Tag Archives: disaster relief

Taking Care of Those Who Take Care of Us

By the time the Thomas Fire turned toward Montecito in December 2017, Santa Barbara County’s first responders had already spent weeks preparing for the worst. 

Eric Phillips, whose home sits at 1,060 feet above the sea, knew his family was particularly exposed. When the fire struck, he didn’t need news reports because he watched from his security cameras. Firefighters scurried about as smoke poured over them. 

“It looked like midnight, but it was three in the afternoon,” he says. Then the cameras went out. “I figured ‘that’s it, the house is gone.’”

But it wasn’t. Like for so many others throughout the region, incredible effort by firefighters, police, and sheriff’s deputies paid off – saving homes and lives. “I was pretty blown away,” Phillips says. “I thought, ‘we have got to do something for these heroes.’” He and others considered a thank you barbeque.

Then, on January 9, 2018, a historic rain storm hit the scorched mountainsides causing the devastating debris flow that killed 23 of our neighbors. The weary first responders jumped into action again. 

With friends like Kirsten Cavendish & Richard Weston-Smith, John Thyne III, Ursula & Pat Nesbitt, Pat Smith and Sheila Herman, Phillips’ idea of a “little barbecue” to thank the first responders snowballed. In February 2018, these friends along with an army of volunteers, and a growing list of stars including Katy Perry, Alan Parsons, David Crosby, the group Wilson Phillips, David Foster and Kenny Loggins hosted “The Kick Ash Bash” on the grounds of Nesbitts’ Bella Vista Ranch. 

Battle-fatigued first responders, their families, and the community’s many thankful residents enjoyed a benefit concert with local celebrities, raising $2 million for charity. Supported by the likes of Yardi Systems, Inc., One805 immediately poured $1.4 million into three custom mobile command centers for the county’s fire, police, and sheriff’s departments to protect the community from future disasters. The safety of Santa Barbara county is central to the mission of One805.

“We quickly learned that [first responder] budgets move at a glacial pace,” Weston-Smith quips. “Real life doesn’t work like that. In a disaster, things are destroyed and they need up-to-date equipment and safety gear right away.”

Following the success of “The Kick Ash Bash”, Weston-Smith, Phillips, and Thyne launched One805, a nonprofit serving public safety agencies equitably across Santa Barbara county. The organization’s only staff member is Executive Director Angela Binetti Schmidt, the wife of a first responder herself. 

This low overhead and active board allows One805 to convert donations into fast action, quickly buying 45 decontamination foggers to protect the community from COVID-19, personal protective gear and other emergency equipment. The group collaborates with an advisory council made up of Department Heads from over a dozen Santa Barbara first responder agencies who decide where donations are needed most. 

One805 is also intent on supporting the mental health needs of our essential workforce, whose ranks regularly are witness to terrible tragedy.

Today, One805 is a permanent 501(c)(3) public charity, raising funds for Santa Barbara county public safety initiatives and assisting all three Fire, Police, and Sheriff Departments– purchasing equipment, counseling, and taking care of those who take care of us.

Preparing Everyday for the Worst Day Ever

Kerri Murray, a veteran disaster relief professional, first saw ShelterBox in action in 2010 as Haiti was reeling from a devastating earthquake that killed 250,000 people.

“A million and a half people lost their homes in an instant,” Murray, who now leads ShelterBox USA as its president, says. “ShelterBox was one of the first organizations on the ground in Port-au-Prince, and it was among the largest providers of shelter aid.” 

While deployed to Japan after the devastating earthquake and tsunami, and after super Typhoon Haiyan leveled communities across the Philippines, Murray again witnessed ShelterBox on the frontlines of disaster, providing its iconic green ShelterBoxes, replete with humanitarian relief tents, cooking sets, blankets, water purification, mosquito nets, and solar lights. 

“Whether you are displaced during a disaster, conflict, or now a global pandemic, shelter is one of the most tangible differences you can make in someone’s life,” Murray says. “It is the first step in recovery. And, during this COVID-19 pandemic, home is crucial to our health and well-being.” It is clear, the work of ShelterBox has never been more important than now, and they are scaling up and adapting their efforts to help more people during the pandemic.

For Murray, taking the opportunity to lead the organization in 2015 was a no brainer. “One of the biggest issues plaguing our planet is the massive displacement of people. With more than 104 million people displaced due to conflicts, natural disasters, or by the consequences of climate change, there are more people displaced today than any time in recorded history.” Shelter is an essential human need.

With a U.S. headquarters in Santa Barbara, 17 global offices, a paid staff of 130, and hundreds of highly trained, response-team volunteers being regularly deployed in the world’s hot spots, ShelterBox provides shelter to 250,000 people a year. ShelterBox is Rotary International’s official project partner in disaster relief. Their work to deliver lifesaving shelter in the world’s most extreme conflict zones earned ShelterBox two Nobel Peace Prize nominations in 2018 and 2019. 

But the challenge is mounting at a dizzying clip. Murray recalls giving a speech at the United Nations/Rotary day last year. At that time, the number of displaced stood at 88 million. Within a year it had surged nearly 20%. 

To meet the need, Murray wants to quadruple ShelterBox’s footprint to shelter one million people a year. And while a daunting challenge, she is heartened by her Santa Barbara neighbors, who, unfortunately, know all too well how fast disasters can destroy lives. “We live in a community with an innate drive to give back and make a difference,” Murray says. “There are so many people that care about the work of ShelterBox and believe that shelter is a basic human right. Our supporters want to help people who have lost everything, people they will never meet, but whose lives they can transform.”