Disasters can happen anywhere, anytime. In such emergencies, a need for someone to step up and lead the response and recovery efforts arises. And in every case, those efforts are led by leaders and policymakers. But what does it take to be a servant leader during a disaster? What does being on the frontlines teach you about leadership? How do you keep your cool under pressure? How do you maintain momentum when everything seems to be going wrong? And how do you handle communication failures? Listen in as Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore, Malibu’s City Manager Reva Feldman, and Napa District Supervisor Belia Ramos share their insights on leading during a disaster while keeping in mind culture,  diversity, and equity when advocating for the public sector.

 

“Our community wants to know what’s going on. They want to know how to empower themselves. They want to know what they need to change. They have power, you just have to create some infrastructure underneath.” -James Gore

 

People know their neighbors and they know their neighborhoods. Even a small amount of training can be a huge resource to connect with people.” -Reva Feldman

 

“What happens when the message arrives at that person is what actually will impact whether someone is able to survive a disaster or not. That’s where equity comes into play. The way in which we communicate that message- the medium of delivery, the language that is used in that message- that is where we can actually save a life.” –Belia Ramos

 

 

 

Highlights:

  • 01:33: S1 Ep19- How to Lead the Public Sector (Local) with Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore 
  • 06:51: S1 Ep7- Communication Failures in Disaster: A Case Study in Malibu, California with Reva Feldman
  • 11:19: S1 Ep13:- How to Advocate for the Public Sector with Belia Ramos

 

Quotes: 

03:23: “ I have access and I need to give people that access.” -James Gore

03:45: “ It’s been all about getting people what they want and what they asked for.” -James Gore

04:18: “Our community wants to know what’s going on. They want to know how to empower themselves. They want to know what they need to change. They have power, you just have to create some infrastructure underneath.” -James Gore 

04:27: “Servant leadership is leading by following. You have to get the pulse of the community and once you catch that, you have to start to feed that. If you help people rise up, they start to hold you even more accountable. And that’s good because they want more progress.” -James Gore

05:22: “There’s this crazy thing about not being able to be a professional but being embedded into the very storm that you’re sailing through. In certain ways, it makes you more human and it shows you how much you can handle.” -James Gore 

06:34: “The hardest thing in this world is to create momentum out of thin air. And the only thing harder than the hardest thing is to try and recreate lost momentum because there’s a lack of belief that worked the first time.” -James Gore

09:20: “People know their neighbors and they know their neighborhoods. Even a small amount of training can be a huge resource to connect with people.” -Reva Feldman

11:44: “Diversity is part of our fabric. Diversity isn’t just even race. Diversity is culture. And when we look at various cultures, it’s important for us to understand that our communication has to be culturally competent in order to be well received.” -Belia Ramos 

12:22: “We need to move beyond accepting translation as sufficient. Cultural competency stems from a place of equity in our communication…. Words mean different things to different people and the medium of communication that we use likewise will determine who will receive our messaging.” –Belia Ramos

13:41: “What happens when the message arrives at that person is what actually will impact whether someone is able to survive a disaster or not. That’s where equity comes into play. The way in which we communicate that message- the medium of delivery, the language that is used in that message- that is where we can actually save a life.” –Belia Ramos

16:19: “It’s important when we are looking at advocacy, we need to not look at it in an insular way. We’re all interconnected. If I don’t help them through their recovery and their advocacy, their problem becomes my problem.” Belia Ramos

 

Meet James Gore:

James GoreJames Gore was born and raised in the 4th District, living in Cloverdale, Healdsburg, and the Mark West area of Santa Rosa. He attended Jefferson Elementary in Cloverdale and graduated from Montgomery High in Santa Rosa.

In 2013, James returned home to Sonoma County to raise his family.  He was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2014 after running a relentless, positive campaign built on inclusiveness and a commitment to own the future and deliver for the residents of Sonoma County.  As he embarks upon his 4th year on the Board, James is slated to become Chairman of the Board of Supervisors in 2018.  Beyond his work as County Supervisor, James is also serving on several counties, regional, statewide, and national organizations.

 

Meet Reva Felman:

portrait of Reva FeldmanReva Feldman has more than twenty years of experience in public service. She has been with the City since 2005, serving as the Assistant City Manager and Administrative Services Director before her appointment as City Manager in May 2016. Reva brings with her strong leadership skills, knowledge, experience, and a deep dedication to the community.

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Meet Belia Ramos: 

Bella RamosBelia Ramos is a business owner, professor of law, and community advocate. From 2010 to 2016, Belia served as a member of the American Canyon City Council, where she focused on transportation, economic development, public art, public safety, and community engagement. Her community involvement includes the incorporation and governance of nonprofit organizations, such as Napa Valley Crime Stoppers and others. Belia resides in American Canyon with her three children.

 

 

Transcription:

Jennifer Gray Thompson: Welcome to Season 3 of the How to Disaster Podcast where we help you recover, rebuild and reimagine. 

During this season, we will be releasing Take 5 shorter episodes that highlight some of our past guests speaking about similar issues, themes topics. We wanted to do this so that perhaps it would be easier if you only have a few minutes, but you wanted to connect with these focused episodes and guests so that you can condense all their messages into one smaller bite sized piece. 

One of the things that we know about disaster is that we really have to meet people where they’re at. And sometimes, where you’re at is you only have five minutes. We’re very excited for the 3rd Season. We’ve got great guests and wonderful information and content about how to actually help get your community through to the other side, so thank you for joining us. And if you wish to find out more, please visit our homepage at afterthefireusa.org. Consider giving us a like or follow if you like this podcast. We really appreciate it, and thank you for your time.

 

From Season 1, Episode 19: How to Lead the Public Sector, Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore.

 

James Gore: In October of 2017, we got punched straight in the face by not just a wildfire, but a veritable natural disaster. Diablo winds, hurricane winds came into our community, caught us on our heels and it took us a long time to get back onto our toes. And once we did, once we organized community and did all these other things, we learned what the true power of resilience and embracing that portfolio is all about. And it’s been far more learning than I’ve been teaching. I’ve been a lead nationally, the National Association of Counties, Chair of resilient counties before Congress, and lead the effort statewide. I’m the president of California counties this year, and created their resilient portfolio, and work with the governor’s office on getting money resources and time prioritization into these efforts. It’s time not to just be as we say Sonoma strong after disaster, or before a disaster be soon already, but be Sonoma safe.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: That was a perfect introduction. Thank you, because it encapsulates so much actually why I like working with you. And one of the things is about your approach to servant leadership, and it is a different approach. Can you talk to us about why that’s so important, especially in the midst of a natural disaster?

 

“I have access and I need to give people that access.” -James Gore

 

James Gore: Gosh, no. It’s crazy because I’ve got the chills right now. It’s like you’re bringing me back to those moments when you talked about that. The first thing that goes into my mind is that, I’m in the public sector, I’m an elected official. I don’t like to call myself a politician because some people think that’s a bad word. But when things were going crazy in 2017 and before that, what I’ve learned by diving deep into it is that I have access, and I need to give people that access. I don’t need to hold that to myself, right? You and I know that a lot of people in my position and other positions like yourself, they go to briefings, they sit in big tents. Since the disaster, people run around and talk about high level things and show maps. They put out a little bit communications a press release to the community. And for me, it’s been all about getting people what they want, and what they asked for.

 

It’s been all about getting people what they want and what they asked for.” -James Gore

 

So if they want to know where the fire is, I go out and I interview the fire captain, and you get it, I haven’t get out a map. And you know what? All of a sudden, instead of 200 people clicking on a link, because it’s like, oh, I want to see, sudden 50,000 people watch a video and I’m like, wow, okay, cool. Now, I need to facilitate me to get out of the way of me to get all these other awesome people talking and help translate what they say as professionals into our community. Because our community wants to know what’s going on. They want to know how to empower themselves. They want to know what they need to change. They have power, you just have to create some infrastructure underneath. And so servant leadership in my mind is part of its leading by following. You have to keep your nose to the ground, or as they say, get the pulse of the community. And once you catch that, you have to start to feed that. And if you help people rise up, the fascinating thing is they start to hold you even more accountable. And that’s good, because then they want more. They want more progress. That’s what I want.

 

“Our community wants to know what’s going on. They want to know how to empower themselves. They want to know what they need to change. They have power, you just have to create some infrastructure underneath.” -James Gore

 

There’s people in our emergency operations center who were worried about losing their home, there was Karen Fies, our head of Human Services fled her home and went to her office, sat there and mobilized her team of 700 employees while her home burned down. I can still feel it. So there’s this crazy thing about not being able to be a professional but being embedded into the very storm that you’re sailing through. And I think in a certain way, it makes you more human. And it shows you really how much you can handle because everybody was personally invested. You were running out into Sonoma Valley doing what I was doing and trying to hit everybody and everything, and just get the sense of what was going on. Because a lot of people in those initial moments, they have that gear in the headlights look, and it’s like the fog of war around the community. And it was just about being like, okay, do you need a connection to something that was kind of started with just a soft understanding? And then there’s this point where certain folks just dive in. You’ve talked about this a little bit, you said, diving into the wreck. 

 

“Servant leadership is leading by following. You have to get the pulse of the community and once you catch that, you have to start to feed that. If you help people rise up, they start to hold you even more accountable. And that’s good because they want more progress.” -James Gore

 

One thing that I always say is that, hell hath no fury like trying to really make progress in imperfect systems. You try to stick your head into a problem, and all the people who have talked about the problem for years want to attack you for having the audacity to not talk to them first about what they’ve learned. And then the other was to critique you while you’re going through it and say what you’re doing isn’t good enough. But you just get busy and you start to build momentum. I say the hardest thing in this world is to create momentum out of thin air. And then the only thing harder than the hardest thing is to try and recreate lost momentum because there’s a lack of belief that worked the first time.

 

“There’s this crazy thing about not being able to be a professional but being embedded into the very storm that you’re sailing through. In certain ways, it makes you more human and it shows you how much you can handle.” -James Gore

 

From Season 1, Episode 7: Communication Failures in Disaster: A Case Study of Malibu, California, Malibu City Manager, Reva Feldman.

 

Reva Feldman: About midnight, when I had got the evacuation order to evacuate my own home, our protocol in Malibu is if there’s evacuation south of the 101, which was what was happening, then we act fully activate our EOC. And so we started to activate our EOC. And my staff came in and started doing messaging and stepping everything at about 7:00 AM on Friday morning, we got notice from the fire department that we needed to evacuate the entire city of Malibu. And so what was happening was there was a wall of fire about 14 miles long headed toward the post and we were dealing 70, 80 mile an hour winds. The fire front was actually, they were holding the front in certain areas. But with the wind, the embers were driving those embers about two miles ahead of the front. And so that was where they really lost control. Unbeknownst to me at that time was the LA County who started the lead, it started in Ventura County and moved to LA County, was begging for resources and they kept putting in the mutual aid resource requests and not getting them. So they wouldn’t be asking for 500 engines and getting 50.

 

“The hardest thing in this world is to create momentum out of thin air. And the only thing harder than the hardest thing is to try and recreate lost momentum because there’s a lack of belief that worked the first time.” -James Gore

 

You want to make sure to, and something we did after the Woolsey Fire is really increased the number of people in our CERT Team, the Community Emergency Response Team, because those people know their neighbors, and they know their neighborhoods, and even with a small amount of training can be a huge resource to connect with people. We unfortunately suffered flood after fire immediately post Woolsey and went through another round of about four evacuation series of evacuations. And so we use our CERT members to go door to door to make sure that their neighborhood and their neighbors know that there’s a large rain event coming and be prepared. Keep your phone charged, ready, be ready to go. Ready, set, go. And they were wonderful because they know the people. So you’re going to open the door to your neighbor who may not be a stranger from the city coming by. 

 

“People know their neighbors and they know their neighborhoods. Even a small amount of training can be a huge resource to connect with people.” -Reva Feldman

 

I wanted to also share the other thing that we have implemented, and it sounds very simple. And it actually is that we were really worried that we would hit, get put in the exact same situation where we didn’t have resources. We had always assumed in evacuations, if power went out that we would use sheriff’s deputies to drive through our neighborhoods to evacuate people. And because of the number of people being evacuated at the same time, there wasn’t the ability to get that many law enforcement officers in the neighborhoods at the same time. The city purchased about 50 bullhorns, and we made magnets for all of our city cars that say, disaster response. And we’ve trained and we’ve done drills of this where I put two city staff people in a car, one’s driving, one’s using a bullhorn, they have a siren and a microphone, and they drive through the neighborhoods and saying, time to evacuate. And it actually works pretty well. So we did it so we could see. And so it’s just one more tool that we have, I hope I never have to do that. But if we get put in a situation where we don’t have enough resources to do evacuations, my staff can actually step up and do it.

 

From Season 1, Episode 13: How to Advocate for the Public Sector, Napa County Supervisor, Belia Ramos.

 

“We need to move beyond accepting translation as sufficient. Cultural competency stems from a place of equity in our communication…. Words mean different things to different people and the medium of communication that we use likewise will determine who will receive our messaging.” –Belia Ramos

 

Belia Ramos: When we look at California where we sit, and especially as a representative of Napa County and the agricultural region, diversity is part of our fabric. But that diversity isn’t just even race. When you look at a piece of paper, and you look at your census demographics, diversity is culture. And when we look at various cultures, it’s important for us to understand that our communication has to be culturally competent in order to be well received. And I use the phrase cultural competence in my capacity as a supervisor with my staff and with EOC’s especially to communicate that we need to move beyond accepting translation as sufficient. And cultural competency, really just to touch upon, it really stems from a place of equity in our communication and understanding that not every person is similarly situated to receive that same nixle message, that same IPAWS message, that same broadcast and radio message in the same exact way. 

 

“Diversity is part of our fabric. Diversity isn’t just even race. Diversity is culture. And when we look at various cultures, it’s important for us to understand that our communication has to be culturally competent in order to be well received.” -Belia Ramos

 

Words mean different things to different people. And the medium of communication that we use, likewise, will determine who in fact will receive our messaging. And so it’s really important for us, when we look at disaster communication, redundancy is the word that we use. We want to make sure that a person does not just receive a message once we want them to receive it, two, three times because that’s how we know we are reaching people. But even if a message arrives at a person, that’s the technological part, that’s our communications. Those are our towers and infrastructure. That’s the cellular data plans, the broadband. I get the message to the person. What happens when the message arrives at that person is what actually will impact whether someone is able to survive a disaster or not. And that’s where equity comes into play. The way in which we communicate that message, it’s the medium of delivery, the language that is used in that message, that is where we can actually save life.

 

“What happens when the message arrives at that person is what actually will impact whether someone is able to survive a disaster or not. That’s where equity comes into play. The way in which we communicate that message- the medium of delivery, the language that is used in that message- that is where we can actually save a life.” –Belia Ramos

 

I think when you look at what your role is after, we, as we’re moving with adrenaline through a disaster, and I’m going to say a short lived disaster, like a fire, an earthquake, a flood, you’re moving through it, and you get to that point where you say, okay, it’s over. But what I would say to any elected official is, no, your work has just begun. The work that comes from disaster recovery is an incredible lift. One that each time I must say it can be overwhelming. But as with any situation in life, someone always has it harder than you. And I think that that has really helped me understand our partners in the region have rebelled with Lake and Mendocino. And knowing that at the time when we went more than half of Lake County had burned. I remember thinking about that, and thinking half of their county has burned, more than half of their population has relocated. And there was one moment where they had $48,000 in the bank, as a county, and they could not afford to purchase a plane ticket for the supervisor to go. 

 

“It’s important when we are looking at advocacy, we need to not look at it in an insular way. We’re all interconnected. If I don’t help them through their recovery and their advocacy, their problem becomes my problem.” Belia Ramos

 

And thinking, putting my mind around that, that’s a harder situation for them than anything I’ve ever had to face here in Napa County. I have a gift, and that is I am from Napa County. And when I say I am from Napa County, it opens doors. I don’t ever need to explain where I’m from. Everyone in DC knows where I’m from, and I can share that gift, that blessing with Mendocino and Lake County. And for us, it’s important when we are looking at advocacy, we need to not look at it in an insular way. We need to understand that if someone from Lake County is displaced, they are likely going to a surrounding county. And so we’re all interconnected. If I don’t help Lake County, and Mendocino County, and Sonoma County for that matter, fix and help them through their recovery and their advocacy, their problem becomes my problem.

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