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Mitigating for Wildfires: A California Community’s Response to Wildfires

Episode #13

Sonoma County California has been impacted by numerous weather-related disasters in the last few years — from a historic drought to devastating wildfires in three of the last four years. In between the county experienced flooding and mudslides. These events have changed how Sonoma County prepares for disasters by improving mitigation efforts, expanding community outreach programs, increasing funding for emergency management, and providing multiple sources to alert the public of threats. Sonoma County District 4 Supervisor, James Gore shares how the county improved response to recent wildfires in 2020 as it continues to build community resilience.

Topics Covered

  • Mitigating for disasters is key to ensuring communities can survive and recover from events including: How do you pre-defeat fires, How do you address sea level rise, etc.
  • The Tubbs and Sonoma Complex fires of 2017 were a wake-up call for Sonoma County. It identified the need to better alert and for notification systems to warn the public of potential threats. It was resulted in changes to how Sonoma County prepares including additional funding for its emergency management program, development of public education campaigns, and establishing mitigation programs to prevent harsh impacts from disasters.
  • Climate factors have impacted how wildfires are fueled in California including historic droughts, and changes in wind patterns.
  • Significant improvements were made to expand communication systems across the county to enhance alert and warning capabilities.
  • Community Resilience needs support from both elected officials and the emergency management community in order to be successful.
  • Emergency Operations Centers need to operate as a preparedness center and not as a “bunker.”
  • Dedicated funding to support mitigation and preparedness efforts is essential.
  • Reviewing evacuation procedures and exercising for potential disasters is crucial to being ready for the next disaster.
  • It's crucial for communities to routinely test their early warning and notification systems on a regular basis.

Key Takeaways

  • [01:30] Introduction of Sonoma County District Supervisor, James Gore
  • [02:02] Can you share with our audience your background, details about Sonoma County, and the constituents you serve.
  • [04:50] How has 2020 been different compared to some of the previous disasters of the past?
  • [09:56] Would you say the community was more responsive this time around with the wildfires that impacted your area?
  • [19:45] When it comes to building community resilience – should it be initiated by elected officials or from emergency management?
  • [24:45] Where is your county headed now with current threats for more fires or other impacts like winter flooding?
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James Gore
James Gore
Direct 4 Supervisor
Sonoma County, California

James Gore was born and raised in the 4th District, living in Cloverdale, Healdsburg and the Mark West area of Santa Rosa. He attended Jefferson Elementary in Cloverdale and graduated from Montgomery High in Santa Rosa. After high school, James moved away to attend college, graduating from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo with a Bachelor’s Degree in Agribusiness.  After graduating from college, James joined the Peace Corps and worked in Bolivia, South America. There, he collaborated with community members to build water management systems, better manage agriculture production, and of personal importance, developing a health and hygiene campaign that successfully linked seven isolated communities around medical & dental care and education. It was also during this service that James met his future wife, Elizabeth, a fellow Peace Corps volunteer from Texas.

After serving in the Peace Corps, James worked in the private sector during the day while earning a Master’s Degree at night from George Washington University. After receiving his degree and continuing his private sector career, James secured an appointment from President Barack Obama’s administration as Assistant Chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). During this service, James led nationwide conservation efforts at the intersection of agriculture, business, and the environment. In an effort to enhance both a vibrant economy and protect our nation’s natural resources, James advocated for and led efforts to expand services in persistent poverty areas with underserved communities – leading to the creation and deployment of USDA’s persistent poverty initiative, StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity. James also helped lead efforts on climate change mitigation and the protection of Pacific salmon habitats. He created and deployed the NRCS Pacific Salmon Habitat Improvement Partnership, which yielded $12 million dollars in federal funding to West Coast watersheds, including the Russian River watershed.

In 2013, James returned home to Sonoma County to raise his family.  He was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2014 after running a relentless, positive campaign built on inclusiveness and a commitment to own the future and deliver for the residents of Sonoma County. As he embarks upon his 4th year on the Board, James is slated to become Chairman of the Board of Supervisors in 2018. Beyond his work as County Supervisor, James is also serving on several county, regional, statewide and national organizations, including current service as:

  • Vice Chair, Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District (incoming Chair for 2018)
  • Board of Directors, Sonoma Clean Power Authority
  • Chair, Northern Sonoma County Air Pollution Control District
  • Vice Chair, Eel Russian River Commission
  • Executive Committee, North Coast Resource Partnership
  • Executive Committee, California State Association of Counties (CSAC)
  • Executive Committee and Board Member, Latino Caucus of California Counties
  • Nationwide Chair, Resilient Counties Advisory Board (RCAB) for the National Association of Counties (NACo)


Greg Padgett
Greg Padgett
Media & Communications Strategist

Greg Padgett is the host of Disaster Recovery Roundtable and brings 25 years' experience as a journalist, emergency manager, crisis communicator, and host. From 1991 to 2001, he was a journalist and meteorologist with several TV stations across the southeast U.S. He holds the American Meteorological Society's and National Weather Association's Broadcast Seals of Approval. He previously served as Natural Hazards Program Manager for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, overseeing the development of the state's hurricane, severe weather, flood, and earthquake response plans. He has organized statewide media tours, supported public information officer training, and provided technical assistance in developing response plans and Whole Community preparedness campaigns for local jurisdictions. He also served as an on-air meteorologist for the Weather Channel's Radio Network from 2002 to 2007. He is a past recipient of the National Weather Association's Broadcaster of the Year award.