Cloverdale organizations, city staff are working to get more prepared
In a Sonoma County fire briefing last weekend, county supervisors stressed the importance of communities getting more prepared for fire season and District 4 Supervisor James Gore suggested that towns or areas form Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD) groups — at the same time, Cloverdale was hammering out its own plan of action for developing a COAD.
Following last year’s Kincade Fire, community organizations met with staff from the city of Cloverdale to work on developing an emergency plan that’s suited for a variety of scenarios — Highway 101 closures resulting in the city being cordoned off as a sort-of island, prolonged power shutoffs, fire risk and more. While a series of meetings resulted in kernels of plans being developed, proactive plans were sidelined following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The need for the city to be prepared was catapulted back into view during the Walbridge and Meyers fires, with people evacuating into town and with evacuation warnings and orders being issued for right outside the city limits.
“We had floods in 2019 which affected certain areas of town and the airport. Then we moved into power shutoffs and that affected the community and obviously the Kincade Fire. Last but not least, there is the pandemic and the Walbridge Fire, the LNU Lightning Complex Fire, which have all kind of brought it home that there’s a lot of work to do when it comes to being prepared for disaster events,” Cloverdale City Manager David Kelley said.
The COAD — also named Resilient Cloverdale — includes representatives from community staples like the Cloverdale Citrus Fair and the Cloverdale Senior Multipurpose Center, as well as community members from local service groups and those advocating for people in the community who may be more vulnerable in times of disaster.
“We came up with this concept of Resilient Cloverdale — which kind of speaks for itself — to be more resilient,” Kelley said. “To weather these events and come out with our health and wellbeing intact and to try to do that in a fashion that builds community at the same time.”
While the recent fires kicked the city’s planning process into overdrive, there’s still work to be done. Daily meetings hosted by city staff at the peak of the Walbridge Fire resulted in some progress being made when it comes to making sure facets of the community and the city itself will be prepared for the next emergency — organizations and city entities now have bilingual signs that they can use to direct folks to resources around town, senior living facilities are making sure they have comprehensive emergency plans for their residents and work is being done to identify which city buildings need to be hardened in case they have to be used during an emergency.
With meetings scheduled throughout the fire season, COAD participants are now working on increasing outreach to community groups that can help with any gap in communication channels that pop up — namely with groups who may not have access to things like Nixle alerts or social media.
Kelley said that one goal that he has is to make sure Cloverdale is prepared at both the neighborhood and community levels.
“The intent of the COAD I think is to really advance readiness at the neighborhood and community level and develop that relational framework so that organizations are talking to one another and talking about what resources they can bring to the emergency response process to help out with responding to disasters,” he said.
One key goal of the group is also making sure that more vulnerable members of the community — identified as seniors and people living with chronic conditions, members of the Latinx community, those who are food insecure, housing insecure, families with children, people with pets and residents who live in the Cloverdale area but outside of city limits — are communicated with in times of emergency, and that there are resources in place to help them.
“We’re trying to involve groups that traditionally didn’t have a seat at the table,” Kelley said. “There was a feeling after Kincade that we might not have done enough work upfront with our farmworker community and (trying to figure out) how do we reach out to them to ensure that we’re protecting them. They have a vital contribution to our community.”
One of the biggest hurdles moving forward will be figuring out how to reach community members who may be hesitant to participate in events, as well as navigating outreach during a pandemic. Last year, the city contributed money to nonprofit Nuestra Comunidad, which hosted emergency preparedness seminars as a way of promoting fire preparedness. While turnout to the seminars varied, Kelley said that he thinks the initiative led by the COAD may garner a stronger response, since it offers a “broader perspective” and will cast a wider preparedness net.
“I think a lot of what the effort led up to was what you do as an individual in your household. I think that’s absolutely vital, but it’s also about what do we do as a neighbor, as a neighborhood and as a community to ensure that someone goes and checks on (neighbors when there’s an evacuation or an emergency),” he said. “Building community isn’t something that can be dictated, it’s something that citizens have to do on their own accord and doing it in a fashion where citizens can feel supported … has a lot of benefits that are beyond even emergency response. The feeling of being part of a neighborhood where people are looking out for each other to me is invaluable.”
While the city is acting as a leader to the COAD, Kelley was clear that the city itself doesn’t have enough resources to holistically take care of every aspect of emergency response — that’s where community groups come in. What Cloverdale may lack in specific resources, it makes up for in community initiative and togetherness. During the 2017 fires and again during the Kincade Fire, different organizations, businesses and service groups came together to make sure people in Cloverdale, evacuated or otherwise, were taken care of. It’s those types of relationships that COADs seek to cultivate.
“What we’re seeing is that even in local emergencies, given the small police force and the small fire department, we don’t have the resources to always help out on an individual level,” he said. “To the extent that folks can help each other, all the better. It’s really going to lend itself to our emergency response.”
Helping the city out with the planning process is Daniel and Diana Homsey, siblings whose mom, Kay Wells, calls Cloverdale home. Daniel is the director of the Neighborhood Empowerment Network for the city administrator’s office of San Francisco and Diana has experience as an emergency operations planner for the Port of San Francisco.
For now, the group is trying to develop its emergency plans further, while also preparing for Sonoma County’s current fire season.
“It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” Kelley said, referring to the next emergency event.