The COVID-19 emergency and resulting economic crisis have driven home the reality that, sooner or later, emergencies happen. They can take the form of ones we think most probable, earthquakes or floods, or something less expected, like this pandemic. Either way, preparing in advance and responding proactively is critical to the well-being of everyone in our community.
During my council tenure (2008-16), I took on the primary responsibilities for emergency preparedness: invigorating support of the Citizen Corp Council and the Emergency Service Volunteers, chairing the local flood control agency (SFCJPA), helping create a City Office of Emergency Preparedness, and serving on the Santa Clara County Emergency Preparedness Council. I understood that being prepared for the unpredictable requires hard work and forethought.
"Pat has been the strongest council leader on emergency preparedness at the city, neighborhood, and regional levels. We now see how important that planning has been." - Annette Glanckopf, neighborhood leader and founder of PA Emergency Service Volunteers
A pandemic was not our planning focus and it has had more severe and broader effects than nearly anyone imagined. At the outset, our City and others struggled to understand how to respond to the myriad impacts and needs, so I co-authored, along with other former mayors and community leaders, a thorough set of recommendations for immediate responses and for proactive planning of emerging needs, including:
Plans for re-deployment of City staff
Retaining more vital services by pushing out the schedule on a portion of the big capital projects that were planned for this year
How to leverage limited resources
Explain to the public and Council the extraordinary powers (e.g. waiving certain contracts or CEQA provisions, imposing a curfew) granted to the City Manager and Council under the Declaration of Emergency
There Is More To Do - Activating the Power of Partnerships
The City has since focused many of its staff resources toward meeting direct services related to the pandemic, but many critical social service needs for low-income families, seniors, teens, and others remain beyond the City’s resources. The City needs to think differently about how to collaborate rather than rely primarily on City employees. Many private citizens, businesses and nonprofits, and other government agencies are willing to step up as volunteers or to donate financially. The City should take on the role of convener and facilitator with community partners to leverage resources required to meet new needs under a shrinking City budget.
New challenges require innovative, community-based solutions. We can get through this by working together.