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Preparedness Heroes in Our Midst

What is a hero? Dictionaries identify a hero as “A person who is admired or idealized for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities”.  In mythology heroes are possessed of superhuman or semi-divine powers, whose exploits have become part of our culture. And athletes, who are often likened to Greek gods, have, throughout history, achieved mythological status and reward for their exploits with mind-blowing riches. Wars, natural disasters, and acts of terrorism inspire actions by ordinary people that exemplify all these qualities. These people are frequently honored as heroes, often to their chagrin. 

Media loves heroes. Kids grow up dreaming of becoming superheroes. The rest of us just feel inadequate but do our best to find ways to help when help is needed. And make a huge difference in times to trouble that can have lasting impacts.

In 2015, when the HALTER Project was in its third year, we had our first personal experience with a major fire. We’d been rattled in August 2914 by an earthquake. The Valley Fire and others devastated entire communities in LakeCounty, California. Asked to help by UC Davis veterinarians, we learned first-hand the enormous difference that individual and collaborative acts can make. Our project was dedicated to animal emergency and disaster preparedness, but we had found it very hard regionally to spread the word, elicit support from local agencies, elected officials, and non-profits.

But, as always,AFTER the disaster, heroes emerged who had some idea of what was needed. Some got “on the job training” and learned how to work to work with those who’d been working for years to develop plans, learn response skills and train others. While the media focused largely on drama, many dedicated folks quietly got to work and simply made things better. 

We felt that they could use some support, and it might be good to connect the helpers. We wanted to recognize them for their actions during and after the fires, but especially for all the work that came BEFORE. They were prepared. The value of their acts was a result of the years (and dollars) spent planning and preparing for such an emergency. We wanted to do something to express gratitude for these groups and individuals and put a spotlight on their work and maybe—hopefully—inspire others.

Being a veteran of the event-planning industry, founder Julie Atwood naturally thought "throw a party!” The first “HALTER HONORS the HEROS” event took place in a Glen Ellen barn in November 2015, exactly two months after the LakeCounty fires. It was cold and rainy. The barn was warmed by love, gratitude, and CONNECTION.

It was the first time that most Bay Area and Northern Cal volunteer groups engaged in AnimalDisaster response had the opportunity to meet the firefighters, Search andRescue teams, K9 handlers, law enforcement officers, veterinarians, and animal welfare agency officials who had served during an incident. The mix also included a handful of residents whose calm leadership and clear-headedness saved many animals and people. A good time was had by all, and we were besieged by requests to “have more get-togethers”.

Our next event was our second Home & Ranch Readiness Day, (the first was in 2014). The 2016 event took place in June at the SRJC Shone Farm. Two speakers were both responders to the2015 fires: a veterinarian, and a firefighter/horse owner. As in 2014, we featured a diverse panel of experts, including local emergency management officials, who answered questions from the audience. More preparedness seeds were planted. We’d like to think of these events as readiness incubators.

In September 2016,HALTER Project was the recipient of two FEMA awards for Individual andCommunity Preparedness. During the 3 days of activities for recipients inWashington DC, (including the awards ceremony at The White House), we met awe-inspiring, “ordinary people” from around the USA who were all engaged in extraordinary, inventive things to help their communities prepare for, and recover from, disasters. We were humbled and inspired. Our notion of “LocalHero” expanded to college student, “Church Lady”, 8th-grade teacher, and others. Being called out as a National ICP Award recipient felt like a call to pay the honor forward. 

Fostering hero-hood, continued: By 2018, the now 3-day “Home & Ranch Readiness Summit” included3 days of presentations, demonstrations, responder trainings and social time.The Keynote Speaker was Suzanne Bernier, internationally acclaimed crisis management consultant and author of “Disaster Heroes: Invisible Champions of Help, Hope and Healing”. The Summit culminated in a reprise & “HALTER HONORS the HEROS” dinner party.

The event, which attracted elected officials including Congressman Mike Thompson and Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin, recognized Preparedness Heroes from our community, our region, and beyond. Local honorees included a Disaster CatRescue collaborative, Bodega Bay CERT, the Disaster Supply Store, and UC Davis veterinary professors John Madigan and Eric Davis. All were among the thirty individuals and groups chosen for their commitment to preparing for emergencies and disasters, educating others, and developing resources.

Now, in early fall 2023, many things have happened, and a lot of change has occurred. Mother Nature has kicked our butts repeatedly. Activism has reached unprecedented heights. Government agencies and nonprofits are beneficiaries of grants, Federal, State, and local funds to exhort us to Prepare, Get Ready,Clean it Up, Tie it Down, Make New Friends, Stay Connected.

We’ve gone from having to scrounge for info to being awash in resources. Many people feel over whelmed, many have stopped listening. Heroes are lauded everywhere, how can we possibly live up to their standards that the media extols every day?

We have a simple answer, and even more accessible solution: Find the heroinside you. Do whatever you can that will make a difference to you or someoneyou love, whether human or any other species.

Everyone can be a Preparedness Hero. Cumulatively, it’s the little, everyday actions that will have big and forever impacts. we don’t see graphic novels or comic books about everyday heroes. But everyone needs to feel like a hero sometime, and everyone can be a hero to someone.