Plan for the Worst

“I am unique in the fact that I constantly look for the worst, but I never lose hope,” Luna Mohammad says. “There is a lot of disappointment and things that could discourage you, but also a lot of kindness.”

Just when you thought we’d hit bottom, Luna Mohammad is thinking about all of the other stuff that could go wrong. She works in the Monterey County Office of Emergency Services, and she has a list of more problems ready at the tip of her tongue: Imagine a major fire with power shut-offs during a heat wave, then add an earthquake around the same time. “It can always get worse,” Mohammad says.

But that doesn’t necessarily freak her out. Instead, she’s focused on recovery and resilience and what we can learn from the absolute worst. Her job title is technically “emergency services planner,” but she was hired in April 2019 with a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Urban Areas Security Initiative program to do community resilience planning for Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties.

From the perspective of planning for community resilience, Mohammad says the timing couldn’t be better: “The best time to look at community resilience is when we’re looking at a disaster,” she says. “It magnifies our vulnerabilities and our opportunities. Every disaster magnifies all of our strengths and weaknesses.”

Among those vulnerabilities: a growing homeless population – particularly susceptible to Covid-19 and lacking in access to essentials like soap and running water – and disparities that cut across socioeconomic status, immigration status and ethnicity. That’s apparent in who is most likely to get infected with Covid-19 in Monterey County. (A disproportionate number of Latinos are confirmed to have the virus, making up 80 percent of Monterey County’s patients, but Latinos are only 59 percent of the county’s population.)

Mohammad’s planning project is on its own schedule, independent of the pandemic. On June 1, she launched a bilingual survey (available at bit.ly/communityresiliencesurvey) that will be available until Sept. 1. Although it isn’t explicitly about Covid-19, she encourages people to respond about that specifically if they choose to. “This is actually the best time to ask, ‘What is good and what is bad and what can change, what are your recommendations?’” she says. “Disaster preparedness is seeing the gaps, and the ways we can come together.”

The survey results will be considered by a stakeholder group some 120 people strong, representing sectors from healthcare to utilities, police and fire to public health. They’ll incorporate the results into an eventual community resilience plan. A draft is expected to begin circulating by September, with a final plan being completed by the end of the year.

Mohammad recounts a conversation with her mom around New Year’s, before any of us had heard of Covid-19.

“She asked me what I thought 2020 would bring,” Mohammad recalls. “I told her, 2020 is going to be a year of change, that either we address all of our issues as a society or we don’t. We’re going to see ourselves get tremendously better or tremendously worse, depending on the decisions we make. With that said, I am hopeful.”

Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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