Do you know your current community disaster plan? What is your family’s plan for when there is a major earthquake or fire in the community? The 2024 Ark of Safety Community Resiliency Summit held on June 13 at the Diocesan Pastoral Center aimed to answer those questions and provide insight into the rising dangers of climate change and its local impact on the community. The summit attempted to answer those questions and provide insight through a day of expert testimony, panel discussion and group discussions.

As attendees began to settle in and virtual attendees via Zoom signed in, Ann Marie Gallant, Diocesan Director of the Office of Emergency Operations Collaborative, made the safety procedure announcement and Monsignor Gerard Lopez, Vicar General of the diocese, provided an opening prayer for the summit. Next to speak was Building Resilient Communities’ (BRC) Chief Executive Officer Debra Williams. BRC, who hosts the summit, is a San Bernardino County-based non-profit that specializes in partnering with faith organizations to provide disaster-preparedness training and resources, particularly to vulnerable and underserved populations.

“When disasters happen, you’ll be in the trenches, so look around, because these may be the people you’ll be in the trenches with,” Williams said. When discussing the origins of the summit, Williams said, “I came up with the iceberg visual because I asked myself, ‘why are these people underserved?’ I felt like we were working on the surface, we had to dig deeper and that’s how the Ark of Safety began.”

The morning continued with the first panel of the day. The first panel discussed the overview and impacts of climate change and disasters. The panel was led by Charles Scawthorn, from the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center at the University of California Berkeley, Robyn Mancell, Director of Community Relations at Green Energy Solutions and Ben McMahan, from the Office of Planning and Research at the California Governor’s Office. McMahan discussed the continuous issue of increasing heat waves and the impacts on vulnerable communities. Scawthorn focused on the impacts global warming has on the increase of major earthquakes and fires. Mancell spoke about making the most advanced energy solutions accessible and convenient for residential and commercial applications, such as solar panels.

During each panel discussion, attendees were welcomed to write questions that the panelists would answer. After each panel discussion, the summit provided an opportunity for attendees to have discussions within their tables. During each table discussion, attendees worked together to answer pre-written questions about the panel discussion and were offered an opportunity to share their ideas to the whole summit. At each table was a display of diversity yet commonality. From young adults to seasoned experts, to an array of ethnicities, each attendee could be seen engaged and speaking passionately about climate change and disaster preparedness.

The next panel discussion covered diversity, equity, inclusion, access related to climate change and disasters. This panel consisted of Johanna Ramos, Program Director at Inland Empire Waterkeeper and Monisha Avery, Chief of the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the California Office of Emergency Services in the California Governor’s Office. Both panelists stressed the importance of effective communication and accessibility to resources for every community. Avery also mentioned that she often conducts listening sessions, similar to the Synod on Synodality listening sessions, whereas the goal is to reach the community where they are at, listen to their concerns and needs with the goal of utilizing that information to guide how to effectively offer services.

“I have conducted listening sessions, and I had a number of community organizations approach me and say, ‘I work with this organization, this is really a topic we need to discuss,’” Avery said. “The going back to the community and saying, ‘Okay, let’s have it, can you tell us what we should be doing, what we are missing.’ So just having that conversation and reaching out, if you feel like you aren’t being heard, stand up and talk to your local official.” After Avery said this, Williams approached the panel with a joyful grin and said, “yes, let’s have listening sessions.”

The summit continued with keynote speaker Marshare Penny, Deputy Director of Public Health at Riverside University Health System- Public Health. Penny spoke on the impact of climate change and disasters on public health, specifically, discussing the impact of Hurricane Hilary and heat waves in the Coachella Valley. Following the keynote talk, a panel discussion about the solutions to the problem was led by Judith Pina, Outreach Analyst in the Community Relations and Outreach Branch at the California Department of Insurance, Dr. Lily Bui, Manager of Climate and Disaster Preparedness and Resilience at SoCal Grantmakers, and Anuj Desai, Senior Advisor of Policy Engagement-Public Affairs at Southern California Edison.

The final panel discussion of the summit was about actionable steps to take. This panel included Ted Hillman, Central Region Resiliency Training Coordinator for the California Office of the Small Business Advocate’s Outsmart Disaster Program, Debra Williams, BRC CEO and Ana Gonzalez, Executive Director of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ).

“We need more support, we can’t do it alone,” Gonzalez said. “That’s what CCAEJ is for, to create this collaborative coalition and just talk to our elected officials to be more responsible and take action and instead of being reactive, let’s be proactive.”

Williams closed out the summit with a call to action from the attendees. Williams urged the attendees to take what they learned at the summit and pass it along to their organizations and community. “Nothing changes, unless something changes,” Williams said.

Williams also informed the attendees that the California Climate Adaptation Strategy, which links together the state’s existing and planned climate adaptation efforts and is organized around outcome-based priorities, enabling a coordinated, integrated approach to building climate resilience, is inviting public comment for the 2024 Climate Adaptation Strategy. The Strategy must be updated every three years, and public comment is open now through July 12, 2024.

“Let your voice be heard,” Williams said. “They are giving us the opportunity to let your voice be heard.”

From Inland Catholic Byte