City Council to vote on proposal to improve disaster preparedness in underserved communities

Gracie Malley/Staff
Berkeley residents participated in a citywide emergency response training exercise on May 19 to prepare their neighborhoods for future disasters.

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Berkeley City Council will vote Tuesday night on whether to add two new city positions to train community leaders for disaster situations, gather disaster preparation materials and expand emergency training classes.

As part of the resolution, the city would add one position in the Public Health Division and one position in the Office of Emergency Services as well as set aside money to fund emergency preparedness classes for the community. The city would also take measures to help prepare the elderly and the disabled for disasters.

The funding for the resolution, if it passes, will come from Measure GG, which was approved in November 2008 to enhance emergency response and preparedness, said city spokesperson Mary Kay Clunies-Ross.

According to a recommendation to the city from the Disaster and Fire Safety Commission, the city’s adjustments will cost $300,983. Currently, the recommendation suggests that $70,000 of the funding will go toward the preparedness classes, while the rest will support the additional position salaries.

“There’s only a couple of people on city staff, and they have a lot of responsibility,” said Norine Smith, co-founder and coordinator of the Berkeley Disaster Prep Neighborhood Network, a local organization that assists communities in disaster preparedness. “The reason that this is coming to the council is that a number of members have been concerned that there haven’t been a lot of (emergency supplies) in certain areas.”

The Public Health Division position will work specifically to improve disaster preparedness in “vulnerable and underserved” areas of the city, namely South and West Berkeley.

The position in the Office of Emergency Services will focus on developing strategies for improved disaster preparedness alongside the Community Emergency Response Team, whose classes have had insufficient capacity and fill quickly, according to the recommendation.

“I think it’ll be a great help,” said City Councilmember Max Anderson. “In an emergency like an earthquake, it’s going to be really important that all parts of the city are served.”

Anderson said the city now has the opportunity to improve emergency response even more if the new positions are implemented so that everyone has the same equipment, training and capacity to serve the city.

“We should work on augmenting the city’s training staff so we can adequately train the city (for emergencies),” he said.

Smith is also enthused about the possibility of the additions to the city’s disaster preparedness and is very supportive of the move.

“Disaster preparation is part of what (the city) does, but there isn’t even a full-time person doing it,” Smith said. “If there was an additional person in the office, then some things could get started and followed through on.”

Contact Lindsey Lohman at [email protected]