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Santa Barbara County Partnership Tackles Emergency Preparedness and Response

Case Story

Community: Santa Barbara County
Population: 405,396


The Aware & Prepare Initiative is a community partnership organized to enhance preparation for, response to, and recovery from emergencies and disasters.

Aware & Prepare was developed by the Orfalea Foundations, a Santa Barbara-based philanthropic organization consisting of the Orfalea Fund and the Orfalea Family Foundation, in response to grand jury reports that called for strengthening the county’s ability to respond to large-scale emergencies. Since the formal launch of Aware & Prepare in January 2008, the Orfalea Foundations and other local foundations have provided over $4 million in funding support to 21 different nonprofit organizations and public agencies/departments to develop, facilitate and/or implement a total of 31 projects and programs.

Program Highlights

  • The American Red Cross Santa Barbara County Chapter has opened a Preparedness and Response Center to help the residents of northern Santa Barbara County prepare for and respond to disasters.
  • The county partnered with four radio broadcasting companies to install satellite equipment that will enhance the county’s ability to distribute emergency information to the public.
  • The City of Carpinteria began developing and implementing a comprehensive public education and awareness campaign that will be replicated by other jurisdictions throughout Santa Barbara County.
  • Several key non-profit organizations that have a role in responding to and recovering from emergencies and disasters have undertaken a comprehensive and sustained effort to enhance their emergency preparedness and planning programs.
  • The County Department of Social Services is researching options for establishment of a database registry for residents in Santa Barbara County who may need specialized assistance during an emergency and/or evacuation.
  • The County Public Health Department partnered with a local nonprofit to facilitate a successful training program for medical and public health professionals who volunteer to respond to natural disasters and emergencies.
  • Community-based and faith-based organizations as well as nonprofit service providers that have a role in emergency preparedness, response and/or recovery efforts are now coordinating their effort as part of the Santa Barbara County Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.

Lessons Learned

  • An initial needs assessment is important in measuring outcomes and progress over time. Local agencies can often feel threatened by third-party evaluation. Foundations should include feedback from public agencies in identifying the problems that need to be addressed and the steps needed to solve them.
  • Philanthropy benefits from understanding and respecting the varying levels of local agency systems and processes. Public agencies benefit from being more willing to “think outside of the box” and working collaboratively to address critical issues.
  • Working with public agencies “is a marathon, not a sprint.” Depending on the issue, progress should be measured in small increments.
  • When dealing with different organizations, personalities and motives, conflict is inevitable. Be persistent and identify community leaders who can be advocates for the project during those challenging times.

Resource to Learn More

The Rest of the Story…


The Orfalea Foundations’ commitment to strengthening emergency preparedness in Santa Barbara County began in response to grand jury reports released in May 2006. These reports found the county could be better equipped to respond to large-scale emergencies or catastrophic disasters. The County Office of Emergency Services and the Orfalea Foundations partnered with James Lee Witt Associates, a leading international emergency preparedness and crisis management consulting firm, to determine priority themes and funding areas for improvement of emergency preparedness.

They identified seven priority theme areas for emergency preparedness improvements:

  • Public Education and Awareness. Strategies and capabilities to help the general public become better prepared for a disaster, including programs that specifically target vulnerable populations (including the disabled, elderly, and non-English speaking populations) and focus on all-hazards emergencies.
  • Coordination and Communication. Strategies and capabilities to develop strong relationships within the community, and specifically between the local agencies and nonprofit organizations.
  • Preparedness. Strategies and capabilities to develop an active and inclusive planning process as well as training and exercise program in the community, including quality control, continuous improvement, and feedback mechanisms.
  • Emergency Public Information. Strategies and capabilities (including information technology and equipment) to warn the public of an impending disaster and to provide emergency instructions on suggested actions.
  • Resources and Personnel. Strategies and capabilities to develop caches of disaster supplies, lists of capabilities and skills of organizations and responders, as well as knowing who has what and the capability to move resources (people and supplies) to where they are needed.
  • Authority and Management. Facilities (including the Emergency Operations Center) and capabilities for community leadership to provide command, control and coordination of disaster response activities.
  • Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters. Continued development of an active coalition of volunteer organizations in partnership with local agencies to improve coordination and capabilities in disaster preparedness and response.

These priority themes have since been incorporated as the funding areas for the Aware & Prepare Initiative.

Overcoming Obstacles

The Aware & Prepare Initiative has confronted a number of political, social, and environmental factors that have significantly affected its efforts.

The first major obstacle was establishing a relationship with the County Office of Emergency Services. Initially, when the initiative was first proposed, the office was in its own turmoil having undergone a reorganization, new leadership, and change in direction. Aware & Prepare initiated and has continued open and regular communication with key agency officials and department heads so that they are engaged in every aspect of the initiative work. A “we’re in this together” mentality has grown over-time to enable the County OES to contribute to a successful public-private partnership.

The second major obstacle has been the number of actual emergencies that Santa Barbara County has experienced. There have been five major wildfire incidents including a federally-declared disaster and gubernatorial declaration. This has extended the amount of time needed to complete projects and assist programs. However it has also provided opportunities to observe how the community responds to emergencies and identify issues that need to be addressed.

The third and most difficult obstacle to overcome has been the economic recession. Two local agencies have eliminated key positions that are responsible for public education and outreach for emergency preparedness, and nonprofit organizations with a role in disaster response and recovery have had to make severe budget cuts. The Aware & Prepare Initiative has been confronted with the complex decision of whether or not to step in and “save” these positions and support critical programs. The Orfalea Fund Board of Directors decided that they cannot justify an investment that is not sustainable. Instead, Aware & Prepare focuses its attention and funding on those local agencies and nonprofit organizations that are committed to strengthening their emergency preparedness and planning efforts.

Outreach to Multicultural Communities

The Aware & Prepare Initiative has recently developed a public education and awareness campaign that is specifically directed to non-English speaking populations. Santa Barbara County is a very diverse community with a significant amount of residents that speak languages other than English. Nearly 40 percent of residents speak languages other than English at home, a large majority of those being Spanish speakers.

  • Aware & Prepare reaches out to trusted formal and informal networks and community-based organizations within communities that have a high percentage of non-English speaking populations. This includes advocacy organizations, neighborhood clinics, and parent liaison groups. The groups are recruited even if they are not aligned with the specific issue being presented.
  • Aware & Prepare works to empower individuals to continue educating the community through casual conversations they have within their own networks. Giving them active roles in the organization of the process maximizes buy-in and encourages long-term sustainability.
  • Aware & Prepare adapts its message and strategy to get its point across to multicultural communities. Materials meant for English-speaking audiences may not receive meaningful consideration.

Measuring Success

Aware & Prepare’s evaluation process is based on its initial needs assessment as well as a logic model that highlights long-term goals and objectives. A standardized evaluation reporting process is required as part of the Orfalea Foundations’ grant agreements with local agencies and non-profit organizations. In addition, the Orfalea Foundations survey key community stakeholders on an annual basis to assess the impact of the projects and programs implemented as part of the Aware & Prepare Initiative.

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