Climate change in your area may manifest itself in gradual changes in average temperature, rainfall and dates of seasonal change. You may even be able to adapt to it over the course of years or decades. But for many areas, climate change will come in the form of more severe weather – extreme rain, wind, heat and wildfires. This will call for improved disaster preparedness and response, hopefully implemented through communities so that even neighborhoods have their own plans and resources.

Here in Marin we have an Emergency Services Office, managed by Chris Godley (portentious name) who – in the case of a disaster – would be in charge of coordinating the county’s response. He’s also in charge of planning and development of resources. But when it comes down to it, the responsibilities are with the citizens to prepare themselves for living through the aftermath of a disaster.

Godley observes that in spite of repeated warnings and persistent advice, we citizens are lax in our preparedness.

They are not prepared to deal with an event. They have neither the ability to get organized, to communicate with each other and they don’t have the financial resources to deal with an event when people start losing communications, they can’t get to work, paychecks stop getting automatically deposited and the ATM doesn’t work. It’s going to be ugly for a while. We in California have not experienced a real true disaster. We have had a lot of small, regional events, but we haven’t had the Kobe-sized earthquake event that we are really expecting here in the Bay Area, for example. That’s not necessarily going to result in the same trauma we saw after Hurricane Katrina, but we’re talking about as significant a physical, economic and social impact as Katrina.

Meanwhile, though, a program begun two years ago has trained more than 2500 county residents in local disaster preparedness and response. A recent survey of trainees indicated that the trainees, at least, feel more confident about their readiness than they would have been without the training.

Program respondents were more confident in their ability to protect themselves and their families, the survey indicated. In response to the statement “I have the ability to protect myself and my family from disaster effects,” the average rose from 2.51 out of 5, or “strongly agree,” in the pre-test category to 3.09 post-test group.

Statistically significant differences in scores on respondents’ sense of community were seen as well, surveyors noted. The average rose from 3.73 pre-test to 4.11 post-test, indicating that those residents who completed a Get Ready sessions felt stronger bonds to their community, surveyors said.

One of the smartest things members of a local community can do is to learn about the environment that supports them. Sure, if you live in the midst of a city surrounded by built-up suburbs, it’s easy to forget that you have any relationship to an environment, at least to one recognizable as “natural.” I’m lucky (well, I pay for it) to live in a place where natural habitat has been fiercely preserved going back to the mid-1930’s. Marin County has kept as much of its land undeveloped – some as parkland, some as public open space, some as agricultural land trust, and 21,000 acres as the county’s watershed, managed by the Marin Municipal Water District.

The MMWD organized the first of what I hope will be at least an annual public symposium and I attended it today. It ran from 8:30AM to 4:30PM with breaks and a box lunch. The experts who presented represented a wide range of scientists and naturalists, speaking on topics from endangered local species to invasive species to wildfire danger and biological history. Here’s how the announcement of the event began, on the MMWD Web page:

To some, Mt. Tamalpais is simply a scenic backdrop to a busy modern life. To others, however, it is the ecological heart of a vast natural world in which we make our home. For those, an urgent question is, how healthy is that heart? Invasive plants, the constant risk of wildfire, and now climate change are threatening the health of Mt. Tamalpais at a faster pace than ever before.

As the single largest landholder on Mt. Tamalpais, the Marin Municipal Water District is charged with sustainably managing this natural resource while providing its customers with reliable, high-quality water. One of the key steps in meeting those responsibilities is the development of a new vegetation management plan for Mt. Tamalpais and other watershed lands. A careful examination of the current state of the mountain, and an examination of the threats facing it, is essential to the development of the new vegetation management plan and the purpose of a day-long symposium taking place next month. On Friday, April 11, natural resources specialists will come together to focus on the remarkable biological richness of Mt. Tamalpais and the challenges to MMWD as it strives to maintain the mountain’s ecological health.

For any location where there is treasured natural environment, closely tied to one’s living experience, such a gathering of experts brings the amazing perspective of people who look more deeply at that environment than you do. Or whose professions are to understand interdependencies that you’re not aware of. It’s true that for us, the water district is the heart of where we live. I’m sure many other places have such natural hearts that must be known and protected.

I’ll write more about the specific presentations in following posts.