Berkeley town hall discusses plans to improve city’s emergency preparedness

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Amanda Hart/File

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Berkeley citizens gathered at a town hall meeting at the South Berkeley Senior Center on Wednesday to hear developments on plans to improve resilience in the city through emergency preparedness programs.

According to Chief Resilience Officer Timothy Burroughs, resilience is the ability of a community to be prepared for and recover from a wide range of shocks and stresses it might face. Stresses can be physical, such as earthquakes, while others may be social or economic, Burroughs explained.

The town hall included a multi-speaker presentation, an interactive information session and a raffle, and hosted several community groups in Berkeley that boasted tables with tri-fold displays and information pamphlets.

Burroughs said he hoped the town hall workshop would be useful for community members to learn about new programs, specifically a state incentive to lower the cost of home seismic upgrades.

“I want to empower attendees with the information they need to be ready before the next disaster hits and to gather insights from residents about how we can most effectively reach the entire community with the services and the incentives we provide,” Burroughs said.

The city, in tandem with Berkeley Fire Department, currently offers a variety of organizations and incentives for the community to participate in emergency preparedness measures. One such organization is the city’s Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT, which offers incentives, including the Disaster Cache Program and the Dumpster Program.

“After completing a certain number of CERT classes, a neighborhood is awarded a cache,” said Keith May, acting chief of special operations for BFD. “There are caches all over the city. … It brings the community together.”

The town hall workshop is part of the city’s process to develop a resilience strategy after it was selected for the 100 Resilient Cities grant, which was given to Berkeley and 32 other cities worldwide from the Rockefeller Foundation in 2014.

During the information session, attendees expressed concerns about disaster relief resources, including access to neighborhood caches and appropriate care for disabled people in times of emergency.

Accompanied by her service dog, Virgil, Berkeley resident Hazel Weiss said she was worried about care for disabled people during disasters and also spoke to what disabled members of the community can offer to emergency preparedness efforts.

“We need to change the focus from disability to access,” Weiss said. “Not just disabled access, but universal access.”

Berkeley resident Nicole Rodgers, a volunteer on the city’s Special Events and Exercises Unit planning commission, said she was concerned for the Berkeley campus because students have not been actively participating in disaster preparedness efforts.

The town hall concluded with discussion regarding the city’s Community Resilience Center pilot program, which will recognize buildings and organizations that partner with the city of Berkeley as official community resilience centers. These centers will receive caches of emergency equipment and offer disaster preparedness and response training.

Contact Maya Eliahou at [email protected].