PrepareLA — Building Resilience through Community and Volunteer Engagement
PrepareLA is an innovative campaign designed by the American Red Cross Los Angeles Region to engage individuals and communities in taking preparedness action so that they are better equipped to respond to emergencies and disasters. As part of this effort, the Red Cross is mobilizing volunteers, educating residents, raising public awareness, and leveraging community partnerships to help drive resilience throughout Los Angeles County. For decades, the Red Cross has worked to increase emergency preparedness, but despite our efforts, the number of prepared Angelenos remains acutely small: a County of Los Angeles Public Health survey shows that a mere 6 percent of households reported being “completely prepared” for a disaster. At the same time, the number of large disasters in the United States continues to rise, and with Los Angeles being a densely populated urban area prone to wildfires and earthquakes, the necessity of preparing for a major disaster is more evident than ever. In light of this situation, the Red Cross has devised a new way to increase not only preparedness but also resilience in the communities we serve. PrepareLA tackles preparedness and resilience at the individual, organizational, AND community level. This is important for two reasons: 1) social scientists have shown that one of the ways in which people become more motivated to take preparedness actions is to hear about them from many different angles (in the media, at work, at their place of worship, at school, in the grocery store) and when they see other people taking preparedness actions; and 2) together, a community is able to manage challenges that go beyond what any unaffiliated group of individuals can accomplish. The PrepareLA campaign was created on the principle that resilience is driven in large part on the relationships and trust that are built among the various sectors of a community. While PrepareLA includes goals to build capacity in the areas of mass care, human resources, and communications, it places much of its focus on increasing community engagement. It is our goal that each of Los Angeles County’s 272 communities will be prepared for a large-scale disaster. This includes trained volunteers, individuals who are educated on life-saving skills such as CPR and first aid, and emergency plans that have been designed by community members based on their own risk and resource assessments. In order to achieve this, we have created innovative preparedness strategies: The COMMUNITY AMBASSADOR PROGRAM recruits community leaders to serve as liaisons with the Red Cross and promote preparedness in their neighborhoods. These community-centric volunteers, who reside and work in the area, help bridge the gap between community needs and Red Cross services. Our three-year goal is to have each of the 272 Los Angeles communities represented by an Ambassador who will help create awareness and movement toward community preparedness. Community Ambassadors receive training and are provided with materials to assist in their role, including a Community Scorecard. This scorecard is used to track the success of the Ambassadors’ efforts in their communities toward three of our core PrepareLA goals: (1) increasing community engagement through preparedness education and outreach, (2) volunteer recruitment, and (3) strengthening feeding and sheltering capacity. Community Ambassadors meet quarterly as a group to discuss strategies, recent accomplishments and challenges, and how they can work together to leverage and share community resources. The FAITH-BASED PROGRAM aims to connect the Red Cross with faith organizations to introduce PrepareLA and promote services that foster community resilience. We are inviting all faith organizations in the region to become official Red Cross Affiliates that will serve the community through outreach, preparedness, volunteering, and sheltering & feeding partnerships. These collaborations are critical as we know that in the event of a disaster many people naturally turn to the faith community. As part of the campaign, we have hired a Faith-Based Coordinator to serve as the link between the Red Cross and the faith community and develop new relationships and strengthen existing ones. PrepareLA will directly impact Social Connectedness in Los Angeles by providing a platform where residents can come together to volunteer and make a difference in the life of their communities. By encouraging everyone to take preparedness action both at the individual and community levels, PrepareLA inspires us to interact with our neighbors and be active participants of society. The importance of this initiative has already caught the attention of several other Red Cross regions in Southern California and prompted them to join our efforts, and PrepareLA is now part of a larger PrepareSoCal campaign.
What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?
Here in the Los Angeles region, the Red Cross responds on average to one emergency every day, ranging from single-home fires to wildfires affecting hundreds of families. This past fiscal year alone, we responded to 328 emergencies and assisted 457 families, opening 10 shelters and activating feeding canteens more than 15 times. This is only possible through our dedicated staff and volunteers taking the required training, being on-call, and working as a team to support the communities we serve. It is this preparation that allows us not only to respond to emergencies here but also support national operations such as Superstorm Sandy. To date, we have deployed four Emergency Response Vehicles and more than 160 staff and volunteers from Los Angeles to the East Coast. In addition to supporting relief operations, deployment also helps our local volunteers to get the hands-on experience they will need when a large disaster occurs here at home.
Additionally, the American Red Cross Los Angeles Region was very successful in launching the PrepareLA campaign last year. The combination of a public awareness campaign and new Community Ambassador and Faith-Based programs have already started to create a word-of-mouth, multiplying effect that has resulted in a 66% increase in the number of individuals participating in free preparedness education presentations. While two years ago our volunteers were cold calling community and faith-based organizations and schools to offer these free services and were being largely turned down, now we are facing the challenge of keeping up with the increased demand.
Other major accomplishments during fiscal year 2012 include:
o Conducting free Preparedness Education presentations to 24,871 individuals (almost half of these presentations were directed towards vulnerable populations including 34% youth and 6% seniors);
o Providing 27% of Preparedness Education presentations to individuals in languages other than English, including: Spanish, Chinese, Hebrew, Russian, Korean, Japanese, Tagalog, and Thai;
o Making 321,411 impressions at community events;
o Enlisting 14 Community Ambassadors to represent 23% of Los Angeles communities;
o Securing 35 Faith-Based affiliates, whose partnerships drove over 15% of our Preparedness Education requests;
o Engaging 1,595 Youth and Young Adult Volunteers via 52 Red Cross Youth Clubs;
o Increasing the number of trained and ready-to-deploy Disaster Volunteers to 1,611;
o Augmenting our sheltering capacity from 210,000 to 258,149 spaces;
o Completing 144 new shelter surveys, which provide us with critical information regarding how many individuals will be allowed at each shelter site in an emergency; and
o Adding the capacity to serve an additional 150,000 meals a day through new agreements, which will enable us to serve nearly 2 million meals a day in the event of a catastrophic disaster.
Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.
While responsibility for the overall PrepareLA strategy and implementation lies within the Red Cross, we will only be able to achieve our goals with support from and continuous collaboration with local community groups and other organizations. Examples include our partnerships with Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), Map Your Neighborhood, and the Community Police Advisory Board, among many others.
Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?
Overall PrepareLA goals are projected to be met over three years.
From July 1 to December 31, 2013, we expect to achieve the following measurable outcomes through our Community and Volunteer Engagement efforts:
1) Identify and recruit Community Ambassadors to represent an additional 25 communities in Los Angeles County and provide them with ongoing training;
2) Establish partnerships with 5 new Faith-Based Affiliates;
3) Recruit at least 500 new Red Cross volunteers;
4) Conduct preparedness education presentations for 15,400 individuals (including youth, seniors, non-English speakers, and individuals with functional needs); and
5) Make 172,500 impressions through Community Outreach events (impressions are calculated based on the number of individuals who attend a community event where the Red Cross has an informational booth).
To measure progress, an internal management execution document tracks PrepareLA goals and objectives and outlines the methodology used to achieve each of them. Leadership staff project target numbers at the beginning of each fiscal year and develop execution plans detailing the activities and steps necessary to reach each goal. In each area, program staff are charged with developing tools for managing activities and monitoring progress. Data is compiled on a quarterly basis and measured toward PrepareLA overall goals.
Additionally, progress against all goals is continuously measured by our local executive staff and monitored by two distinct committees:
PrepareLA Staff Committee – Leadership staff is responsible for executing and evaluating campaign goals; providing updates on and adjustments to overall plan; developing quarterly reports to share with the PrepareLA Executive Committee, Board, and stakeholders.
PrepareLA Executive Committee – Board members and key staff provide oversight of campaign progress. This includes fundraising, communications, community preparedness, and disaster response. This committee assesses campaign performance against campaign objectives and timelines; assists with high level messaging and stakeholder/partner outreach; represents donor perspective in strategic and major campaign decisions; and informs the full Board of PrepareLA progress.
How will your project benefit Los Angeles?
In recent years, we have seen an increase in major disasters across the globe—Hurricane Katrina, earthquakes in Chile and Haiti, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and most recently Superstorm Sandy. However, while the number of disasters has increased steadily from the 1970s to today, the reported loss of life has been decreasing, demonstrating that early warnings, preparedness, and planning can save lives.
The Los Angeles region is extremely vulnerable to natural disasters such as wildfires and earthquakes. Sadly, the majority of our communities and residents are woefully under-prepared. If a magnitude 7.8 earthquake strikes—as the U.S. Geological Survey predicts is overdue—the loss of lives and infrastructure damage could be devastating. This is why we must engage our local communities now and start creating a culture of preparedness and resilience.
PrepareLA will significantly benefit Los Angeles by:
o Creating public awareness through multiple media outlets that provide comprehensive and continual disaster preparedness education;
o Promoting volunteerism and opportunities for civic engagement;
o Conducting free preparedness education presentations for residents (including youth, seniors, non-English speakers, and individuals with functional needs);
o Developing multi-lingual, multi-cultural collateral materials to promote preparedness efforts; and
o Offering free first aid and CPR classes to low-income and underserved communities.
An example of how PrepareLA is already increasing teamwork between the Red Cross and different community segments is our partnership with Faithful Central Bible Church in Inglewood. Our relationship began four years ago when the church signed an agreement with the Red Cross to serve as a shelter site in the event of a disaster. In 2012, our Coordinator invited the church to deepen the collaboration and become a Red Cross Faith-Based Affiliate. Since then we have worked with them to host a series of outreach events and CPR/first aid trainings for church members and the community at large. This partnership has been particularly fruitful as it has connected the Red Cross with a large number of individuals in a densely populated, low-income area.
With support from individuals, organizations, businesses and government agencies, we hope to be able to maintain and expand these types of partnerships and increase the number of Angelenos who have taken the necessary preparedness steps to be ready for an emergency. As we all know, disasters can strike at any time, without warning. While we cannot control the timing, we can work to ensure that we are as prepared as we can possibly be. If a high magnitude earthquake hits the Los Angeles region before the community is prepared, damage and loss will be far greater than if tools, partnerships, and materials are in place. An investment in community education and capacity building now will help reduce the impact of a catastrophic disaster, and will save lives.
What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?
In an ideal future, the Los Angeles of 2050 would be a region where everyone dedicates time to participate in and better their communities. Neighbors would know each other and be connected to local organizations and community groups. And volunteering wouldn’t be a second thought, something that only a few idealists and seniors do. Children would learn the value of humanitarianism and civic engagement early on, and high school and college students would take advantage of volunteer opportunities not only to build their resume but also to make a difference in the lives of others. This experience would in turn give young people “a sense of purpose and a reason to remain in school and strive to learn,” as research by the Children’s Defense Fund already demonstrates. And all adults and retirees would volunteer their time to teach preparedness education and respond to emergencies in the region.
All Angelenos would have the knowledge and skills necessary to help themselves and each other prepare for and respond to life-threatening emergencies. And in the event of a catastrophic earthquake, Los Angeles would not only be able to survive and withstand the damage but also quickly bounce back. This would be possible because the community would already have the connections, skills, and resources to draw upon after a disaster.
There are still 37 years to go before 2050, but the Red Cross is working aggressively to effect change in the immediate future and start moving the needle toward a more connected, engaged, and resilient Los Angeles. We hope you will join us.