Berkeley firefighters speak with residents during a community emergency response drill in April. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Berkeley firefighters speak with residents during a community emergency response drill in April. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Berkeley has been selected as one of 33 cities worldwide in the first group of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Resilient Cities network.

The designation is for cities that, according to Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin, “have demonstrated a dedicated commitment to building their own capacities to prepare for, withstand, and bounce back rapidly from shocks and stresses.”

One-third of the inaugural group are U.S. cities — including San Francisco, Oakland and Alameda — with the other 22 distributed around the world.

The Rockefeller Foundation will now provide Berkeley and the other cities with at least two years of funding for a full-time chief resilience officer. According to City Manager Christine Daniel, the chief resilience officer will coordinate implementation of the draft Local Hazard Mitigation Plan, advancement of local climate adaptation strategies, and other efforts related to disaster preparedness and response. 

“It speaks highly for the work we’ve all been doing around climate change and global warming,” said Mayor Tom Bates. “This will help us in planning for the inevitable climate disruption that will happen. It’s nice to be recognized because we have great staff who do lots of good work.”

The foundation received more than 400 formal applications, in which cities had to document their approach to resilience to decrease vulnerabilities. The judges, who included former President Bill Clinton and former Nigerian President Olosegun Obasanjo, recommended the initial list of 33. Not all the cities have the necessary capacities in place yet, but they have shown a commitment to get there, hence the foundation’s decision to recognize and support them.

“We are completely ecstatic that we got this award,” said Timothy Burroughs, Berkeley’s Climate Action Coordinator. Burroughs and Sarah Lana, emergency services coordinator, Berkeley Fire Department, put the application together. “When the call for applications came out, we thought our chances were pretty slim. But we thought we had a lot to offer. We’ve been doing a lot in Berkeley on building resilience and responding to events like earthquakes, but also slow-moving events like climate change.”

Burroughs said that the heavy presence of Bay Area cities in the group — four out of 33 — reflected the focus on disaster preparedness in the region.

“What the Rockefeller Foundation saw is that in general, cities are under-prepared to respond to disasters,” Burroughs said. “They wanted to choose a few cities that, right out of the bat, could make a contribution to the thinking on resilience. The Bay Area fits well both because of the earthquake danger but also because the awareness of the impacts of climate change.”

Bryna Lipper, vice president for relationships for 100 Resilient Cities, said the selection of a group of Bay Area cities was certainly intentional.

“The Bay Area is in the unique situation of being our only regional cohort,” she said. “Each of those cities will get an individual grant, but we’re asking the Bay Area members to come together on a comprehensive regional plan. They were incredibly enthusiastic about it. The Bay Area has some really great skills that we hope we can build on.”

In addition to the funding for a chief resilience officer, and the support and tools to develop a strategy, the Resilient Cities network, which will eventually number 100, provides access to a platform of services to support the implementation of a resilience strategy, which, according to the foundation, may include solutions to spur investments and financing for resilient infrastructure, information technology tools, and policy models for resilience-enabling laws and regulations. The foundation will also coordinate and encourage connections between network members.

“One of the most exciting things is to be part of that network,” Burroughs said. “We learn from each other and copy off each other all the time. Berkeley is going to bring a lot to the table.”

Berkeley and Alameda are among the smaller cities in the network so far, which ranges up to cities like New York City, Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, Melbourne and Bangkok. The full list is on the Resilient Cities website. The full network of 100 cities is expected to be completed in the next couple of years.

“We emphasized that we’re a small city but we’re also known for leadership and innovation,” Burroughs said. “We can be a bit more nimble.”

Berkeley unites for earthquake safety (04.29.13)
Join the Berkeley-wide emergency drill April 27 (04.10.13)

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...