Today, along with Secretary Janet Napolitano and Special Assistant to the President on Homeland Security Richard Reed, I had the pleasure of participating in the White House Champions of Change Awards Ceremony in Washington, D.C. We honored 17 exceptional leaders in local communities across the nation who have excelled in helping to build a more resilient nation by preparing their communities for disasters. These men and women have demonstrated significant innovation and creativity in getting their communities ready for unexpected emergencies.
I had the opportunity to hear from the honorees about their experiences, ideas, and solutions, as well as their advice on how other citizens and organizations can emulate their success. I was truly inspired by their innovative ideas on how to make their community stronger and more prepared for disasters.
For example, one of these remarkable honorees is Venus Majeski, the Director of Development & Community Relations for the New Jersey Institute for Disabilities. She spearheaded the Alianza Emergency Preparedness Project Plus, a project designed to address the disaster readiness of people with access and functional needs, and who also live in underserved areas. She works to ensure that all individuals are integrated into their community’s overall disaster readiness preparations. Others took an innovative approach, such as Michael Smith, the fire chief for the San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians. Chief Smith helped San Manuel develop a "Send Word Now" system which provides text messages, email and voice alerts to tribal members during emergencies.
Several of this year's honorees also distinguished themselves by involving their entire community in emergency preparedness. Herman Schaeffer, the Director of Community Outreach for the New York City Office of Emergency Management, helps oversee the New York City Citizen Corps program, which collaborated with more than 60 community organizations, government agencies, private sector organizations, and volunteer programs to promote emergency preparedness. And Jodi Simpson, a Homeland Security Planner for the St. Clair County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, who created a robust new public preparedness campaign called, “Be Ready St. Clair County.” They played public service announcements at local movie theaters, hosted video contests, and launched a Facebook page where residents ended up sharing information with one another during and after storms.
These are just a few outstanding examples of how any person or organization can make a different in their community’s emergency preparedness and response. And there are many more like them. Check out the full list of awardees. The initiative and involvement of these honorees represents the role that each one of us plays in making sure that together, as a nation, we are better prepared for disasters. And this serves as a reminder to all of us that we can make a difference in our community, whether we are in a faith-based, tribal, non-profit, private sector, or community-based organization – or even just one individual.
I hope these awardees have inspired you to take action within your own community. Here are some easy ways to get started and get involved:
- Contact your local emergency management agency or Citizen Corps Council to get involved in your community’s planning process.
- Join a local Community Emergency Response Team to train you in basic disaster response skills so that you can help your neighbors immediately after an emergency.
- Start a preparedness project. Identify a need, build a team, set goals, and serve your community.
- Know your risk, develop a disaster communications plan, and build a kit.
For more information and ideas, visit Ready.gov. And maybe you will be the next Champion of Change.