Black Americans were already in the midst of two disasters this year, the disproportionate toll of the COVID-19 pandemic and a spate of horrifying incidents of police brutality, when fire season in California started early.
Wildfires have burned over 3.1 million acres in California since the beginning of the year, breaking the record for the deadliest year of wildfires in the state, according to CalFire.
Though Black communities are disproportionately vulnerable to and impacted by disasters, Black households are less likely to be prepared for disasters than White households, according to the NAACP.
September was Emergency Preparedness Month and Black activists as well as community-based organizations partnered with Listos California, an emergency preparedness campaign anchored in the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) to get the word out about emergency preparedness to diverse communities through more accessible and impactful means, such as artwork and person-to-person conversation.
“Listos California awarded $50 million in local assistance grants to non-profit organizations throughout the state to build [resilience] in vulnerable communities and connect residents to culturally and linguistically competent support — a whole community approach that fosters critical networks that can save lives. This month, I urge all Californians to learn about how they can help keep their loved ones and communities safe during an emergency,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom in his declaration for Emergency Preparedness Month.
For Aliyah Sidqe, a Sacramento-based artist who depicts Black life in America, it’s important for the Black community to be prepared to fend for themselves, she says, in an emergency situation.
“The Black community is already subject to a lot, and we’re not thought about all the time. It’s important for us to take matters into our own hands and really be prepared for what’s to come because sometimes we’re not considered in the game plan as far as what the world needs to do,” Sidqe said.
According to a poll of California residents living in zip codes at risk of floods, wildfires or earthquakes, conducted by EMC Research, 88 % of vulnerable residents agree that preparing for a disaster is important. However, those respondents admitted to not taking action to prepare because they think doing so is scary (63%), expensive (61%) or time-consuming (54%).
“I think a portion of people don’t take certain things seriously, or they’re not really thinking about all that is going on right now. It’s easier just to kind of push that to the back of your mind. But I think the fact that we’re already marginalized makes it super important for us to really be ready to take care of ourselves and be prepared for anything,” said Sidqe.
Since partnering with Listos California, Sidqe has started conversations with family members and friends about what they would do during emergencies.
“Before I really hadn’t thought too much about it, but it did kind of spark that, for my partner and me — conversations like where would we go if we did have to evacuate. Actually, in our area, there was a fire really close to us and a few neighborhoods had to evacuate. So, we did put a plan in place of where we would go in case that would happen.”
The Young Visionaries Youth Leadership Academy, a nonprofit serving youth in San Bernardino County, has been sharing information about emergency preparedness alongside their ongoing COVID-19 relief efforts. During their relief events, which include twice-a-month drive-thru distribution of essential items, CEO Terrance Stone and the Young Visionaries staff inform community members about the importance of being prepared.
“I’ve been introducing the program like this: I always ask if somebody came and knocked at your door right now, and told you that you have five minutes to pack your necessities and go, are you going to be able to get what you need within those five minutes? It’s an eye opener for everybody, because then they’re like, wait, like what do I actually need,” said Jennifer Rosales, Administrative Assistant at Young Visionaries.
“I tell everybody, it doesn’t have to be expensive. You don’t have to go out and spend $200, $300 to try to get a go-bag or a ready bag. I think the number one thing is this: Just look at your basic needs, something that you need every day, and then just start that way. It’s important to know that it doesn’t have to cost you a lot of money to keep your family and your friends safe,” said Rosales.
El Sol Neighborhood Education Center is coordinating outreach activities with 11 community groups from different parts of San Bernardino County.
“We have developed specific strategies to target specific communities. We have to bring cultural brokers or cultural speakers so that they understand the language, the culture and the lived experiences of each target community. We partner with agencies and churches — African American, Asian American, Latino and Native American partners. Each group knows how to best reach the people in their own communities,” says Alex Fajardo, El Sol’s executive director.
The Listos California website has Disaster Ready Guides in multiple languages if readers want to know more about what to have prepared for an emergency.