Berkeley appoints first ‘chief resilience officer’

Two community members discuss radios and disaster preparedness during Berkeley's annual city-wide disaster preparedness drill, which took place Saturday. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Two community members at Berkeley’s annual city-wide disaster preparedness drill in April 2013. Photo: Emilie Raguso

As a city, Berkeley prides itself on being prepared. Officials hope the recent appointment of a “resilience officer” to coordinate city-wide defenses against natural disasters will be another step in that direction — this time with the help of the Rockefeller Foundation.

In mid-July, Berkeley appointed Timothy Burroughs to the position of chief resilience officer, a new post created as part of the city’s partnership with the 100 Resilient Cities project. Burroughs was formerly the city’s climate action coordinator, working on sustainability efforts in Berkeley.

Burroughs will lead “Berkeley’s efforts to prepare for, withstand and bounce back from catastrophic events and chronic stresses,” according to a city memo.

Berkeley was one of 32 cities chosen last year for the first group of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities network. The cities were chosen from around the world for demonstrating extraordinary resilience to natural and economic disaster. As part of the partnership, the Rockefeller Foundation gives each city a grant to fund a chief resilience officer position for two years. It will also pay half the salary of an associate civil engineer to work alongside Burroughs to encourage resilience.


“I think my role as chief resilience officer, from the beginning, is to work with the community to articulate what our vision of resilience is as a Berkeley community,” said Burroughs. “And then identify what are we doing that’s consistent with that vision, and what else do we need to be doing to actually achieve that vision.”

Burroughs said that, in his new capacity as chief resilience officer, his job will be to support Berkeley’s existing resilience plans and identify areas to improve.

“We already know that we need to be prepared for the next big earthquake,” said Burroughs. “We already know that we have to start planning for the impacts of climate change… And a lot of those steps are outlined in our Local Hazard Mitigation Plan and our Climate Action Plan.”

Burroughs worked on the Berkeley Climate Action Plan, which was adopted in 2009.

Berkeley was one of 32 cities selected from a pool of more than 400 applicants by a panel of judges that included former President Bill Clinton and former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.


Berkeley was chosen for its national leadership on resilience issues, specifically the Berkeley Climate Action Plan and the Local Hazard Mitigation Plan, according to the city.

Three cities in the inaugural group of 32 are in the Bay Area; San Francisco and Oakland were chosen in December along with Berkeley. Alameda initially was also selected for the group, but the Rockefeller Foundation pulled its grant in April citing “incompatible” resilience strategies.

San Francisco was the first to appoint a chief resilience officer, choosing former city Director of Earthquake Safety Patrick Otellini for that role in April. Burroughs will be the world’s third CRO, after those in San Francisco and Medellín, Columbia.

“The fact that SF and Oakland were also selected means that we can build on many of our existing, shared efforts and identify new ways to partner,” said Burroughs. “Just last week, I sat down with colleagues in San Francisco and Oakland to share lessons learned on providing incentives for residents to do seismic upgrades, such as Berkeley’s Seismic Retrofit Refund program.”

Resilience is not just about earthquakes and floods, said Burroughs.


Timothy Burroughs
Timothy Burroughs

“Resilience is inclusive of shocks that go beyond just natural disasters,” he said. “For example, economic shocks, and being prepared for economic shocks by having a robust local economy and a strong education system that enables our community members to be better prepared for economic stresses and challenges.”

Burroughs said that, ultimately, his job will be to identify and mitigate looming longterm issues, as well as coordinate efforts to deal with the natural disasters such as earthquakes, fires, floods and drought.

“The opportunity here with the partnership with Rockefeller Foundation is to take a broad view of what our resilience priorities are,” he said. “We already know that we need to be prepared for the next big earthquake. We already know that we have to start planning for the impacts of climate change.”

Burroughs said he plans to work with the community to identify a set of resilience-related goals for Berkeley. He will be doing outreach to existing organizations, citizen commissions, and other institutions in the community. He wants to work with those organizations to hold public workshops and meetings.

“I think the conversation will certainly include discussion of what some of our existing priorities are, and also of what some of the other things are we need to consider as part of the resilience effort,” he said.

Charles Siler is a summer intern at Berkeleyside. He grew up in the North Bay and now attends Tulane University in New Orleans. He can be reached at cody.siler@gmail.com.

Related:
Berkeley named one of 33 resilient cities in global network (12.06.13)
Berkeley unites for earthquake safety (04.29.13)
Join the Berkeley-wide emergency drill April 27 (04.10.2013)

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