Empowered Communities Program

Empowered Communities Program


 Neighborhoods everywhere are taking a leadership role in advancing their resilience.  By developing local action plans that create in mitigation, preparedness and response strategies, communities can reduce the impact of disasters on their residents, key local organizations and businesses.  The Neighborhood Empowerment Network (NEN) uses its capacity building initiative, Empowered Communities Program (ECP), to bring together government, nonprofit, academic and private sector agencies to work side by side with neighborhood stakeholders to strengthen their community’s ability to successfully negotiate and recover from disasters.

Check out one of our featured communities – OMI – Outer SunsetDiamond HeightsBayview – Miraloma Park


In the wake of large Hurricanes such as Sandy and Katrina, US cities are acutely aware that organizations that work at the neighborhood level will be on the front line of meeting the needs residents in the hours, days and weeks after a major event.  Therefore it is essential that cities work to enhance their capacity to meet the needs of their existing constituency and be able to participate in a spontaneous neighborhood wide effort to provide care and support to all residents.

San Francisco’s Neighborhood Empowerment Network has been piloting a program that supports communities as they work to achieve a pre-event condition that will allow them to perform at the highest level in times of stress.  Entitled the Empowered Communities Program (ECP), the initiative is modeled after the core tenets of FEMA’s Whole Community Approach.

San Francisco piloted the ECP in the Fall of 2012 in partnership with the Diamond Heights community to engage in a comprehensive cross sector effort to increase the neighborhood’s overall resilience.  The lead NEN agencies providing the community technical support were SF CARD and the City Administrator’s Office.

The framework of this effort has now been converted into a scalable framework and is being deployed in other high risk communities across the City.

ECP Program Overview

The ECP adds value to the current capacity building efforts by traditional emergency preparedness organizations by facilitating the development of a neighborhood action plan with broad stakeholder participation that advances a community’s overall resilience and generates long term ownership of its implementation.

Program Partners can include:

  • Government Agencies – City Administrator’s Office, CERT, Dept. of Health, Dept. of Emergency Management, Police and Fire Agencies
  • Non-Government – Red Cross, Universities, Foundations, Faith Based Organizations, Private Sector Lifeline Organizations

Key Program Tenets:

  • The program area is defined at the neighborhood/geographical level
  • Nurtures the creation of a community wide vision of resilience which is culturally competent and is customized to the unique goals and needs of the community
  • Advances a culture of trust, ownership and cooperation within a community
  • Coordinates capacity building organizations resources at individual, organizational and community levels simultaneously
  • Advances FEMA’s Whole Community Approach by introducing capacity building organizations that are not identified as tradition disaster preparedness agencies (i.e. Universities)
  • Prepares communities to respond to both large and small events in their neighborhood using methods such as the Incident Command System
  • Creates an ideal climate to introduce programs such as the Neighborhood Support Center, NERT and Ready Neighborhoods 

Projected Community Impacts:

  • Communities will be more prepared at the individual, organizational and community levels to respond to challenges in a more coordinated fashion
  • Communities will be better positioned to support the needs of the vulnerable members of their neighborhoods
  • Communities will participate more effectively in mitigation efforts
  • Communities will be better positioned to drive the re-activation of lifelines and other essential resources required to restore their local economy 

ECP Goals

The goal of ECP is to support a community as it advances towards a more resilient condition.  This condition can be defined by following functional areas:

  1. Leadership / Governance – Increase the capacity of residents to lead their community under any circumstance in an inclusive manner
  1. Problem Solving – Increase the level of day-to-day cross sector coordination amongst local and external stakeholder organizations to manage short and long planning processes
  2. Communication – Increase the ability of the community to communicate both internally and externally
  3. Organizing – Provide neighborhood leaders with the skills to effectively engage and organize their residents on a sustained basis
  4. Fundraising and Financial Management – Train communities to be able to generate funds to advance their goals as well as the capacity to manage the money effectively in order to ensure long term partnerships with funders.




Program Benefits Summary

The ECP offers benefits to a wide variety of community stakeholders:

  • Residents – Residents will benefit by having increased access to training as well as receive a higher level of support after the disaster
  • Local Community Serving Organizations – Local organizations will have increased access to capacity building resources as well as develop a higher level of interoperability with neighboring institutions to meet the collective needs of the neighborhood in times of stress
  • Disaster Resilience Capacity Building Organizations – Capacity building organizations will experience a higher level of outcomes from their programmatic investments by linking them laterally and vertically to the work of other organizations in the community

Program Deployment

Neighborhoods with in a city can be as diverse as the residents who reside in them.  Topography, physical layout, economic focus, the percentage of people who rent and the proximity to a University can all influence a community’s character.  It is this character that determines the right approach for engaging a neighborhood to participate in the ECP.  Generally communities fall into two categories:

  • Type 1 – Neighborhoods rich in professionally managed service delivery organizations (CBOs & Faith Based Organizations) and have a higher density of at risk residents
  • Type 2 – Neighborhoods that have a low density of professionally managed service delivery organizations and are stewarded by volunteer organizations (i.e. neighborhood and merchant associations) who serve a population that has a significant percentage of vulnerable residents

In both neighborhoods all stakeholders will be engaged, both professional and volunteer, however the density of organizational type offers a roadmap for the ECP to follow in order to achieve its programmatic goals.

In type 1 neighborhoods, professionally managed organizations offer the following:

  • Preparing to respond to a disaster and meet the needs of local residents is often an identified, or implied, element of an organization’s mission
  • Since the organizations have continuity of operations plans (COOPs) in varying stages of development, it is possible to enhance them to include functional roles in a neighborhood wide response to a disaster and perhaps expand their capacity to host a Neighborhood Support Center
  • The density of these organizations often indicates that there is a large population of residents who are in need of services on a daily basis and therefore may also be members of communities which are poorly positioned financially to prepare themselves with traditional emergency preparedness assets (i.e. a kit comprising of equipment and supplies to support themselves for 72 hours)
  • These organizations tend to be more stable and remain actors in the neighborhood for a longer period of time in relation to the historical turnover rate we see in San Francisco’s resident population, therefore offering a higher return on investment of capacity building resources

In type 2 neighborhoods, the volunteer managed associations offer the following:

  • The ability to work directly with the leaders of a community and the residents of their neighborhood
  • The opportunity to leverage previous capacity building efforts in the neighborhood (NERT, SF SAFE)

Launching the ECP

Using an asset based organizing; the NEN’s ECP Project Team aligns its members in reflection of the type of neighborhood it will be engaging.

Type 1 – In a Type 1 neighborhood the project team assembles key local professionally managed organizations and introduces the ECP opportunity by leveraging its political, social and financial assets.  Ultimately this affords the ECP the ability to roll out in a faster, more uniform fashion across a neighborhood.

Type 2 – In a Type 2 neighborhood the effort to initiate the ECP program must be done in a more nuanced bottom up approach.  Given the key actors are predominantly volunteer managed organizations, it is essential to engage the local leadership in a conversation regarding their goals and priorities while assessing their capacity to be able to participate in the program.  While the ECP can ultimately achieve programmatic goals in a type 2 neighborhood, the process of supporting the community as it works towards them could take longer and require additional technical support.


ECP Process Map

ECP Resilience council

Projected Programmatic Outcomes

The ECP can initiate outcomes such as:

  • A Lifelines Resilience Development Plan
  • An Economic Recovery Framework
  • A Locally Designed and Managed Care & Shelter Plan
  • A Neighborhood Wide Response Plan
  • Deployment of Neighborhood Support Centers

Program Summary

The Empowered Communities Program (ECP) is designed not to duplicate existing capacity building efforts but rather support and enhance them by offering a platform that generates a higher level of stakeholder participation.  By engaging the community in a process that empowers it to identify likely threats, and their projected impact on residents, the ECP offers them a vehicle to craft a culturally competent mitigation and response strategy.  This process generates an essential level of ownership that will advance the likelihood that any plans/frameworks that are generated will remain a viable element of the community’s resilience efforts in the future.