Berkeley CERT training, May 2013. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Helping community members connect, through efforts such as Berkeley CERT, is one way to build resilience, according to Berkeley’s new Resilience Strategy. CERT volunteers are seen here in a “search and rescue” exercise. Photo: Emilie Raguso
, is one way to build resilience, according to Berkeley’s new Resilience Strategy. CERT volunteers are seen here in a “search and rescue” exercise. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Never one to shirk a challenge, the city of Berkeley has come up with an ambitious plan designed to take on everything from racial and social inequity to the impacts of climate change and natural disasters.

And, no, this is not an April Fools’ Day joke.

Friday, the city released its “Resilience Strategy,” a 56-page document that attempts to look at “some of Berkeley’s most pressing physical, social and economic challenges, including earthquakes, wildfire, the impacts of climate change and racial inequity.”

The effort is the culmination to date of work Berkeley is doing as part of The Rockefeller Foundation’s “100 Resilient Cities network,” or 100RC for short. The city was among the first 33 places in the world — along with San Francisco, Oakland and Alameda — chosen to participate in the network back in 2013. (Alameda later lost the grant.) More than 1,000 cities have applied to take part.

Leading the charge in Berkeley is Chief Resilience Officer Timothy Burroughs, who was already working for the city with its Climate Action Plan efforts when he was selected for the gig.

A community event led by Mayor Tom Bates, along with Burroughs, is scheduled to take place Friday from 3-5 p.m. to celebrate the launch. (Scroll to the bottom of this story for details.)

Berkeley’s Resilience Strategy is the first in Bay Area, the city said in a prepared statement, and was developed through months of work with “extensive community and expert input” in collaboration with The Rockefeller Foundation. It’s just the sixth Resilience Strategy in the world, according to the city.

The city collected public Input on Berkeley’s Resilience Priorities. Source: COB
The city collected public Input on Berkeley’s Resilience Priorities. Source: COB

A key element of the strategy, Burroughs said, is to create stronger connections between neighbors. That can provide “critical support and lifelines in the event of a disaster.” To help build those connections, the city has launched a new program to designate a handful of local institutions to serve as “Community Resilience Centers.”

Staff in those locations, which include faith-based groups, social services and cultural centers, will get special training in disaster preparedness, public health and climate action. The centers will also get free disaster supplies, as well as assistance with disaster planning. So far, La Peña Cultural Center, Head Start, the McGee Baptist Church, Berkeley Youth Alternatives, Harriet Tubman Terrace and the Ed Roberts Campus are on the list.

Read the full Resilience Strategy.

Burroughs said Berkeley was chosen as part of 100RC, in part, because it is recognized as a global leader in advancing both preparedness and action on climate change. He pointed to the city’s robust CERT program, which helps train community volunteers to organize on their own in the face of major disasters, as one example of the former. The program’s supporters are passionate, but Burroughs said some parts of the city are much more engaged in it than others.

Gunshot at Ed Roberts Campus, Nov. 29, 2012. Photo: Emilie Raguso
The Ed Roberts Campus has been selected as a Community Resilience Center. Photo: Emilie Raguso

The hope is that the Community Resilience Centers will be able to help spread some of those services and programs into parts of the community that have been harder to reach.

Burroughs acknowledged that the city could do more to help local residents connect with each other. Newcomers to Berkeley, for example, often ask how they can find out what groups are already organized in their neighborhood. As it stands, the city does not maintain a public list or facilitate making those connections, which is standard practice in many other locales.

Burroughs said that is “something we are actively looking at right now,” by assessing best practices used by other cities, and technologies that might help Berkeley play a more proactive role in bringing people together.

“We heard that loud and clear through the strategy development process,” he said. For now, the city is focusing on the Community Resilience Centers as gathering spots where residents can get together and get to know each other.

Efforts are also underway to identify disaster preparedness liaisons, who are leaders in their neighborhoods or active in CERT, to help channel information to their neighbors. A community survey, to find out from current leaders in various neighborhood groups what information they might be willing to share, is planned. 

Another step the city plans to take as part of the Resilience Strategy is to upgrade its community and senior centers: places residents can turn for shelter and care during emergencies. Those sites need improvements, and the city is working to make them “both safer and greener.” (See the Jan. 19 Berkeley City Council special meeting for more detail.)

Other efforts on the table include regional initiatives to address the California drought, such as an upcoming sustainable water use summit, and plans down the line to help more residents capture and reuse rainwater. Burroughs said the city has already taken significant steps to cut back its water use by more than 40%, but needs to commit to broader-scale long-term strategies too.

“Severe prolonged drought could be the new normal in our state and we need to prepare for that,” he said.

The city also plans to step up efforts to improve its access to reliable, clean energy, even for back-up power. The traditional approach, said Burroughs, is to install a diesel generator at key facilities.

“That’s a fine approach, but there’s certainly a lot of downsides to that,” said Burroughs.

As an alternative, the city is working to build a “micro-grid,” which would draw power from solar and energy storage batteries, not diesel. The city has tentatively been awarded nearly $1.5 million from the California Energy Commission to help with that endeavor, though the official vote has not yet happened.

Designs are coming along for an updated Center Street garage. Image: Marcy Wong Donn Logan Architects
The updated Center Street garage is slated to include a micro-grid. Image: Marcy Wong Donn Logan Architects
The updated Center Street garage is slated to include a micro-grid. Image: Marcy Wong Donn Logan Architects

The micro-grid is slated to be located on top of the new Center Street Garage, which may serve as a pilot project to see if it can be powered solely by that grid. The grid offers multiple benefits, said Burroughs: In addition to reliability, it would help the city save money and provide clean electricity. That’s the beauty of the philosophy behind 100RC, he said.

He pointed to the city’s rain gardens and underground cisterns as another resilient approach: They address flooding but also remove pollutants from stormwater and help beautify the city.

“This term ‘resilience’ means a lot of different things to a lot of different people,” he said. “How do we design solutions that address more than one challenge at once and create as many benefits as possible at once?”

Michael Berkowitz, president of the 100 Resilient Cities network, said in the prepared statement that the work in Berkeley has been a model “for what effective resilience building looks like – combining a committed public sector with an active and engaged citizenry.”

And Mayor Bates said he appreciates that the “resilience approach” brings together the public, private and nonprofit sectors to tackle problems collaboratively.

“Berkeley’s Resilience Strategy outlines actionable steps that our city will take to prepare itself for immediate and long-term challenges, so that generations from now, Berkeley residents will live in an even stronger, healthier and more equitable city,” he said. “I am confident that Berkeley will continue to be a world-class city for its residents to live and work — no matter what comes next.”

Kick-off community event at La Peña: Friday, April 1

Friday, April 1, the City is set to host a community meeting to announce the Berkeley Resilience Strategy and highlight the new Community Resilience Center program. The event will take place at La Peña Cultural Center, one of the first Community Resilience Centers “partnering with the city to host disaster preparedness, public health and other trainings and to serve as a conduit to information and services that are tailored to the needs of the people whom the organization serves,” according to a notice put out by Berkeley CERT.

Attendees will be able to learn more about the Resilience Strategy and how to get involved to advance community preparedness and build the city’s resilience. Residents, community leaders, elected officials, city staff, community organizations and representatives from the Rockefeller Foundation are expected to be in attendance.

Friday’s community event to celebrate the launch of the Berkeley Resilience Strategy will take place at La Peña Cultural Center, at 3105 Shattuck Ave., from 3-5 p.m. The location is wheelchair accessible. Light snacks and refreshments will be provided. Learn more about the 100 Resilient Cities effort, and read about the city of Berkeley’s resilience efforts.

Op-ed: Berkeley needs to spend money to upgrade earthquake shelters (02.11.16)
Berkeley workshop: Get ready for El Niño storms (12.07.15)
Town hall Wednesday for ‘a more resilient Berkeley’ (11.03.15)
How the California-wide drought is affecting Berkeley (10.20.15)
As drought raises fire risk, Berkeley focuses on safety (10.05.15)
Tilden Park exceeds goals in cutting its water usage (09.24.15)
Berkeley plans ‘very efficient garage that people will be happy to come to’ (07.30.15)
Bates and Hancock, challenge us to save as much water as them (06.30.15)
City, already cutting, digs deeper to slash its water use (05.12.15)
Berkeley appoints first ‘chief resilience officer’ (08.07.14)
Op-ed: Let’s build resilient communities, not just sea walls (05.28.14)
Berkeley named one of 33 resilient cities in global network (12.06.13)
Berkeley greenhouse gas emissions down 8% since 2000 (09.06.13)

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...