Leadership Cohort Builds Community Resilience and Emergency Preparedness

Members of the Wild Rivers Coast South Ford Institute Leadership Program chose a project that not only responds to an important community need but also serves as an important learning avenue for community work. The cohort's effort, Project Go-Pack, entailed placing first responder resources in school classrooms to enhance community resilience in emergency situations. So far, the group has provided 138 emergency supply Go-Packs to school classrooms in Curry County, Oregon, and Smith River in Del Norte County, California. The Go-Packs are large bags that include basic medical supplies, such as space blankets, bandages, and pocket masks, to assist teachers in the care of students in the event of an emergency.
 
The Wild Rivers Coast South Ford Institute Leadership Program Community cohort, designed and delivered by RDI, began in September 2014. Cohort members came together from the communities of Brookings, Gold Beach, Harbor, and Wedderburn in Oregon, and Crescent City and Smith River in California. As part of the leadership training, the class chose a project to work on together, which helps focus the course content on a real-world situation. When initially thinking about the project, the group considered the vulnerable population of children in schools and the responsibilites teachers would face in a disaster situation. They were startled to learn that area teachers currently have no immediate assistance available in the critical period after a disaster, nor do many local parents have a plan of action if their children are at school during one.
 
Cohort member Karin Larsen explained that talking with children and parents about the Go-Packs is helping them think about the realities of a disaster scenario, and knowing that their children are prepared for disaster helps contribute to the awareness of emergency preparedness, overall peace of mind, sense of security, and resiliency of the community. Parents, teachers, and students alike are glad to have emergency supplies in classrooms. One student remarked at a Project Go-Pack event, “I’m glad grownups are doing something (about emergency planning).”
 
As leadership cohort members participate in community events to promote the project, they feel that they are already having a positive impact on the community. Parents, business owners, organizations, county and city officials, and others appreciate the information about local resiliency and preparedness and have asked to become involved. One such group, Cal-Ore Life Flight, offered to guide the selection of appropriate items for the Emergency Go-Packs and has made materials for the Go-Packs available at cost. St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Brookings, a registered FEMA shelter, offered to be the fiscal sponsor for the project. The Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation provided financial assistance, and the Smith River Rural Fire Protection District allowed the cohort to use one of their engines to display informational banners in July’s Azalea Festival parade to help spread the word about the project. Local businesses supporting the effort include the Pelican Bay Amateur Radio Club and the Gerald Ross Insurance company.
 
Recently, the cohort learned they would receive a grant from the Oregon Community Foundation, allowing the cohort to place Go-Packs in additional classrooms. Georgia Nowlin, Ford Institute Community Ambassador and local connector, was happy to help the cohort identify local funding resources that might be interested in supporting the project. Not only does the project have an impact on the surrounding communities, but cohort members also learned that FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) would like to follow the progress of Project Go-Pack as an example of a grassroots community effort.