LaToya Cantrell, President of the Broadmoor Improvement Association, on the anniversary of the levees flooding New Orleans in 2005, shares with NENtv an update on the process of restoring her community and the Andrew H. Wilson School. Specifically she thanks the City and County of San Francisco for all of its support in helping secure funds and resources for her neighborhood.
See more images from the NEN’s trip(s) to New Orleans here.
Over the last century, astrophysicists encountered a major hurdle in their efforts to understand the fundamental nature of our universe. As they began to build more powerful mathematical models and measurement instruments, the Universe seemed to become less and less predictable. In a nutshell, the visible bodies in space were not behaving in a way that was defendable by the great minds of earth. Their behavior reflected a universe with substantially more mass than was visible to our measuring devices (i.e. visible, infrared, radio). The only explanation was that the majority of the matter of the Universe was invisible or “dark”. Once scientists embraced Dark Matter’s existence, virtually all of their formulas and projections were applicable.
The Disaster Management universe is entering such a period of discovery.
In the recent decade, there has been consistent and over whelming evidence that the sum of the traditional disaster response assets do not necessarily equal the desired impact necessary to respond to a hazard. Hotwash after hotwash showed that all too often, although the presumably necessary assets needed to respond to a hazard were deployed, the desired outcomes (minimal loss of life and destruction of property) were not achieved. Consistently the evidence showed that it wasn’t a lack of physical assets or individual capacity that was the problem, but rather a more intangible asset that seemed to be the underlying culprit. In the professional response world it’s called interoperability: in the neighborhoods it’s called Social Capital.
The classic definition of social capital is “The web of social networks, norms of reciprocity, mutual assistance, and trustworthiness” (Putnam & Feldstein, 2003), and like Dark Matter, social capital is almost impossible to see, and yet its impact is readily identifiable. In the response phase of an event, the way the Fire Dept.
The explosion and fire in San Bruno, CA devastated a small section of this peninsula city on September 9th. It literally rocked this normally peaceful community, registering the explosion as a 1.1 magnitude earthquake at USGS. Witnesses reported the initial blast “had a wall of fire more than 1000 feet high.”
First responders were on the scene quickly, but it took scores of fire engines that waged an all-night battle, including air tankers before the fire was finally brought under control in the early hours of the morning. Residents rallied and were instrumental in the response, helping firefighters drag hoses long distances to working fire hydrants and drive burned neighbors to local hospitals.
By noon on Friday, the fire was finally out, but the neighborhood was devastated with four people dead*, many more injured and several people missing. It might best be described as if a napalm bomb was dropped there; people could certainly be forgiven for initially assuming a plane crashed there.
Even as first responders were there minutes after the explosion, nonprofits and faith-based organizations mobilized immediately as well. Led by the City of San Bruno, the County of San Mateo and American Red Cross Bay Area Chapter, evacuation centers were erected, shelters opened and services rendered.
The needs of the affected residents’ were starting to be met, from food and clothing to grief counseling to spiritual care to family locating services. Residents throughout the Bay Area needing to help but wanting no recognition were dropping off donations of money, food, water and clothing at local churches, the shelters and the local assistance center. They simply needed to contribute something to help a devastated community heal.
A sense of shared community is inherent in disasters. People feel an immediate bond through the experience of shared loss. A few misguided authority figures may believe a population rocked by disaster should be feared and contained, lest they devolve into anarchy with looting and murder becoming the predominant outcome (refer to some of the responses in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina).
In reality, communities come together; people feed each other, house each other, watch each other’s children, support each other emotionally, spiritually and in every way needed. It’s known as mutual support, and it was clearly happening in San Bruno.
As we know, all disasters are different, and this one is no exception. Some of the differences are that this one is confined to a small isolated area; it only affected a small segment of the population; it didn’t affect the response agencies; it didn’t affect the nonprofits or the majority of the congregations in the city; it was largely confined to a middle-class neighborhood where insurance could help compensate the residents; it was immediately identified as caused by a failed gas pipeline owned by PG&E, who also immediately acknowledged that they “owned” the disaster and led the recovery effort.
There are more differences, but the one I want to point out is the one of a lack of shared loss throughout the community.
One of the silver linings that come from a large-scale disaster such as a major earthquake, wildfire or flood is that the entire community shares in the loss. It is not a positive aspect that so many are devastated by large-scale disasters, but it is the spirit of the shared experience that brings the community together as the recovery begins. In this case, the residents of the neighborhood in San Bruno who are directly impacted by the explosion and fire may begin to identify themselves as separate from the remainder of the community.
That tendency was evident as early as the town hall meetings that took place the week following the disaster, where residents clearly identified themselves as red, yellow or green tagged. And there were heated conversations between government entities, PG&E and the residents, indicating a sense of the divide beginning to surface. And despite the gratefulness of all the residents for the outpouring of sympathy and assistance, there was a sense of “there’s us and there’s them”.
This is not to judge people’s attitudes but instead to point out that there is a very real schism that takes place between people whose lives are completely overturned and devastated in a disaster and those whose aren’t. And in this case, the affected population is large enough to send shockwaves through the community that creates the desire to assist, but small enough to have the potential to isolate those directly affected. As I walked through the assistance centers set up to support residents it was apparent that those wanting to provide support and aid outnumbered those who were seeking that assistance.
So as we reach out to help we must keep in mind that there is a difference between mutual aid and charity. That people prefer a hand instead of a handout. That people have the need to participate in their own recovery. That there may be a tendency to overwhelm the residents affected by this event as long term recovery operations establish themselves. Because even if there isn’t widespread shared loss as a result of the disaster, there is shared pain throughout the community resulting in a need to help.
We should keep in mind that we need to proceed carefully. Allow the residents to participate as decisions are made about how to allocate recovery funds and render assistance. Establish the recovery effort to include their voices, not just their needs. This simple but powerful concept will keep the model of shared community recovery prominently at the fore and keep the recovery a shared experience – a true practice of mutual aid.
Preparedness training + A Preparedness kit = Ready for the next earthquake! NERT – or Neighborhood Emergency Response Team – a free training program for individuals, neighborhood groups, and community-based organizations in San Francisco, is one of the city’s most effective preparedness organizations. NERT’s Lt. Erica Arteseros explains more about NERT and how to start getting your home’s preparedness kit together.
I had the honor of being in New Orleans during the days that led up to the 5th anniversary of one of America’s great man-made disasters.
It’s important to know that folks in this great town don’t blame the hurricane that struck with such vengeance, but rather the under-engineered levees that ringed the neighborhoods that buckled in response to the surge of water they were designed to handle.
Out of that tragic event came a million stories and lessons. Some highlight the very best of what humans are capable, others elevate where we still have work to do. In many instances the record shows that people came together during the hours and weeks after the levees failed. They looked beyond their differences, social and economic, and literally lifted each other out of the mud and saved thousands of lives.Â Sadly, the record also shows that years of failed governance and leadership yielded a city vulnerable to responding to such challenges and the outcome is a national tragedy.
My visit started with a day-long summit on resiliency hosted by the Salvation Army and FedEx. The Salvation Army is managing one of the largest private funds to build housing in the City at this time and FedEx has fine tuned its logistics infrastructure to be the “go to” platform for getting essential resources into any disaster zone. The Summit allowed me to share the work we have done with the NEN, as well as to meet amazing people and hear their stories .
Timolynn Sams of the Neighborhood Partnership Network was stunning in sharing her passion for her organization’s mission, and David Gershon inspired everyone with his proven track record of empowering communities. In the following days, I had the pleasure of meeting with The Greater New Orleans Foundation and the Mayor’s Environmental Policy Advisor, both providing an institutional narrative to the work that is happening to this day.
My visit to the newly renovated Andrew Wilson Elementary School yielded two powerful experiences. The first was on Friday, when I checked in on the Envirenew Broadmoor Sustainable Housing competition. A jury of architects and engineers from all over the US met to review designs submitted by teams from every corner of Earth to build a sustainable home for under X. The panel included Cameron Sinclair of Archtitecture for Humanity, Liz Ogbu of Public Architecture and Envirenew’s Lindsay Jonker . Four designs were chosen and will be built for families with a few blocks of the school.
The Andrew Wilson Elementry School after a thorough remodelingThe school was a story in itself. In 2007 I was sent to New Orleans as a member of a delegation that included City Administrator Ed Lee, Tony Irons of the PUC and Sarah Dennis of the Planning Dept. Our goal was to see how we could help this great town recover from the devastation of the floods. The tour was led by Hal Rourk and LaToya Cantrell of the Broadmoor Neighborhoods Improvement Association (BNIA). Needless to say, the scene we encountered was overwhelming (see photos). In the following year the City of San Francisco collaborated with the BNIA to write a proposal to a grant opportunity that the State had made available. By having a lot of the City’s key economic partners provide their voice of support, their proposal was one of five selected. Construction soon begun and we were overwhelmed by the new LEED standard building that greeted us on Friday. (To hear LaToya Cantrell’s own account of the last five years in Broadmoor please visit the video below.)
On Sunday we returned to the school for the Community Voices event that was hosted by the BNIA. It was a powerful experience that featured an open mic environment allowing people to share how they felt five years after the storm. There were poems, raps, eulogies and statements of joy that collectively framed the way the neighborhood felt about what they had, and are still going through. Everyone was impacted by the display of drawings that the children who had survived the actual floods made of their experience. LaToya Cantrell facilitated the whole event which culminated with the children all planting an orange tree.
Sunday culminated in the official City commemoration at a local theatre. The event started off with a joyous display of culture with over a dozen lead dancers in full costume from the legendary mardi gras crews. The whole building danced, including their new mayor, Mitch Landreau, for 15 minutes. As the program unfolded, spoken word and music filled the room. The Mayor took the stage and delivered perhaps the perfect speech that summed up the emotions and dreams in the room. It seemed like he had been waiting for five years to give it. The night ended with an all star jam that of course ended with the “When the Saints go Marching In” with the new “Who Dat?” ending that saluted the victory of the City’s NFL franchise earlier this year.
Flying home I had a lot of time to process everything I had seen and heard. I am in awe of the people who every day wake up and fight for their city despite what seems to be an unrelenting wave of challenges, and new disasters. I also have hope that they’ll be able to rebuild their city to be one that was better than the one hurricane Katrina blew through five years ago. The phrase that I think will stick with me as I look to the opportunity of preparing our City for future challenges is remember, mother nature always bats last.
Perhaps the most rewarding part of the visit for me came from the local folks who are working at the community level who had seen the NEN presentation and said “that program is awesome. It’s what every neighborhood needs.”
Anyone will tell you who has been there, you won’t be the same person once you’ve experienced the work of the people of New Orleans. You’ll be a better one.
Check out more photos from New Orleans on Facebook
Watch the interview with Broadmoor Improvement Association President, LaToya Cantrell
Documentary filmmaker S. Leo Chiang discusses the role of community in a post disaster environment and his experience in filming his latest documentary; A Village Called Versailles. The film chronicles the Vietnamese communities struggle in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina had devastated their homes. Their story shows the strength and importance of community in the effort to rebuild after a disaster.
Most San Franciscans will probably make it through the next Bay Area earthquake. But will residents stick around afterward or leave permanently, repeating the New Orleans story?
In this first part of a presentation on the Disaster Recovery Phase, NEN Director Daniel Homsey explains why the Recovery Phase after a major disaster is so important and the challenge of getting people to think now about this phase. Check back soon for Part 2 of this presentation, where Daniel outlines practical solutions to preparing in advance for the Disaster Recovery Phase.
[This is Part 2 of a NEN Blog series about how an SF high school helped deliver emergency kits to the vulnerable. Read Part 1 here.]
Right after the Haiti earthquake in mid January, the students, faculty, and parents at Lick Wilmerding High School became involved in helping Haiti. During classes and assemblies, we had frequently discussed the event and what to do. Eventually, we had placed such great emphasis on the cause that we had become among the top donating high schools in America. But it also struck me something could have been done to mitigate the destruction in Haiti: Preparedness.
A little over a century ago, one of the largest ranking earthquakes of all time hit San Francisco. This is where we live and this earthquake’s “anniversary” has been projected to hit soon. We are all just waiting for it. It deeply concerned me whether any earthquake preparedness was being done in San Francisco, especially for the elderly and those who can not assist themselves on a regular basis.
Every year at Lick, the class president and representative are in charge of organizing at least one community service event for their grade. During a meeting with Junior Class Representatives Jeff Kaminsky and Briana San Diago, we brainstormed ideas that could have a lasting impact on earthquake preparedness in San Francisco. Earthquake disaster kits were our solution.
But coming up with the idea was only the first step. How much would it cost? What materials would we need? In what homes would we place them? Despite all these questions, I immediately sent an email out to The Volunteer Center of San Francisco wondering if these kits were possible or would even be beneficial.
The email I received back was from Alessa Adamo from San Francisco Community Agencies Responding to Disaster (SF CARD)[read Alessa's NEN blog about how she met Jody here]. Not only did she seem just as excited as I was, but these disaster kits were actually an idea in progress. But that idea couldn’t really move forward because of a lack of manpower and funding. Our match actually seemed perfect. Through their work with the city’s disaster feeding group, SF CARD already had a method of transportation of the kits and a list of people to whom they would be sent. The junior class would fundraise and pack the kits.
Time was essentially our only issue. This was a project for this yearâ€™s Junior Class but at first it seemed that this project would take a year or at least into the next school year to complete. But the SF Food Bank agreed to sponsor the food kits. We then set up the actual packing day to be May 8th and from then on, everything went smoothly. Alessa worked with people at the Food Bank to decide the materials that would be placed in the kits and worked out the rest of the logistics. At Lick, Briana, Jeff, and I organized fundraisers. We got our class involved in baking for a school wide bake-sale, making over $500. We then had multiple Jamba Juice Sales there after. Our total fundraising amount, a little over $1400, would be sent to the Food Bank for the packaging and water supplies of the kits.
Three months ago, I sent out that tentative email wondering if earthquake kits were possible for the Lick Juniors. Today, we actually packed them. I couldn’t believe how much Alessa and the Food Bank had gotten together for us. 14 Lick Juniors, Briana San Diego, Jeff Kaminsky, Risa Egerter, Carlos Velasco, Kayla Abe, Joey Wong, Darren Yee, Dare Bodington, Hannah Wong, Waylin Yu, Maggie Harty, Vannessa Altamirano, Joaquin Magnana, and I walked into a room in the Food Bank warehouse, and there were boxes and boxes of canned peaches, water, almonds, granola bars, raisins, crackers, whistles…etc, which would all go into the disaster kits.
It also amazed me how today was also the day I finally got to meet Alessa. As she had been through the entire process through emails and calls, she was equally inspirational while reminding the students from my class what their purpose for being at the Food Bank today was. The 500 disaster kits we packed today would be pilot disaster kits, and if it shows to be successful, thousands of kits may be distributed to needy individuals in the city. I think what excited my classmates the most was that we, Lick Wilmerding students, were a part of initiating this earthquake disaster program that could save thousands of lives.
Excited to start packing, my classmates and I got to work. We organized ourselves in an assembly line, packing 500 kits, in about 2 hours. Nearly every one of my classmates who was there today told me something along the lines of how great it was to volunteer for something that was actually lasting and how much fun they had packing the kits today. I cannot agree more with my classmates.
Lastly, I want to thank Alessa and the Food Bank one last time because we could not have moved forward without their help.ï»¿
Jody Fu is Junior Class President at Lick Wilmerding High School.