San Mateo Helps Residents “Be Ready, Be Safe, Be Involved!”

The City of San Mateo won the 2012 Helen Putnam Award for Excellence in the Public Safety category. For more about the award program, visit

Located in the heart of the San Francisco Peninsula, San Mateo is a vibrant community of 97,000 residents with more than 25 active neighborhood groups and homeowners associations. In addition, an organization called the San Mateo United Homeowners Association provides a citywide forum for neighborhood leaders to share information and discuss common issues. The city has a long tradition of partnering with these groups to promote community safety and preparedness through the Neighborhood Watch program operated by the Police Department and the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and Get Ready programs operated by the Fire Department.

The city launched an initiative in December 2010 to enhance the connection between the Neighborhood Watch and CERT programs and homeowners and neighborhood associations. The goal was to expand awareness of these programs and promote resident involvement within their neighborhoods and the city. The city convened a working group comprising a police sergeant who served as the Neighborhood Watch supervisor, the deputy fire marshal and fire captain who led the CERT and Get Ready programs, the city’s volunteer coordinator and the president of the San Mateo United Homeowners Association. Over the next three months, the working group developed a collaborative campaign called “Be Ready, Be Safe, Be Involved!” to help promote emergency preparedness and strengthen neighborhoods.

The campaign kicked off at a city council meeting in March 2011 with a joint presentation by fire staff, police and the San Mateo United Homeowners Association. The city council strongly supports the campaign. “It is always helpful for more people to become and remain interested in emergency preparedness,” says Mayor Brandt Grotte. “When a major event happens, we will all need to rely on our friends and neighbors while emergency responders may be occupied with high-priority calls.”

The 2011 “Be Ready, Be Safe, Be Involved!” campaign activities included:

  • A city council proclamation highlighting the campaign;
  • A city website page with information about the Neighborhood Watch, CERT and “Be Ready, Be Safe, Be Involved!” programs as well as homeowners and neighborhood associations (;
  • Media outreach to local news outlets;
  • Campaign banners displayed in downtown San Mateo and in San Mateo City Hall;
  • Outreach about Neighborhood Watch, CERT and “Be Ready, Be Safe, Be Involved!” at homeowners and neighborhood association meetings; and
  • Promotion of homeowners and neighborhood association membership in their respective neighborhoods.

Noteworthy Results

San Mateo conducted the promotional campaign again in March 2012, with noteworthy results.

The number of Neighborhood Watch blocks and CERT graduates increased significantly. The city had about 300 active Neighborhood Watch blocks in 2011; now 350 blocks are active, a 16 percent increase. More than 40 blocks hosted parties for the 2011 National Night Out (a nationwide event held annually in August to promote community safety); the 2012 event featured 53 block parties. In addition, 142 residents graduated from the CERT program in the past year, joining the 500 previous graduates.

More residents are volunteering their time and talents to assist with city services. An average of 1,374 volunteers each quarter contributed a total of 77,368 hours of services for a total in-kind service value of $1.65 million in 2011. These volunteers serve as office greeters, board and commission members and lunchtime “helping hands” at the Senior Center and in other important roles. The city continues expanding its volunteer offerings, which are online at

The campaign’s collaborative nature has strengthened connections between the city and homeowners and neighborhood associations. It’s also a catalyst for generating new ways for residents to work together on addressing issues and concerns. For example, the San Mateo United Homeowners Association developed “Top 10 Ways to Help Your City, Your Neighborhood and Your Community” (, which includes activities such as “adopt the storm drain in front of your house,” “bring Neighborhood Watch to your block” and “volunteer in your community.” The city has also promoted the use of an online social network for neighborhoods, and nearly 1,500 residents have signed up in more than 20 neighborhoods.

A Model for Replication

The “Be Ready, Be Safe, Be Involved!” campaign can be replicated in any city. The key elements include building on existing efforts, such as Neighborhood Watch and CERT programs, and working collaboratively with community groups, including homeowners and neighborhood associations. The campaign has provided an extremely effective mechanism for San Mateo to improve collaboration with neighborhood groups and increase community awareness of the importance of being prepared and ready for any emergency situation.

Contact: Matt Bronson, assistant city manager, City of San Mateo; phone: (650) 522-7000; email:

This article appears in the October 2012 issue of Western City
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