Stronger Together:

How A Collaborative Expo Gave Safety Center Stage

Written by Adriana DiBenedetto

Tzu Chi USA’s Northwest Region hosts a Family Safety Expo in collaboration with Listos California to share disaster readiness and safety information with the community. Photo/Andy Chiang

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There is love in the world, and with good causes and conditions, we can bring hope to the world.

Listos means “ready” in Spanish, and the spirit of Tzu Chi is embedded in its name, too: in Chinese, tzu means “compassion,” and chi means “relief.” All together, it’s a profound combination. With this, Tzu Chi USA and Listos California have teamed up to cultivate a culture of informed preparedness.

Tzu Chi USA’s Northwest Region has been active in its care for the communities it serves since its establishment in 1993. In 2024, it hosted its very first collaborative Family Safety Expo with Listos California to empower the public with vital resources and boost awareness for inclusive safety tips.

Launched in 2019, Listos California has striven to build new pathways for partnership that drive awareness and motivate change. With a shared commitment to lift up individuals who may be socially isolated, are above the age of 65, live with a disability, or have limited English language skills, Tzu Chi USA and Listos California’s mission bounded forth with a Family Safety Expo April 21, 2024, at Tzu Chi USA’s Northwest Region Office in San Jose, California. Here, diverse government agencies and social welfare organizations in Silicon Valley assembled hand in hand to provide crucial disaster prevention and response information to enhance both awareness and resilience.

The Expo was a full-day event, including two morning panel discussions and four afternoon keynote speeches. In addition to family emergency preparedness for natural disasters, such as earthquakes, floods, and wildfires, the event also focused on raising awareness for domestic disasters such as shootings, telecommunications fraud, and cyber attacks. Lectures and activities included hands-only CPR training, natural disaster response, domestic violence and mental health awareness, eco-friendly vegetarian alternatives, and more.

Curtis Hsing, a Tzu Chi volunteer and Community Education Specialist, demonstrates hands-only CPR on stage for the audience. Photo/C.M. Yung

The event, co-organized by the National Taiwan University Alumni Association of Northern California, Northern California Compassion Association (Cupertino), Joint Alumni Association of Chinese Universities and Colleges in Northern California, AH Life Foundation, Taiwan Benevolent Association of San Jose, Chinese Seniors United Association of Northern California, and the Association of Northern California Chinese Schools, attracted 475 interested guests who were eager to learn and engage with experts through panel discussions and presentations.

Putting Preparedness in Focus

According to data from the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) National Centers for Environmental Information, “2023 was the warmest year since global records began,” and “The ten warmest years in the 174-year record have all occurred during the last decade.” 

Conditions that give rise to heatwaves and drought often spell trouble. Drought events can exacerbate wildfire potential and behavior, and when a wildfire sparks within drought-stricken areas, watersheds and reservoirs can be further impacted. When combined with very low precipitation, drought and excessive heat levels can ultimately lead to a higher potential for faster spreading and extreme wildfires. 

When it comes to wildfire disasters, California has seen its share, some of which have been the largest, most deadly, and most destructive in United States history. Such wildfires have impacted millions of acres of land, destroyed cherished homes, and taken many lives, with California’s 2018 Camp Fire perhaps the foremost to surface in one’s mind.

According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), 11 of the state’s 20 largest recorded fires have occurred within the last six years, impacting over four million acres. Additionally, half of California’s top 20 most destructive recorded wildfires occurred in just the last six years. It’s important to acknowledge that at least six of the 20 largest fires compiled by Cal Fire were caused by human activities, reminding us of the need to prioritize fire safety guidance, and become well-informed about how to prevent such tragedies from happening.

What’s more, in March and June of 2023, U.S. thunderstorm outbreaks numbered among the year’s costliest natural disasters worldwide in terms of insured losses, and in August 2023, a deadly fire raged across the Hawaiian island of Maui, scorching large parts of the coastal town of Lahaina. 

The 2023 Atlantic hurricane season was also more active than average, with a total of 20 named storms, including seven hurricanes. In the same year, the U.S. experienced 28 separate weather and climate disasters costing at least one billion dollars, marking the highest number of billion-dollar disasters in a calendar year. 

A disaster’s impact can be far-reaching as well. In 2023, Canada’s record-breaking fire season was particularly shocking, with blazes burning an estimated 18.4 million hectares — or about 45,467,390 acres — setting the average of 2.5 million hectares burned yearly in Canada in sharp contrast. The distinction was felt even hundreds of miles away, where murky, orange skylines and record-high air quality issues were experienced across North America’s Great Lakes region. On June 8, 2023, NBC News reported that New York City had the worst air quality in the world as of that morning, according to IQAir’s tracking service.

Understanding this history is crucial to better prepare for, and perhaps mitigate, future events. The consequences of natural and domestic disasters can be devastating. And those who already face pre-existing disparities or are living in disinvested communities often face a double burden when tragedies strike. That’s why promoting practices that are both sustainable and equitable is so critical. Building public support for resilient response plans and preparation requires an expansive gathering of minds to connect and engage with the issue. Indeed, working hand in hand with partners and community members to explore diverse dimensions of care means we can create a more resilient future that benefits everyone.

In addition to safety lectures and activities, a donation box is set up at the Expo to aid survivors of the deadly earthquake that struck Taiwan on April 3, 2024. Photo/C.M. Yung

Ming-Chi Scott Lai, Director-General of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in San Francisco, expressed his gratitude to Tzu Chi for mobilizing the goodwill of local residents to raise funds for the survivors of the earthquake in Taiwan on April 3, 2024, and for organizing this Expo to enhance the public’s disaster preparedness. TECO has maintained a strong relationship with Tzu Chi for several years, and looks forward to more opportunities to provide services that inspire compassion and collaboration among people. 

“This event is a very good model for cooperation, which, bolstered by Tzu Chi’s good deeds, was achieved through the unity of several local organizations,” Director-General Lai said. “I think this is something that should be carried forward in the future, so that Tzu Chi’s four major missions of charity, medical, education, and humanistic culture can be seen by more people in all corners of the world.”

Tzu Chi USA Northwest Region Executive Director Qizhen Huang (left) receives a certificate of appreciation from Taipei Economic and Cultural Office Director-General Ming-Chi Scott Lai (right). Photo/C.M. Yung

Safety Takes the Stage

Stronger Together:
How A Collaborative Expo Gave Safety Center Stage

Co-organizers and partner organizations advocate for disaster prevention and safety education through lectures and booths. Photo/C.M. Yung
Undersheriff Ken Binder from the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office shares important safety and cybersecurity tips. Photo/Andy Chiang

Local medical and emergency relief organizations in Northern California also joined the Expo as partners, including the Alzheimer’s Association, the San Jose Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), Collaborating Agencies’ Disaster Relief Effort, Santa Clara Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, El Camino Health, American Red Cross, New Hope Chinese Cancer Care, and other groups. Each organization set up booths to provide health or disaster prevention-related information and interactive activities for the public to get detailed information and answers. The San Jose Fire Department even brought a fire truck to the site for event attendees to visit and ask questions.

Sophia Chuang, Director of the Culture Center of Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in San Francisco (Milpitas), said that whether it’s family safety, neighborhood safety, or global health and safety, it’s a topic of concern for everyone, and this Expo can help communities understand how to proceed safely and effectively when it comes to disaster prevention and response in their local neighborhood.

Nancy Lieu, a Certified Crisis Counselor with CERT, shared how to rebuild psychologically after a disaster, and how people can implement what they learned about disaster response measures in their lives. 

Lieu further shared that disaster preparedness needed to take different kinds of disasters into account. One example provided by Lieu was that many people’s first instinct in a disaster at home is to run, but when it comes to earthquakes, that is not always the safest option. Instead, it is recommended to drop, cover, and hold on — gaining cover beneath a sturdy desk or table and staying put until the shaking stops. Lieu was grateful that this event allowed this information and more to become more widely known, especially since the event was conducted in Chinese, and CERT usually has less contact with the Chinese-American community.

Innovations That Benefit the Earth

Following the deadly 7.4 magnitude earthquake that struck Taiwan on April 3, 2024, disaster relief innovations deployed by Tzu Chi garnered international attention. These included the efficient setup of privacy partitions in emergency shelters, multipurpose folding beds, and warm eco-blankets. On April 17, 2024, Marshall Siao, Director of Jing Si 6R Technology, unveiled Tzu Chi’s complete Jing Si Furniture System for the first time to fellow NGOs at the Multi-Faith Leader Climate Resilience Roundtable at the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Headquarters in Washington, DC.

Tzu Chi’s pop-up cubicles and beds have played a particularly crucial role in disaster aid efforts. Attendees got a firsthand look at Tzu Chi’s Jing Si furniture system, comprised of Jing Si multipurpose folding beds that also function as a tabletop or seating, DA.AI Technology blankets made from reclaimed plastic bottles, partition cubicles with a zippered door offering privacy when temporary shelter is needed, and more. [In Chinese, Da Ai means “great love,” and DA.AI Technology is committed to upholding Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s teachings to “coexist with the Earth.”] After the conference, Siao traveled to Tzu Chi USA’s Northwest Region on April 21 to participate in the Family Safety Expo.

Jing Si 6R Technology Director Marshall Siao introduces the Jing Si furniture system to attendees. Photo/Andy Chiang

Siao shared that Tzu Chi has been involved in international disaster relief for decades. The Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation was established in 1966 in Hualien, Taiwan, by Dharma Master Cheng Yen. 

With the assistance of 30 housewives, who saved the equivalent of 2¢ from their daily grocery budget inside bamboo piggy banks, crucial funds were accumulated to help those in need. The belief that small change can make a big difference is still at the core of Tzu Chi’s philosophy today, carried forward through the spirit of the bamboo bank. As of 2024, Tzu Chi has expanded its footprint of humanitarian aid globally, reaching 133 countries and regions. Tzu Chi provides charitable assistance, medical aid, disaster relief, education services, environmental protection programs, and a bone marrow donor registry while promoting humanistic values and community service. Recognizing the urgent needs of disaster survivors, Dharma Master Cheng Yen had spearheaded the development of Jing Si furniture to meet both practical and psychological needs. Crafted from reclaimed plastic bottles, each of these eco-items helps uphold the health of the environment as well.

Siao also shared the latest developments in the Jing Si line. Now included in the furniture series are environmentally friendly mosquito nets treated with a natural insect repellent, and the Jing Si Trolley Cabinet that serves as both a suitcase and a stackable, stationary storage solution. Made from 20 and 29 reclaimed PET plastic bottles for single and king-size nets, respectively, the fully enclosed eco-mosquito nets help reduce the risk of mosquito-borne diseases and can accommodate two Jing Si multipurpose folding beds.

“The Jing Si storage cabinet with wheels and pulley rods is a multi-functional piece of furniture. It can be directly loaded with daily necessities and emergency supplies. When they are distributed during disaster relief operations to help survivors who have nothing left after a disaster, they can immediately settle down physically and mentally,” explained Siao. “This storage cabinet can be stacked in the Jing Si partition cubicle to be used as a cabinet. It can also be used as a suitcase to store items when traveling.”

All together, the partition cubicle, trolley cabinet, mosquito net, blanket, table, and chair, make up a quick and seamless emergency shelter system. Discover more about Tzu Chi’s disaster relief materials here.

“We hope to display the production process of the DA.AI eco-blanket in our San Francisco Consulate Hall so that the concept of environmental protection can be showcased in more venues,” TECO San Francisco Director-General Ming-Chi Scott Lai told volunteers.

Carrying the Commitment Forward

Tzu Chi USA’s Northwest Region volunteer team had been planning the Family Safety Expo since February. On the day of the Expo, Tzu Chi volunteers provided 600 vegetarian meals, fruits, and snacks for the attendees, promoting the concept of environmental protection through exploring vegan and vegetarian alternatives. In addition, Tzu Chi’s environmental protection volunteer team prepared a number of on-site activities, including guidelines for proper recycling.

Tzu Chi USA Northwest Region volunteers begin preparing for the event two months in advance. Photo/Joy Chen
Volunteers make delicious veggie burgers to encourage people to try vegetarian treats, and mitigate the impacts of our changing climate through plant-based alternatives. Photo/Andy Chiang

Tzu Chi volunteer Arthur Chih said that the feedback from the public was very positive, sharing, “About 400 to 500 people attended the Expo today, which was a great success. Everyone found the content of the program to be highly helpful. The information shared by each organization was all relevant to daily life.” Chih further stated, “The success of this event was made possible thanks to the dedication of every Tzu Chi volunteer over the past two months, who helped prepare for the event with great care and attention to detail.”

Indeed, the Family Safety Expo, held in collaboration with community organizations, provided valuable information that helped individuals and families deepen their understanding and build a more complete foundation of readiness in the face of environmental and domestic tragedies. The event also underscored how safety and team work can be implemented in every daily routine in the Silicon Valley community, and that together, we can go even further to ensure the wellness of all people.

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