Facing increased devastating wildfires, poor air quality, extreme heat, flooding and drought, Californians need to prepare and adapt for climate events.

People in frontline and vulnerable communities face even greater challenges and consequences. 

Black, Indigenous and people of color, seniors and people with disabilities, those in rural areas, in affordable housing and mobile homes, people with low or no incomes, and immigrants suffer the most during disasters due to systematic oppression that has put them in the most vulnerable situations.

This has impacted where they live and what resources they have. 

It Doesn’t Have to be This Way

There is a saying in disaster planning that there is no such thing as a natural disaster. Disasters happen because of the practices, policies and processes put in place by people in power.

Blaming disasters solely on nature absolves us of our responsibility to re-shape the built environment and invest in social systems so that these vulnerable communities are no longer disproportionately affected by events such as earthquakes, wildfires, tsunamis or heatwaves.   
This is the good news. Disasters are not this all-powerful, indescribable force that we can do nothing about. We can do something. We can prioritize, listen to, fund and follow the lead of the people most impacted by climate change and disasters.

Como votar por mi, sin saber mis necesidades? 
How can you vote for me without knowing my needs?
Irma Garcia Flores, North Bay Organizing Project Board President

A New Way Forward

On Oct. 13, we launched a new program at Enterprise called Community Powered Resilience program to do exactly this in California. Our goal is to ensure all Californians are safe from disasters by listening to, funding and offering support to communities most impacted by disasters.

We held an inspiring webinar in English and Spanish to introduce the program, showcase our signature website with helpful tools and action steps, and hear what our partners are doing and what they need in a lively panel discussion. 

Opening remarks from Dr. Cecilia Martinez of the White House Council on Environmental Quality set the tone for the event, emphasizing the importance of the whole-of-government approach to tackling the climate crisis.

She spoke about Justice 40, and how the federal government is making historical efforts to ensure climate investments benefit communities most impacted by the climate crisis. She left us with a call to action to keep in dialogue with the Biden Administration and help make this program as successful as possible.

Speakers included:

  • Dr. Cecilia Martinez, Senior Director for Environmental Justice, White House Council for Environmental Quality

  • Dr. Alan Kwok, Director for Climate and Disaster Resilience, Northern California Grantmakers 

  • Irma Garcia Flores, President of the Board, North Bay Organizing Project

  • Kirin Kumar, Deputy Director of Equity and Government Transformation, Strategic Growth Council

  • Heather Hood, Vice President - Northern California, Enterprise Community Partners

  • Jimar Wilson, Vice President - Southern California, Enterprise Community Partners

  • Jamie Albrecht, Fellow, Community Powered Resilience program, Enterprise Community Partners

  • Laurie Shoeman, National Director Resilience and Disaster Recovery, Enterprise Community Partners

Key Takeaways

Acknowledge and Right the Wrongs of the Past

The current system of managing disasters and climate change is not working. People are dying, losing their homes and possessions, and struggling to heal from the trauma of watching their community struggle. 

We must shift the government and philanthropic focus from being reactive to being proactive, funding prevention, mitigation and adaption instead of waiting for the disaster to occur. 

Right now, our systems are set up to wait for a disaster to occur to take action. But the more money we spend on prevention, the safer we will be when the disaster strikes.

It’s crucial for us all to speak to government and philanthropy and advocate for more money, resources and commitment to being proactive in fighting disasters and climate change. We must make these asks at every level of government and in every sector of society that works on these issues.

Change the Status Quo

We all must acknowledge how our work might contribute to this status quo and commit to doing something. The most important action we can take today is to be present, listen to those most impacted by what we do and do something useful with that information. 

The next step is to move from acknowledgment to taking action. If you’re in a position of power, your action is to listen to those most impacted by what you do. Start small, move at the speed of trust and keep showing up to learn from the people you serve.  

Ensure Everyone's Participation

Language justice and rights for immigrants are critical to ensuring everyone in this country can participate in disaster planning, recovery, and enjoy their daily life.

Have you ever thought about how hard it would be to participate if English isn’t your first language? So many of our fellow residents in California have to manage this every day.

  • Can you put your next event in Spanish?
  • Can you translate a poster advertising your community meeting?
  • What can you do to make sure the immigrants feel safe showing up in your space? 
The best thing moving forward is to invest in building the network capacity in our communities. Such that when disaster happens, we just don't bring community-based organizations, tap them for their resource and their knowledge, their ability, and then we go back to traditional power structures.
Kirin Kumar, Strategic Growth Council

Looking Toward 2022 

Our Launch Event Was Just the Beginning

We’re listening to your reactions and ideas about our Community Powered Resilience program. We are using these exciting ideas to inform our priorities for 2022:

  • Create opportunities and platforms for people to share ideas, resources, stories and best practices
  • Help facilitate tricky conversations about how to manage disasters in California
  • Help determine where money for resilience is going to ensure it’s hitting the right places
  • Share best practices and action items to best serve communities most impacted by disasters
  • Support communities in building resilient housing and rapid rebuilding options, if and when a disaster strikes
  • Create innovative housing finance tools to support resilient housing and help rebuild housing faster after an event
  • Organize our institutions to be more proactive instead of reactive to disasters

What do you think?

What else should we focus on in the year to come? Send a note to jalbrecht@enterprisecommunity.org and please visit our website to learn more about our program.