Give InKind sat down with Helene Schneider, former Mayor of Santa Barbara, California to discuss community emergency preparedness and support in a natural disaster. Schneider served as Mayor of Santa Barbara from 2010 until 2018. During her tenure, she oversaw the coordination of emergency services and relief efforts and delivered accurate information to residents.
On the frontlines of wildfires such as the Thomas Fire, Schneider marvels at the capacity of communities to rally in support of one another throughout a crisis of this magnitude. She has witnessed many acts of generosity and kindness and these stitch people in need together. Schneider recalls people who open their homes to evacuees and total strangers in need. She mentions hotels who drop their rates and offer lodging to pets. In a crisis, neighbors find a way to help.
To Schneider, this simple truth is a recognition of the fact that the destruction that occurs in a natural disaster knows no bounds. A storm, wildfire, or tornado will threaten all residents in its path. Everyone is vulnerable. When one is spared, the impulse to reach for those who have not been as lucky is reflexive. This is especially true because the ravages are so apparent and the need so great.
Give InKind asked Schneider how to be helpful to loved ones to prepare for a natural disaster. She indicated that it is difficult to have a simple answer for a question such as this because the impact of a disaster on infrastructure will be variable. For example, if power lines go down, access to information is often interrupted. Still, there are things to do, that can be helpful.
Have a plan with a family member to communicate about the safety of a loved one. For example, if a friend or family member is near an evacuation zone, designate a point of contact. This designated point of contact will be tasked with letting other worried friends and family members know that they are safe. Make sure to remind loved ones to keep phones charged and additional batteries charged. This can’t guarantee that they will be functional but it improves the odds.
Give money to shelters and local rescue efforts. Cash is king in natural disasters. Shelters, food pantries, and other local relief efforts will know exactly what they need at any given moment. Also, their ability to buy in bulk enables them to get more than individual donations. In helping the community, you are helping your loved one.
Schneider reminds us that while natural disasters can’t be forecast with specificity, patterns can inform emergency preparedness. Set a calendar reminder to contact loved ones in evacuation zones before the Wildfire season begins. The best emergency preparedness is done in advance. With this in mind, work with them to ensure that they have a “go bag" — a bag containing their most important possessions (legal documents, a small number of especially sentimental things that could not be replaced such as a small urn containing ashes). It might also contain necessary things like cash, up-to-date medications, and changes of clothes. Make sure that medical prescriptions are current.
Schneider points out that equally important as a “go bag" is a “shelter-in-place bag." Sometimes people in the path of a natural disaster are safe where they are and endanger themselves by trying to evacuate. Families who are surrounded by floodwater, where the water is no longer rising are often safer at home. When you are checking in with your loved one about a “go bag" take time to ask them about their “shelter-in-place bag." This bag is likely to contain things like batteries that can be used for lamps, phones, etc. Make sure that water is stored as well as some non-perishable food items.
If someone is considering what they might need in a shelter-in-place situation, pay extra attention to medications. Have them speak to their doctor to ensure that they have the actual medicine on hand (for example, a person with diabetes needs insulation on hand, not merely a prescription). Some medications are harder to store for an emergency — narcotic medications, certain classes of medications prescribed for psychiatric conditions such as methylphenidate — are examples. Have your loved one raise this concern with a doctor to develop a strategy in the event pharmaceutical refills aren’t available.
For those in need of legal assistance who may be on a fixed income contact Disaster Legal Aid.
Schneider reminds us that communities are inherently interconnected. When things get bad, people step up – because in a natural disaster people tend to be in similar (if not precisely the same) boats. This is worth remembering because simple acts of kindness can be game-changers for people trying to navigate the aftermath of a natural disaster.
If you or someone you love has had to evacuate or lost their home, Give InKind has the tools you need to start organizing that support system so that those affected can begin rebuilding their lives once again. See our guide on how to create a Give InKind Page for home loss from a natural disaster here.
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