Discover the Story Behind Carmel's Journey to Preparedness and Resilience

I am honored to be featured in this article highlighting the incredible work of Carmel Prepares! It’s a testament to the power of community and collaboration. Inspired by the trailblazers at Bainbridge Prepares, we’re dedicated to building resilience through disaster preparedness, community response, and sustainable recovery. Thank you, Bainbridge Prepares, for paving the way! And thank you to the City of Carmel-by-the-Sea for their support in this endeavor. 

Bainbridge Prepares Inspires a Little Sister City in Preparedness: Carmel-by-the-Sea

Author: Sarah Lane 

Wanda Vollmer knows what it’s like to go through a disaster. When she was in her twenties, she moved back to her family’s central California ranch to help care for her mom. In August of 1994, in San Luis Obispo County, what became known as the Highway 41 fire burned 49,000 acres of land and 42 houses including Vollmer’s family home.

Vollmer eventually went to work for the Red Cross, reaching out to underserved communities, and then later, after moving to the Northern California artist community of Carmel by the Sea, launched a new business: Peace of Mind Preparedness. Through her business, Vollmer consults with individual families to help them prepare for emergencies.

However, in the five years since the launch of Peace of Mind Preparedness, Vollmer has found herself doing much more:

  • She was able to convince the City of Carmel to launch a community emergency preparedness effort called Carmel Prepares.
  • She has had numerous speaking engagements with businesses, service organizations, and families.
  • The Fire Safe Council of Monterey County contacted her for her expertise. She has developed educational programs on wildfire preparedness and currently serves as an advisory board member. She also works with other organizations on the Monterey Peninsula.
  • She became the captain of her local CERT (Community Emergency Response Team), which in partnership with the CERT teams of neighboring communities, helped the Monterey area get through the crippling winter storms of January 2023 that left people without power for nearly a week. CERT teams on the peninsula support neighboring communities with winter storm assistance, downed power lines, missing persons, welfare checks, firefighter rehab, evidence search, and evacuations under the direction of Carmel PD and Monterey Fire. Vollmer and her CERT team went door to door in nearby Pacific Grove during last year’s storms to check on the welfare of residents.
  • During a 2023 bomb cyclone, the local Fire Department asked Vollmer to serve as the incident commander, which she did with no formal IC training.

The City of Carmel recently added a page to its website called Carmel Prepares, with the tagline, “Building village resilience through disaster preparedness, community response, and sustainable recovery.” Sound familiar? That’s because it is! Vollmer said, “We are inspired by BP and just getting started. There’s so much we want to do. We definitely want to model our community after yours.”

The chain of inspiration grows. Vollmer just found out that Pajaro, an unincorporated community in Monterey, in emulating Carmel, just launched what is known as Pajaro Prepares. Like Carmel, Pajaro “was hammered” by the 2023 winter storms, Vollmer explained. Many residents had to relocate due to intense storm-related flooding.

In many ways, Carmel and Bainbridge are alike. Both are affluent coastal artist communities that currently cater to a large daily influx of tourists. Both are in earthquake country. But Carmel is much smaller, with a permanent population of only about 3,ooo people (roughly 1,500 live there full time) and a footprint of only one square mile. You could think of it as Bainbridge’s mighty little sister in preparedness.

A few years ago, Bainbridge Prepares founder Scott James noticed Vollmer and her company and reached out to congratulate her on her work. He said that, although Carmel is still a few years behind Bainbridge in its preparedness journey, “The Carmel leadership—city, fire, and Wanda’s crew of trained residents—are making great strides in building resilience across their town.”

Vollmer said they’re getting ready to launch a Map Your Neighborhood program this spring. And she is eager to learn more about the Disaster Hubs concept being pioneered here. She also wants to launch community gardening to make the town more sustainable. She and other key members of the Carmel community are now reading James’s book Prepared Neighborhoods to learn what steps to take next. They are hoping to make it a community read book.

What does it take to prepare a community for emergencies? It takes a lot of hard work, a strong sense of community, a culture of caring, and often the vision of even just one energetic person. James said, “Wanda has the unique combination of a super positive person who also has the ability to attract others to her ideas. Her leadership style is useful for anything in life, but particularly for community preparedness, where care must taken in how the work is done, given the base level scariness of natural disasters.”

What will Carmel do next? We’ll keep you posted while also looking for new examples of communities joining the movement to get prepared.