Listos California Preparedness Campaign

What we’re talking about

A California campaign is helping to engage the most vulnerable in that state as they promote five steps for safety and survival from disasters. In this episode of Disaster Recovery Roundtable, we hear from Justin Knighten, the previous co-chair of the Listos California Preparedness Campaign, about how it is reaching targeted audiences to support personal preparedness.

  • Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) announced that the state’s emergency preparedness campaign (launched in August 2019) has surpassed its goal of engaging at least one million socially vulnerable Californians. The campaign, titled “Listos,” which means “ready” in Spanish, provides the communities it targets with accessible, in-language, and culturally competent disaster readiness information.
  • Along with California Volunteers, another state-managed program, Listos California, which is anchored at Cal OES, has provided more than 1.6 million Californians with information they would need in the event of a natural disaster.
  • The campaign is aimed at engaging community-based organizations, faith groups, social clubs, schools, civic or neighborhood groups to encourage five easy and free steps to prepare for a disaster like an earthquake, wildfire or flood.
  • The campaign provides simple tools and resources to build awareness and help get people in the community prepared.
  • Listos California’s tools differ from many conventional preparedness lessons that too often fail to get people to act. Campaign organizers believe their approach will increase the chances of success and bring more communities closer to being ready for a disaster.

Additional Information:


(0:00 – 2:55)

A California campaign is helping to engage the most vulnerable in that state as they promote five steps for safety and survival from disasters. In this episode of Disaster Recovery Roundtable, we’ll hear how the Listos California campaign is reaching targeted audiences to support personal preparedness. This is Disaster Recovery Roundtable, a platform to explore, engage, and educate the emergency management community.

Our topics are timely and relevant, intended to promote the exchange of ideas and best practices. Now, here’s your host, Greg Badgett. Thank you, Steve Henderson.

We are excited to welcome Justin Knighton, the previous co-chair of the Listos California Preparedness Campaign. Justin was appointed by Governor Gavin Newsom to serve as Assistant Deputy Director in California’s Office of Emergency Services and as co-chair of the Listos California campaign in 2019. Previously, Justin served as Senior Vice President of a Sacramento-based public affairs firm and he was Global Public Affairs Director at the Harvey Milk Foundation.

Justin recently was appointed Director of External Affairs for FEMA and will be taking over that new role in Washington, D.C. This interview was recorded before that appointment and announcement. Coming up, we’ll hear from Justin as he shares how the Listos campaign is making a difference in California. Stay with us.

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We’d like to welcome to the show Justin Knighton. He’s co-chair of LISDOS California. Justin, welcome to Disaster Recovery Roundtable.

(2:55 – 3:15)

Great to be here, Greg. Thanks for having us on. Thank you so much.

Let’s go right into this campaign you have there in California. It is really something a little bit unique and what we’ve seen typically when we talk about preparing and getting the public prepared. What was the incentive behind launching this initiative in California? Tell us just a little bit about it, how it got started, and its background.

(3:15 – 6:06)

Absolutely. Well, I’ll start off by saying that I think we’ve all experienced an uptick of natural disasters in the last 10 years or so, whether it’s a hurricane or mass flooding or changes of our climates because of climate change. And in California, that’s certainly the case across the board, but especially around wildfire.

And Governor Gavin Newsom then elect Governor Gavin Newsom coming into office at a time when Camp Fire really just devastated the community of Paradise. And he saw firsthand the devastation of that catastrophic event, specifically on some of the most vulnerable members of the community, specifically older adults and people with disabilities, low-income, etc. And so that really informed, I think, his approach and motivations as he assumed office in wanting to not only make an investment into what our diverse and vulnerable populations need, but to really reimagine what does it mean to be prepared, to be resilient at a time when we know that ongoing challenges are only going to further exacerbate issues and create dynamics in which the most vulnerable among us continue to be disproportionately impacted.

So he really came into office with that mindset and commitment, but also his experience spending time as mayor of San Francisco and seeing NERT, which is what San Francisco calls their community emergency response teams, they call it the neighborhood emergency response teams, really seeing this peer-to-peer strategy of how you’re able to really get communities prepared through their peers, through people that they trust, through their neighbors. And so all of that really came together with legislation that he worked with the legislature to designate 50 million dollars with a charge to make preparedness more accessible, culturally competent, and targeted specifically for vulnerable populations. How does the campaign work and how is it different, say, from those other traditional community preparedness initiatives that we see? Absolutely.

I mean, when you think about preparedness efforts, there’s so many organizations from FEMA to different various states to the county level and groups that have been involved in this space for decades, right, American Red Cross and other groups that are really active in this space and really getting communities prepared and keep them protected. This campaign really looked at, you know, we still know that there’s a gap, that there’s a delta in that there are many members of our population, specifically among older Californians, people with disabilities, people in low-income families, and those that experience and the reality of having a lot of language barriers. They don’t know English or English isn’t a first language.

(6:07 – 6:31)

That calling the question that maybe some of these traditional campaigns don’t necessarily always reach that. And so every 50, every dollar of the 50 million allotted for this campaign, what makes it very uniquely different is that every single dollar has been invested back in the community. We’ve injected those dollars back in the community with organizations that have the credibility and trust with the very communities that we’re trying to serve and to engage.

(6:32 – 7:18)

We work in partnership with government at the state level and the county level, but this is really driven by from the materials that we use and develop to the approaches of having that very authentic, you know, intentional connection with the communities that we’re trying to reach are led by the groups that have been working with vulnerable populations for decades. And so really empowering them and harnessing their experience and credibility and success in communities, especially communities in rural parts of the state or in places where there’s a streamline and connect people to information that doesn’t have some of the complications that usually is attached to the government. And in some cases.

(7:19 – 10:32)

Also saw some of your outreach materials where you guys have employed or brought in, like when you’re trying to reach migrant workers, for example, people who are from their region of Mexico to speak their same dialect to speak, you know, and let them know that they’re from their own region of the country that they’re from to help buy in, I guess, get that buy in and get that sense of accountability that this is actually a program that’s something that would be beneficial to them and not put up that wall or that uncertainty that sometimes these populations might have when anybody from a government entity might try to come and engage with them. That’s absolutely true. It’s this acknowledgement and realization and awareness that, you know, folks that are from Mexico or from Latin America who are coming to kind of serve us and support us as essential workers, that they don’t all speak English, that, you know, a lot of them come from indigenous communities and they speak oral-based languages, Mixteco, Tlingit, and needing to provide information that is accessible to them, you know, making sure that the information we’re providing to all Californians, especially those most vulnerable, is also available to those that have very specific and unique language needs.

And, you know, working with CBO partners, and this wasn’t government saying, we have all the answers and we’re going to step in and make all the decisions. It was a statewide government-sponsored campaign that said, we need to solve this problem. We need to find the community-based organizations that serve these indigenous essential worker populations and, you know, work with them to make sure that it’s not only in language and oral-based files on our website, under the farmworker initiative space on our site,, but also making sure that it’s culturally competent, that it’s going to be presented in a way that communities will understand.

It will be something that will resonate with them and really make sure that it’s considering the full scope of how someone needs to access and engage with information. Has there been any research or analysis done, as you guys initiated and kicked off this campaign, to really determine what groups you wanted to target the most or which ones needed the support more, say, than maybe others that you thought might also benefit from the initiative? Yeah, so that’s kind of a two-part response. So one is, in the legislation that designated the investment of establishing Western California, really pointing to some of the known indicators of vulnerability in our state, right? Older adults, people with disabilities, people living in poverty, people with language barrier.

And then we really built a campaign around that, in which we did a lot of research focus groups with our partner EMC to really understand that we have a huge barrier of preparedness. You know, we found that 88% of those vulnerable groups understand that they need to be prepared for disaster, right? In the state like California, with as many wildfires that we’ve experienced over the last decade, certainly in the last several years with this pandemic, etc., people know that they need to be prepared. So check the box.

(10:32 – 12:30)

People have the preparedness message. They got it. But they also don’t get prepared because they find that it’s time consuming, expensive, and scary.

And so if you look at our site and all of our materials, we really made sure that we were elevating the voices of people, of community, of culture, of art, of language, and downplay the use that I think a lot of us typically go to, which is the images of fire or death or destruction, and really balancing that out with people and communities, again, defining this legislation, that, you know, are just trying to survive today. And thinking about survival for tomorrow seems like a luxury. And so wanting to present this information in a way that made it seem more approachable and free with steps that are very tangible and easy.

And so really running this campaign with that kind of founding principle and approach, you know, we learned that during a pandemic, on top of a wildfire, on top of historic heat wave, etc., etc., that we also had to be responsive to the needs of community and delve deep into the different segments of populations that were experiencing very harsh, real concerns. Our farmworker populations, absolutely. Immigrant communities, especially during COVID, on top of all the threats that they’ve been experiencing.

Our homeless populations, people experiencing homelessness, creating guides for people that are, you know, unhoused, and what do we need them to do or think about before a disaster in a way that is tangible and related to the experiences that they are having, you know, day to day, as well as people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to navigate a health care system in a post-pandemic world. And so really, you know, being flexible to jump into those various segments of community based on needs that we saw really bubbling up as being very urgent. When we come back, we’re going to learn more about how Distance California is helping in this year of disasters that California just went through.

(12:30 – 12:34)

So stay with us. We’ll be right back. You’re listening to Disaster Recovery Roundtable.

(12:34 – 13:34)

Now, here’s a preview of our next episode. We welcome one of the most recognizable meteorologists in America, the Weather Channel’s Stephanie Abrams, as she shares why she enjoys forecasting weather and why sometimes it can become dangerous, especially when covering hurricanes. So, and Michael, originally we were going to go to Mexico Beach and we ended up, I couldn’t find somewhere there I felt safe.

So we found a house just to the east of there, Port St. Joe, and this house was up on a hill. So we were going to be fine when it came to the water, but we were literally across like it was beach, road, house. And this thing was coming in four or five.

I was like, I’ve been in too many eye walls. There’s no way I’m going to take the eye wall of this thing right on the beach. Like that’s not safe.

And it’s not just me. We have our whole crew, you know, everybody else. And so, you know, Jim, in fact, on the other morning, he’s like, Abrams, you know, he could tell that I was uneasy and trying to was processing everything.

He’s like, Abrams, just come over here. Just come with us. You know, we have rooms just come over here.

(13:34 – 14:35)

And so I did. And we went over Panama City Beach. Don’t miss the next episode of Disaster Recovery Roundtable and be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

Remember a year ago in response to historic wildfires, the time we launched Listos California, anchored at Cal OES with a mission, a mission to reimagine and strengthen how we prepare our communities. I’m excited to announce that over 12 months later, we’ve surpassed our goal to engage 1 million diverse and vulnerable Californians with accessible in language and culturally competent disaster preparedness information. And welcome back.

That was California Governor Gavin Newsom back in December as he was talking about just the year that 2020 was in California and the importance of the Listos California campaign. We have Justin with us again. Justin, what are some of those big steps that the campaign initiative took this year in helping with first those big California wildfires that you had across the state in a historic year? And then, of course, you know, the other big disaster that’s ongoing in California, and that is COVID-19.

(14:36 – 15:39)

Absolutely. Well, I, you know, really pinpointing the fact that our campaign, having reimagined what does it mean to work with community and having a person-centered, people-centered approach to preparedness, kind of going away from, you know, all the things that we want all people to do to be ready for all disasters. It’s too much.

It’s overwhelming. And really helping to simplify, making it more tangible, right? The idea that we’re going to be all better off if more people are taking common steps to get ready so that we’re all able to see ourselves as first responders, not the people that are going to go out in the face of a wildfire and grab a hose in front of their house and start fighting the fire, but are going to be more empowered to know what to do when they hear the call to evacuate and to be able to go across the street to the abuela living across the street to say, do you know where to go? Do you know who to call? If you don’t know how to evacuate, come with us. And the neighbor down the street who maybe have a lot of animals, that you’re going to be more empowered to help connect them to resources.

(15:40 – 17:55)

You’re going to help kind of own that responsibility because you’ve been empowered to take simple steps, and you’re going to have the ability to start making connections. It’s this concept that I actually heard from our emergency managers in California. We’re anchored at the governor’s office of emergency services and work within a system of emergency managers in every county who, to be very frank, have been working day in, day out and have devoted their lives to help make us safe in disaster, to make sure that we’re protecting as many people and as much property as possible, to make sure that we’re able to withstand the storm, if you will.

And these are communities of dedicated, hardworking professionals that are doing everything within their power to reach all members of the community. But reaching vulnerable people is very uniquely different than the main masses of a community, right? They require more intentionality. They require more investment of resources to make sure that their needs are being met, more delicate and unique considerations based on the reality and circumstances that they’re experiencing.

And so, you know, really seeing the heart and dedication of Cal OES and emergency managers paralleled with a campaign like Least Us California to help do some of that work in community that they need done really helps us all advance this culture of preparedness, what we call advancing a culture of preparedness, that the more we’re having these conversations of preparedness, the more it becomes ingrained in our community. And there’s this, you know, more direct connection between systems of emergency management and the community that are experiencing their own issues, the better off we’ll all be. You know, we received an overwhelming amount of different families and community members who were either in nearby communities that were experiencing disasters in their region, you know, reaching out to say it felt so good that when a disaster hit, because they’re inevitable, that we had a go bag prepared.

(17:55 – 20:19)

We had done the steps to think about the medication we would need if we had to evacuate, that we felt the ease of mind and comfort that we had done something to build more of a foundation should, you know, a wildfire shift and we become burdened by it. You know, in a couple of instances, we actually learned of people who were dealing with wildfire themselves who, you know, had to rely on their education and training. And many of them reached out to us to tell us their experience of we had at least this California go bag.

We had downloaded the emergency alerts on our phone through and we knew what to do. You know, it kind of removed the myth when you are in the moment of crisis of knowing kind of the steps to follow and the path to take to make sure that yourself, your family and your neighbors are able to get to safety. And so, you know, we have experienced that and heard that across the board in various ways from undocumented communities that knew kind of the resources that they had available to them through our CBO partners that have been working with these populations.

We also had, because of the infrastructure of at least California, we have community partners on the ground in many of the places that wildfires unfortunately hit this year. In Napa Sonoma County, in Solano County, parts of Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, where we had partners who were able to, via pipeline, also what they were experiencing during an active threat. Our campaign focused on preparedness also then becomes a communications channel of community statewide during a response effort so that we have a better sense of what communities are experiencing and how we can solve problems.

And when it comes to COVID-19, you know, now a lot of states are transitioning over to the vaccine phase of making sure that they can get those to the populations that need them. Are you guys looking at or have been asked to support, you know, making sure that your vulnerable populations that you support are aware or can have access to the vaccines? Absolutely. You know, there’s a lot of conversations and planning and implementation happening now in real time as we are recording this conversation.

(20:20 – 21:07)

And at least as California is looking at, you know, where there could be gaps, you know, where communities maybe have a lot of questions remaining, where there are concerns, or simply just what’s the process. And so we’re developing materials now that will help simplify some of that messaging, that will help to make it more accessible, and maybe not have all the information that people and our partners across the administration want to communicate, but at least be able to get some of those very key specific messages that we want to resonate with folks to them in a way that’s accessible. So we are looking at not only the messaging standpoint, but how we can leverage our Bistos California network to help us disseminate that information.

(21:07 – 24:03)

And with 2021 just starting, you know, we’re in January now, what’s going to be the goals for this year? Do you look at doing any kind of expansion? Are you anticipating more funding? Are you guys planning to grow? After a year, 18 months of Listas California, I think there’s this common thinking and understanding that there needs to be a more orchestrated effort, and not only working with partners in community, but addressing the needs of vulnerable populations, and not specific to disaster. I mean, one thing that we really pride ourselves on is that what we’ve learned in this experience is that delivering preparedness information through a vacuum doesn’t work, right? Like I said before, communities are trying to survive today, and thinking about survival tomorrow seems like a luxury. And so the more we can deliver information on housing, food assistance programs, unemployment assistance, all these things that are really healthcare, right? All these things that are coming at people in such a direct, urgent way in 2021 already, really thinking about the whole person, the needs of a whole person.

And so Listas California is expanded through the spring and remain in conversations with our colleagues to figure out what is it, what does this effort look like moving forward? Whether it’s a continuation of the campaign, whether it’s creating a different structure, if you will, but there’s a common understanding that there needs to be this investment in equitable strategies and approaches to reach people. Well, hopefully 2021 will be a better year for Californians, and your program will continue to make strides in helping the most vulnerable be prepared. Thank you, Justin, for sharing how this unique campaign is making an impact in your state.

Thanks so much, Greg. It was a pleasure. If you’d like to learn more about California’s Listos campaign, you can visit their website at That’s L-I-S-T-O-S, And as we wrap up, we’re going to leave you with a clip from a Listos public service announcement.

It really demonstrates the campaign’s approach to energizing the public and taking actions to improve preparedness for themselves and their neighbors. You’ve been listening to Disaster Recovery Roundtable, a platform to explore, engage and educate. For more information on this episode, visit our podcast page at You can download previous podcasts, learn more about the programs we discussed and suggest a topic for a future episode.

(24:04 – 24:21)

You can also find us on your favorite podcast provider. This has been a Tidal Basin production. Thanks for listening.