speaking and other communities previously disconnected from the city government.
  • The CORE trainings served as a vehicle to attract residents, many of them seniors and native Spanish speakers, concerned about wildfires and earthquakes.
  • The city has since seen an increase in engagement from these populations at town hall events and several communities are now conducting their own trainings because resident leaders took initial trainings with the city.