Ep. 3 Santa Barbara’s Emergency Manager & Route 91 Festival Survivor

Please note: as our first recording, the audio is not as pristine as you’ll find the other episodes, but it’s well worth the listen!

A page styled like a scrapbook or lab notes showcases various highlights from this episode. At the top right, handwritten text saying compares the equation “Risk = Likelihood times Impact” with a graph that shows a funnel-shaped set of possibility spaces over time, with script saying “something like what’s needed.” Along the entire left side, a collage of photos with bright yellow borders showcases various individuals posting colorful post-its on big printed maps. We also see a post-it held by two brown-skinned hands with bright yellow nail polish saying “CPC: participatory collective liberation, community work.” This section includes the handwritten caption, "Four pillars asset mapping from North Carolina to Boston to Puerto Rico and beyond!" In a photo towards the bottom center, a handful of men and women, some in emergency vests and some in plain clothes, stand in a sunlit green field, encircling four people kneeled in the center who are performing chest compressions on a mannequin. The photo is captioned: “The Art of Mass Gatherings at LEAF Festival.” At the bottom right is a T-shirt printed with the bubble text, “I survived Hurriquake Hilary.”

In this episode, emergency management expert Kelly Hubbard shares wisdom about how communities can both prepare and recover from disasters, using her very personal experience of the mass shooting at the Route 91 music festival as a key case study. Kelly emphasizes the crucial role of clear communication, shares examples of how to improve accessibility for people with disabilities, and suggets savvy ways emergency responders and the arts community can collaborate, including when it comes to the particular challenges and opportunities of pop-up events. Discover how art therapy can aid in community recovery and how lessons learned from this tragedy can inform future preparedness strategies.

This episode is a must-listen for anyone interested in disaster management and the power of community resilience. It’s brought to you by Majestic Collaborations & Performing Arts Readiness.

Kelly Hubbard is the Director of the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management (SBCOEM), responsible for emergency management and coordination of the Santa Barbara Operational Area. Operational Area entities include county departments, incorporated cities, unincorporated areas, special districts, universities, nonprofit and volunteer organizations, and private sector business and industry groups. She works with government agencies of all disciplines to increase multi-agency, all sector preparedness, response, and recovery coordination.

Kelly has responded to more than a dozen Presidentially Declared Disasters. She has a Master’s of Science in Emergency Services Administration from California State University, Long Beach and is a Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) through the International Association of Emergency Management (IAEM).

Kelly was attending day 3 of the Route 91 Country Music Festival with her daughter and a few friends when someone opened fire on the crowd of 22,000 attendees. 58 attendees died that evening, with hundreds more severely injured, making that night the worst mass shooting to date in United States history. Kelly speaks as a survivor, but also as an emergency manager on the events of that evening to help others in her profession and in the entertainment and hospitality industry to improve large event planning and mass casualty response.

Connect with Kelly on LinkedIn

Timestamps are approximate.


Matt reminds us of the World Health Organization (WHO)’s definition for a mass gathering: an event that could strain local planning or response capacity. The Art of Mass Gatherings investigates what these events have in common, from a concert to a protest to post-evacuation encampments. Hear Kelly’s reflections on the question starting around 4:42.


A must-listen for arts & event professionals, as Tom asks: what are some of the key ways organizations & venues can prepare for severe weather threats? Hear Kelly’s recommendations about pre-planning, including ingress and egress planning and the value of having decision points for event cancellation. These topics are covered more thoroughly in her Performing Arts Readiness webinar.


Kelly mentions a few organizations that should definitely be on your radar if you work in arts, events, or emergency planning! Don’t miss her great suggestions on how to involve them in local events.


Tom describes some of the activities we led at the Art of Mass Gatherings in Nevada event in February 2024, including our popular four pillars asset mapping workshop to support disaster planning & community resilience work. We’ve hosted this workshop in cities and towns across the country. See more below to view or add to a new public map.


Matt recounts how a Las Vegas emergency manager mentioned that they spend 99% of our preparation time for mass gatherings thinking about active harmers, asking however, what gets missed? Matt, Tom, and Kelly revisit the idea that emergency managers tend to think about things in terms of probabilities while arts and events people think about things in terms of possibilities. From 22:30 – 25:00, Kelly gives a compelling examples of why the focus in planning should not necessarily be on highest risk but “what have we not explored the gaps in our planning on?”… especially given the increasingly probability of sudden severe weather.


Kelly Hubbard: “If you’ve already written the guidance and you’re asking for feedback, you didn’t actually get the feedback. You need to ask at the beginning, before you start writing. Have your workshop before you start writing your plans. Really listen.”


Kelly continues describing some of the lessons she learned at the nexus of safety and accessibility thanks to a close friend who is Deaf and uses cochlear implants. Standard alerting platforms don’t integrate with Deaf and hard of hearing notifications in homes, which use alternative signals like vibration and flashing lights to alert occupants. Learn more in this article about the BEELS system being piloted on Los Angeles beaches as a solution for safety notifications, championed by Beaches and Harbors safety operator Randy Dean.


Check out more from the Art of Mass Gatherings in Boston, made particularly amazing thanks to the work of Nancy Smith, Boston’s Project Manager of CERT and Volunteers.

The crew also talks about our four pillars “audits” or venue/festival assessments– and the value of a team with expertise across safety, sustainability, and accessibility sorting out priorities in a world of finite resources and time. Learn more or apply for a Four Pillars venue or festival assessment of your very own. Our partners at Performing Arts Readiness are making five audits available through 2025 at no cost to the recipient.


Where does public health fit into the conversation, when it comes to both arts, culture, and events as well as emergency planning? Kelly provides some great advice about entering and grounding these often difficult conversations.


Tom shares a few examples of how arts organizations have been important partners in immediate disaster response and recovery. From 41:15, Kelly talks about some of the post-disaster funding that may be available to arts organizations (around 44:30, Matt adds tips that can help with reimbursement). She also elaborates on the value for the community of art therapy following disasters or during recovery period, mentioning in particular the Red Cross Pillowcase Project and Project Camp.


As promised! Here’s that FEMA Inspiration Book on Arts and Experiential Learning. Get inspired by the Art of Mass Gatherings on page 28 and Changing the Tune– a collaborative project between Majestic Collaborations, Performing Arts Readiness, and Folk Alliance International– on page 31, alongside the other fantastic initiatives.


Performing Arts Readiness regularly hosts free online webinars on a variety of topics related to emergency preparedness. Browse the list of all upcoming webinars. Matt calls out two that are coming up soon: Crisis Communication and Reputation Management for Performing Arts Organizations, plus Kelly’s own Lessons Learned from the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival Shooting.

Matthew Kowal (0:09):

Hello, welcome to the Art of Mass Gatherings podcast, where we’ll explore the intersection of festivals, community resilience, and think about climate and disaster preparedness. We launched in 2017 and have been working with the Performing Arts Readiness Organization. My co-host Tom Clareson’s on board today, and we’re excited to have our guest Kelly Hubbard, who we met in Santa Barbara during a Art of Mass Gatherings at the Il Madonnari Festival, and learn about what she does. Tom, how are you doing today?


Tom Clareson (2:00):

Doing great and really looking forward to talking to Kelly. Her presentation in Santa Barbara is something that resonated with me and people with Performing Arts Readiness are able to hear about it through some of the classes she’s doing.


Matthew Kowal (2:16):

Right. I won’t blow what that’s about and let Kelly talk about it. It’s quite a topic. Kelly, are you with us this morning? How are you?


Kelly Hubbard (2:24):

I’m good this morning. Thank you very much for having me.


Matthew Kowal (2:27):

Tell us what you do out there and what brought you to Performing Arts Readiness.


Kelly Hubbard (2:32):

Yeah, so I’m the director for the Office of Emergency Management for the County of Santa Barbara. I’ve been doing emergency management for, yikes, over 20 years now, and got engaged both through my local arts and arts director for the county, but also because of my background, my personal background of being a survivor of the Route 91 Las Vegas mass shooting. And so it’s been a passion of mine to educate other entertainment venues about some of those lessons that I learned as a survivor, but also an emergency manager. And I can bring a lot of my experience in emergency management to some of those conversations. And so I hope to continue to do that.


Matthew Kowal (3:22):

Well, we’re sure excited to have you and thank you so much for that presentation Tom talked about at I Madonnari. For people who don’t know about it, it’s a chalk art festival, I think one of the biggest in the country. And it’s at that beautiful mission above Santa Barbara. And they use all of the outside surfaces to do everything from the finest chalk artists in the world to every kid who wants to make a mural. And then there’s like a huge feed with this like smoking chicken in the air, music stage. When we talk about mass gatherings in this Art of Mass Gatherings world, it could be something like a community festival, could be a giant music festival, like the Route 91 Harvest Festival that was in Las Vegas that we’ll talk about, or it could be housing after a wildfire for lots of people living temporarily outside because they’ve lost their homes. It could be a large protest or something like that, the reasons that people come together in a mass gathering, the WHO defines that as such a large gathering that if something went wrong, it could overwhelm local resources. And we’ve been spending a few years thinking about what’s common between these sort of areas. And to have an emergency manager like Kelly on right now is an exciting time, I think, for us to just kind of move around between those sort of places. 


I’m sure, Kelly, you’ve had all of those sort of mass gatherings happen in your watch in Santa Barbara, right? Like wildfires and political demonstrations and giant festivals. What comes to mind when you think about some of the commonalities between those sort of worlds?


Kelly Hubbard (4:42):

Oh, gosh. I think one is the number of and variety of people who need to come together to make them safe and successful. It’s both the arts community, the venues themselves. I’ve filled in some questions recently from venues who are like, what’s my responsibility versus the agency or the group that’s contracting with me, our government partners and our community-based organization partners. And I think that’s the biggest thing is all of these events really require our whole community, meaning that all of the entities that are engaged in that community and the individuals to make sure that we’re bringing forth safe and supportive events and or response to those events that might be occurring.


Matthew Kowal (5:48):

Right. Tom, we thought of that like a chance to practice on a sunny day for stormy day things like the waste, water food…


Kelly Hubbard (5:57):

We call it “blue skies planning.” Yeah.


Matthew Kowal (6:00):
Blue sky planning? Yeah, sort of like building some connections and network. What are the biggest mass gatherings you regularly or have recently seen in Santa Barbara?


Kelly Hubbard (6:12):

So I think for our county, we’ve had probably some of the bigger ones. So we have the International Film Festival that comes here. That was probably the most recent. Of course, it was right in the middle of one of our recent storms where we were evacuating residents. But somehow that venue had this– not a light over it, they still had rain– but they somehow were outside of any of the severe warnings that we were issuing. And so I think that was a big one recently where we were really trying to find a balance between allowing this major international film festival to occur, not wanting to interfere with that activity, but also making sure that we’re still ensuring the safety of the community. And so finding the balance between the two often can be tricky.


Matthew Kowal (7:06):

Tom, you’d had some thoughts about the wildfires and performing arts and emergency management. How did you, how are you wanting to get into that question with Kelly?


Tom Clareson (7:19):

You know, I think that we have a number of classes that our consultant and friend of PAR, Chris Soliz teaches, that look at wildfires and fire safety in general for the performing arts field. And then they take a look at developing a fire safety plan. And certainly we know that Kelly, this is a big threat in your area as well as floods being a threat in your area. What are some of the things that, you know, if you had a chance to work with the film festival, say, before the storms happened, or if you have a chance to work with some of these venues before some of these weather threats are occurring, what are the kind of things that you would ask them? Or that you would want to talk with them about? Because I think that whether it is in California and Santa Barbara County, or whether it is anywhere in the US, I’ve been on the phone and on Zoom on a pretty regular basis with people in West Texas with the wildfires that are happening there. What kind of thoughts would you want to talk with people about to have them prepare for these kind of weather situations.


Kelly Hubbard (8:48):

Yeah, I think there’s really two key ones that come to mind. And I think the first is ingress and egress planning. If you think about most wildfire communities, we are communities that have foothills or mountains, unlike Texas, right, where there’s this big open plain. In California, a lot of our wildfire areas are associated with our mountains. And so I have a lot of canyons. I have a lot of single roads, one-way roads, and other considerations of that nature. And so I think one of my biggest concerns is, one, are they looking at ingress and egress? How are they going to evacuate their attendees carefully, safely, coordinated? But also how is that, how are they going to do that while still allowing first responders that access that they may need to get in? To respond if there is such a consideration of that response. And so that’s a huge pre-planning concept. And talking with, you know, your local law enforcement, your local fire agencies, your local emergency planners and say, hey, which way do you think the fire department’s going to come? Which way is the police department going to come? How do we make sure that we’re being able to evacuate our attendees? 


I think about Santa Barbara Bowl. It’s a natural bowl that we have up in the canyon. There is a very narrow, windy road in front of it. That’s the general access road. It’s, like I said, a natural bowl. So most people are walking up significant hillside to get to the bowl. There’s kind of a tram consideration for those who can’t. So how are they gonna ensure that the people who can’t get down that hill are being prioritized for that tram? And how are they going to ensure that tram’s not getting in the way of a responding fire engine, right? 


There’s lots of considerations in there that, even if you can’t get your local first responders– because I’ve heard this from venues, they can get their local first responders to come and meet with them, which is a shame. And I hope that doesn’t occur in most communities. But if you can’t, just think through those things. What makes sense? Which way are they going to come? Where’s the fire station association with where you’re at, right? And that’s going to kind of tell you where they’re going to come from. 


Kelly Hubbard (11:10):

I think the second point, and then we can kind of open discussion on it, is decision points. What is your decision? What’s going to trigger you to cancel an event? What point or what consideration is it that you decide to cancel ahead or even mid-event? I just had a venue contact me. And they had a medical emergency in the middle of a performance. It was a rented out consideration. So there was a performing arts group that rented the venue and there was a medical emergency and they had a lack of clarity with their contract, not just their contract, but their discussions with this performance group. Who calls whether or not performance stops while this medical emergency is being handled? Who determines whether it’s stopped for the entire night?

What are your decision points? Is it because there’s lightning, because there’s flooding in the area, and it’s just not safe for people to drive there? Some of those considerations, those are easy ones. Not easy, per se, but easier to tackle, I think. They’re basic conversations, sitting in a room and having these conversations ahead of time.


Tom Clareson (12:30):

And I really love the idea, Kelly, that you were bringing up about pre-planning. And I think that is so important, the idea of talking with the event planners, talking with other groups that may work with a number of venues throughout an area. And one thing I wanted to return to, because you mentioned it early on,

One of the great people who we worked with to set up the Art of Mass Gatherings in Santa Barbara was Sarah York Rubin at the Santa Barbara County and the Office of Arts and Culture. And just thinking about working with Sarah and Hannah at the Office of Arts and Culture, how would you say that other folks who are in emergency management might best work with sort of the local county or regional arts agency. I know you have a good relationship with yours. How’s that come about?


Kelly Hubbard (13:30):

You know, it’s funny, Sarah and I are really good friends outside of work as well. And so I think it helps that we just connect on a very personal level. We both have a love of music. She used to be a professional DJ and artist. And, but she also has this passion for her community that she serves. And in that passion and looking at what’s happening in her community, she made it a point.

It was literally my first week on the job here in this county. I didn’t know anyone. She made a point of making an appointment. She actually contacted my office and had them put it on my calendar before I started. 


Tom Clareson (14:09):

That sounds like her.


Kelly Hubbard (14:13):

She was super, yeah, she was like, no, I need to take care of my community, right? And so I think just approaching the conversation of, you know, are you aware? So if you’re a local arts and culture director or office, you know going to the emergency managers and saying, “hey, are you even aware of what’s going on in the community in terms of arts and culture? Are you aware of, you know, these considerations.” And actually where work, you know, and I think most emergency managers May not be familiar with an arts and culture department, right? They might not be familiar that there’s actually a group in this arena in their community. And so, but I think once they are, I think most emergency managers are going to be very open to that discussion because they recognize that could be a real potential area that’s a gap in planning. And, but I think often they don’t know. So it’s just, you know, unfortunately, I’m going to put a little on the arts community, reach out and I think the emergency manager is going to respond well.


Tom Clareson (15:20):

And this will sort of tie into a bunch of things, but one of the things that I wanted to mention was that last week we had an opportunity where Matthew led an Art of Mass Gatherings event in the Las Vegas area for the Nevada Emergency Management Statewide Conference. And we had a couple of people, including myself, who were piped in over Zoom, but Matthew was there on the ground talking with folks. We were doing some asset mapping of where in Las Vegas and where in the state of Nevada, there were cultural and arts organizations. And then they did a walkthrough of a specific facility that was near the class site. And we got a lot of interesting feedback and we got a lot of good questions that we’ve never gotten at the Art of Mass gatherings that have been more focused on talking with event producers and venues. So, I think that you’re right. The possibility of having those kinds of conversations with the Office of Emergency Management, with local volunteer organizations active in disaster, are really good directions to go. Any other thoughts about sort of getting those discussions going.


Kelly Hubbard (16:50):

Yeah, it’s interesting you mentioned asset mapping and mapping where these venues are, right? I still don’t know where all my venues are. I mentioned I had this group reach out to me just last week or two weeks ago after the storms, and I didn’t even know they existed. And they were a music, like educational facility, but apparently they rent out their venue. I had no idea, right? And so this idea of asset mapping, and I just love that idea, because I know there’s times where we’re going to hear, unfortunately, there’s going to be communities where something’s going to happen and someone’s going to go, “wait, what? What is that? You know, where is that? What do you mean there’s a performance venue there?” You know, in my county, I have a lot of unincorporated open land that gets used for mass gatherings. It’s amazing and beautiful; they’re working the natural environment into these festivals. But it means they’re also in very remote locations. And so having that is just a great concept. 


Kelly Hubbard (18:00):

And I love the concept of exploring our volunteer organizations active in disaster (VOAD). Concepts like American Red Cross doing first aid and CPR training for your event staff and your venue staff. Tapping into whether or not they want to host a booth, you know, and allowing Red Cross, Salvation Army, the Tzu Chi Foundation, you know, all these different foundations and groups who help in disasters, a CERT (community emergency response team) or an amateur radio group, you know, asking those local groups on if they would be interested in having a booth at your event. You know, most of them don’t have money, so opening, you know, being open to them coming in and having a free or reduced booth. But, you know, bringing those in as a collaborative approach and then they also become people who can help if there is any type of consideration or event that happens at your venue.


Matthew Kowal (19:04):

Yay, yay, yay. There’s an app for that. That’s the joke, right? For us, the Art of Mass Gatherings has been like, there’s got to be a way that those sort of like booths and the asset mapping and the, you know, I think you introduced me to Suu-Va Tai with the National CERT Organization. And I met him through Aaron Levy and Nancy Smith who do national CERT work. And it was so great having you and Suu-Va do that session where you were up on the mission patio looking out over the whole kind of physical space…


Kelly Hubbard (19:37):



Matthew Kowal (19:39):

…and sort of thinking about it through those eyes. I have a few things I want to talk with you about here because when I was in Las Vegas, you know I was thinking about you, for a lot of different reasons: as an emergency manager and having been at that one of the heaviest, hardest, worst shootings that’s happened. It came up, one reason it came up was an emergency manager was saying, well, in our community, we spend 99% of our preparation time for mass gatherings thinking about active harmers. And I, um, and then I was thinking, well, you know, what gets missed if it was a school and your, your kid’s school said, “Hey, we spend 99% of our time thinking about, you know, active harmers and thinking about safety planning.” It’s like, well, shoot, you know, what, what gets missed? Cause there’s all kinds of things from weather to other sorts of harm that could occur that doesn’t wouldn’t get as much time. So I definitely was thinking about what would Kelly say about that. I’ll throw out a couple of other little thoughts that came through at that time. Maybe we can circle them all, but we know that in mitigation, what is it like every dollar spent saves how much in response?


Kelly Hubbard (19:48):

It used to be seven, I think it might be up to eight. Yeah.


Tom Clareson (19:50):

Yeah, I think you’re right.


Matthew Kowal (19:52):

Like eight to one. And so that’s the money, that’s the dollar amount that you save if you put it into mitigation and I’d say planning that you save. But it’s also like an intellectual, or it’s a cost to either time, money, the risk, it’s not just money that gets spent, it’s like in the moment you’re trying to decide, it’s like, let’s say it’s seven times harder, it’s eight times harder to fix anything once your fat’s in the fire. So that idea, I guess we’re getting a little big and we want to get into Kelly’s brain. What do you think about in the world of what’s arts and cultural people? 

Oh, here’s one other thought that bounced around my head. Our good friend Leah Hamilton is a professor of arts administration at the University of Kentucky. And she, in a course, I’m going to be helping with the second version of this course. And Tom works with her too. But there’s this idea that emergency managers think about things in terms of the probabilities and arts and cultural people tend to think about things in terms of possibilities, just sort of as your default kind of mode and how you kind of make a chocolate and peanut butter kind of situation where we can take and learn the best from each other.


Kelly Hubbard (21:13):

Yeah, I really like the conversation about probabilities versus possibilities. I do feel like a lot of emergency managers mostly look at the probabilities. What is most likely with… Typically, what they look at is most likely to occur with highest impact equals your risk, right? And there’s a calculation, you know, you rate things, you know, a risk factor of this and this and then, you know, what comes up with their highest risk based on probability and impact is what they tend to plan for. 

And one of the things that I’ve been trying to change the mindset for myself and my team is, yeah, but we know how to do fires, right? Fires are our highest probability. They have high impact. But we also kind of know how to do them really well because they happen all the time. So do we need all of our exercises to be about fires? No, we know how to do that. What do we not know how to do? What have we not explored the gaps in our planning on? And that means we’re pushing down to maybe our lower, we’re really looking at all of our possibilities, right? And starting to look at, okay, what is our total possibilities list? Like who had COVID on their bingo card? You know, who had last year? And I joke about that, but really, you know, like who was really paying a lot of attention to that? Public health, maybe, but probably even public health got a little complacent, right? We all did. We hadn’t had a major health emergency in a while. You know, last year I had, I have a little sticker on the wall in my office and it’s Hurrquake Survivor California 2023. The same day that we had a hurricane watch in Santa Barbara, which we’re not supposed to have hurricanes in Santa Barbara. You know, we were on hurricane watch. We had an earthquake. I had a wildfire going that had a tornado over it. Like who had that [on their bingo card]? You know, so when we really talk about, you know, you talk about your probabilities and your risk, your probabilities highest impact equals your risk, right? But if I’m ready for those top three, I really need to be digging down more into what my possibilities are. What else can happen?

And what are my opportunities that I could be taking now to enhance the mitigation or reducing the risk for those concepts? Because sometimes those are even our nice, easy pick offs, too. Like, can I just have a conversation with someone and reduce our risk by not only looking at my biggest risk, but also my medium and my smaller risk? Because maybe those are the people who don’t have as much opportunity to plan and be prepared.


Matthew Kowal (24:59):

Well if we could, I’d love to bring into the room, at least in spirit, our great friend and collaborator, Jessica Wallach, who’s an accessibility coordinator and an artist and person with a disability that has helped us to kind of reframe any time we might have missed it, like how do we center people with disability or functional needs in the planning, the response. She gave me a couple of things she wanted to get in the mix if we’re ready.


Kelly Hubbard (25:27):

Yeah, please.


Matthew Kowal (25:30):

Right on. So let’s see. One thing we’ve been talking about a lot lately has been this, let’s call it the old model of shelter in place if you have a disability. Wait for help to come to you. We know during like 9/11, folks who hung out waiting for help perished more often than not and the folks who got out of that building quick by whatever hook or by crook, you know, just got active. It helped. And then we were talking in Las Vegas quite a bit about emergency managers saying, well, hey, we’re having trouble. We say we’re inviting arts and culture or we’re inviting people with disabilities to come and be part of the conversation, but they’re not really coming to us like we want them to, we’re frustrated. Like what are some ways that, so first question was, maybe let’s do the second one first. So the second, you know, “nothing about us without us” is like the…


Kelly Hubbard (25:25):

Yeah, absolutely.


Matthew Kowal (25:25.633):

Right. How have you seen– successes and frustrations– and what can you share with us about that collaborative community engagement?


Kelly Hubbard (26:34):

Yeah, so, proud of California. We have, and these are concepts that I think many people had been working on, but we have legislation that recently passed that requires all cities, counties to look at various concepts, what we call access functional needs for anyone with disabilities, functional needs, physical, mental access concepts, you know, it could be vision, hearing, any of those concepts. And so, and then we have another component that’s cultural, you know, are we looking at our whole community, our cultural competency? And there’s so many factors to that. And so one of the things we’ve done in our county is we have– we haven’t landed on like a name to encompass like everything, I was just talking to my team, I think I have five or six acronyms that are supposed to describe–but I think overall as our whole community, right? DEIA, AFN, ADFN, cultural competency, all of these concepts. 

And so we brought together a committee just to kind of say like, hey, how do we approach this? How do we… you know, we’re making assumptions. And one of the things I don’t like is ever making assumptions and planning: I’m pretending to know what your needs are. And like you said, unless we have them at the table, we’re not really answering the question. And we had this amazing conversation where, you know, I was able to connect my unhoused homeless liaison with our transit agency who was like, “hey, we’re willing to go park buses at the river every time you’re trying to evacuate the river during a flood. And why don’t we just coordinate and park a bus at a specific spot? You flyer the river with all the unhoused homeless, you let them know that, hey, during a flood event, the buses will be parked at this location. We’ll drive you to the next closest shelter during that time. We’ll bring you back to the river if you want after.” But like, and we had this great collaboration, right? And then I’m sitting there and I’m talking with my Tri County GLAD, which is deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing issues, right? And I’m talking with him and he’s like, you know, most of my constituents don’t go to the government websites, but they come to mine. And so how do I get signed up to receive all your alerts? And then what I’m going to do is I’m going to automatically repost those, because that’s where my constituents go. They come to me and I want to make sure I’m getting them all the possible information. And we’re like, amazing, perfect. Let’s get you registered in every single community. Let’s make sure you get all of the alerts.


Kelly Hubbard (29:23):

We’re having these really good conversations. And I think so much of it is about, I really hate when we write as emergency manager, when we write emergency plans and then we say, here’s the emergency plan that’s in draft. What’s your feedback? Well, if you’ve already written it, you really don’t want to hear the hard truth about whether it’s good or not. Let’s just be honest. 


Matthew Kowal (29:45):

Wow, yeah, right, right.


Kelly Hubbard (29:47):

You just spent three months writing a 300 page document, which is not very useful in the first place, but this is what we do in emergency management. But if you’ve already written the guidance and you are asking for feedback, you didn’t actually get the feedback. You need to ask at the beginning, before you start writing. Have your workshop before you ever start drafting your ideas. Have your workshop before you start writing your plans. And really listen, right? I have a girlfriend who’s deaf, and she has a cochlear implants.

I was having a conversation with her about how alerting works for her. And when I talk about alerting, I’m talking about reverse notifications that are life safety critical notifications, right? Evacuate now, wildfire, flooding, whatever it might be, evacuate now. And because I knew at her house, like her doorbell makes a light flash, right? Her alarm to wake up in the morning makes her bed vibrate.

I said, how do you know when you’ve received an alert? She lived in an area that had three or four fires in one summer near her. And she said, “Kelly, I didn’t get most of them. I didn’t see them until hours later.” Because standard alerting platforms don’t integrate with deaf and hard of hearing notification systems in households and homes. So they don’t integrate with that flashing light on the wall. They don’t integrate with the bed shaker.


Kelly Hubbard (30:16):

And so we’re having this ongoing conversation. I’m having it with her, I’m having it with FEMA. And I’m saying, what are we missing? Why are we missing this mark? How do we get to it? But I wouldn’t have known that unless I asked her, hey, how are you doing on those fires? And she was like, I’m okay, but I didn’t get most of the alerts. And she was able to bring that to my attention.

I have an amazing gentleman. I just gotta brag about this guy. He doesn’t work for me; I wish he did. He’s a lifeguard down in Los Angeles County. And he was at his, he’s head of, I think he’s the head of the lifeguards for Los Angeles County. And he was like watching and he’s like, “how do my deaf and hard of hearing visitors know that I’m evacuating my beach right now?” Whether it’s, you know, just evacuating the water because there’s a shark sighting or evacuating because there’s a tsunami. And he’s like, they don’t hear my siren. And he reached out, and he proactively went to a gentleman, found somebody who was willing to develop an application for him. And he now has the BEELS system and we’re looking for funding to bring it to our community right now. 


Matthew Kowal (32:29):

Love that.


Kelly Hubbard (32:30):

The BEELS system does flashing lights. So when we talk about our entertainment venues, right? Are you just only making an announcement about evacuation via speakers? Because my girlfriend, who’s deaf and hard of hearing, she goes to concerts and she feels the concert, right? She doesn’t hear it, she feels it. So if you’re only making an announcement to evacuate over loudspeakers and not coming up with a system of flashing lights or something that brings attention to what’s occurring, they may not get that notice. They might not see that or hear that. And so really thinking through how we’re presenting information to the community and how we’re supporting them, has to be this big, big conversation, and it has to start at the beginning.


Matthew Kowal (33:13):

Yeah, boy, that’s exciting. Lots of wraparound things that would help connect those disconnected places. Let’s make a quick pitch right now. All right, Elon Musk with your Starlink system that you want everybody to pay however much per month, just give some free systems to folks who need it and only put in an emergency message unless they upgrade to your whatever plan. You know, get that out there, because that Starlink system definitely covers so many areas that phone doesn’t, or I don’t know, these tech guys spend all their time tweeting about whatever. Let’s get into this stuff.


Kelly Hubbard (33:48):

And why aren’t we just, you know, like, why aren’t our cell phone providers? And, you know, we do TTY, I mean, that’s old school, and we do all these other things, but why aren’t our communications providers doing these things? Not because they’re being forced to, but because it’s just the right thing to do. How do we connect these systems?


Matthew Kowal (34:05):

Amen, sister. Well, here’s a quick plug, I guess, when you’re a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail because we’ve been doing this Art of Mass Gathering thing for a while and since we saw you a couple of years ago, there’s been some things that have happened that I’m excited to tell you about kind of in a nutshell about the process of like where Art of Mass Gatherings started and what we’ve seen happen lately. I think Boston was such a bright spot, right, Tom? 


Tom Clareson (34:30):



Matthew Kowal (34:32):

Like we had… Nancy Smith had time to really integrate in a way that you probably didn’t because we were moving so fast. She integrated with all of the Boston CERT programs. She invited out the MRCs, the right, invited out the Medical Reserve Corps. Mayor Wu was at the event. And what we figured out as a way to kind of turn this not be just like a symposium where we’re having like a one-way communication with, hey, here’s all the luminaries in your area telling you what to do. And what it looks like to be more interactive is this audit idea. So what we do is put together this audit team that’s made up of different stakeholders and people with functional needs, people that are emergency managers, arts and cultural leaders, sustainability experts, and then we go and look at whatever venue, maybe it’s a festival or a bricks and mortar place. And we do a roses and thorns audit. And we say, what’s looking good, what needs help.

And then we use the four pillars approach, which is to say, how’s the sustainability, the accessibility, the safety, and the community engagement. Those four– kind of salt, fat, acid, heat– is what we kind of ask each other. Because what we find is that if you invite a sustainability expert to do the audit of the venue, they’re often just gonna say, what you need is more solar panels or a Tesla wall or whatever from their perspective, right?

But if we all have to sort it out together and be like, well, how does that sound to you, accessibility person or emergency management? And then we all kind of go, huh, because in a world of finite resources, time, money…


Kelly Hubbard (36:05):


Matthew Kowal (36:06):

We have to kind of figure out the right triage. So that would be so much fun to do with you again. 


Kelly Hubbard (36:11):

Oh yeah, love it.


Matthew Kowal: (36:13):

And another time, we want to come to see our friends in Santa Barbara soon. Tom, if you don’t have anything else–


Tom Clareson (36:20):

Um, actually, yes! I had two things from a couple of things that Kelly was saying earlier about the whole community aspect of working on the disaster preparedness and disaster recovery. And, they’re just a couple of things I wanted to get your ideas on Kelly about how you’ve done it so well in Santa Barbara and how other places around the country could do it.

The first one is working with the public health department. You know, that unfortunately and foolishly on my part was something that really wasn’t on my list until the pandemic happened. And when I was working with Sarah at the Arts Council and hearing you at the Art of Mass Gatherings, I was like, the public health folks should be on everybody’s disaster plan, not just for a pandemic, but for other types of activity. So can you talk about how you have built that good relationship and how maybe the arts community can build those relationships? And then I have one other somewhat related question, but let’s focus on that for just a second.


Kelly Hubbard (37:35):

Sure. And thank you. I think I would say we all kind of failed during COVID on our relationships with public health, emergency management, community. And in some ways, right, in small ways, we had pre-planning, but we really hadn’t thought through all of the different aspects. When you talk about a really global, even if it was just countywide event, we weren’t prepared for the scalability that we needed.

And I think that, to be frank, fractured our relationship a little bit at the beginning of the incident. And we really had to like rebuild and say, wait, this isn’t about, you know, who is or isn’t doing what we did or didn’t do. We missed a mark. We weren’t ready to scale this the way we needed to. And it’s really enhanced how we communicate now, right?

Our public health department has always been involved. They’ve always had emergency managers for our county. And now they’re even more engaged where I’m saying, hey, I’m not just updating my plan. I want to know how you are updating yours. And how are we integrating if there was another large event, how do we integrate your operations into mine operations? And we’re having these bigger conversations and they’re difficult. They are and I’ll just be honest and they’re difficult. And one of the things we’ve just committed to each other is, hey, this is a difficult conversation. It doesn’t mean we’re not working together. It doesn’t mean I don’t like you at the end of the day. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have an obligation and a responsibility to continue to work together. We’re gonna have to make it through these hard conversations. 


Kelly Hubbard (39:15):

And I think that’s true to a lot of other areas of planning with a lot of other partners potentially, right? You’re not always gonna agree or get along with the people that you’re planning with, but you’re gonna always have to go back to what is our responsibility to do the best for our community? And ultimately, we all agree on that. And then we just have to work through and negotiate and work and rework so that we’re comfortable with the path forward. And I think that’s what happened during COVID for many, many agencies and hopefully has built a greater relationship and at least a stronger connection that will continue to build that as we move forward.


Tom Clareson (39:53):

Excellent. Thanks a lot. And somewhat related, moving over to the arts in community recovery, you know, we think about this in a couple of different ways that, sure, the emergency management organizations and even FEMA having people fill in paperwork, that can be done in the theater that is usually used for performances. And also– I think all the time about Houston Methodist Hospital and their health system and how they had some arts therapy classes that they did inside the hospital there. And then during the time of Hurricane Harvey, they took them out to some of the disaster shelters, the emergency shelters, and it was really a way to get people’s mind off the current situation because they were thinking about that 99% of the time, whether they were adults or children.

They had to think about that, but the arts might be able to relieve them a little bit. What do you see, and is there anything that’s worked well, worked especially in your county, in your community, related to the arts role in community recovery?


Kelly Hubbard (41:07):

Yeah, I think there’s two components. One, I’m learning more about what resources are, fiscal resources are available for the arts community for their own recovery. And so I’d encourage the arts community to reach out to emergency management post-disaster if they’ve had damages to their facilities to find out more. I’m still learning, but there’s opportunities for some of our arts community to receive FEMA funding, and if not, SBA, the Small Business Administration funding post-disaster. And so that’s one component. 

But when we talk about arts therapy, I think we have two concepts. One that we’ve done in the past is we often, unfortunately, we’ve had a few events in our community where we’ve had lives lost. And in honoring those lives lost, we’ve worked with our arts community to create community pieces as part of the healing process: plaques, dedication concepts, statues. So we have a couple of those that have really contributed through the arts community. In fact, I just worked with our local poet laureate to do a dedication plaque for the expansion we have on our emergency operations center that we’re working on right now. And so I love just incorporating that component into our day-to-day and our recovery. And then I think another component to that, you have groups that are incorporating it, going back to those Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster. American Red Cross does the Pillowcase Arts Project, where they use pillowcases and crayons and markers to help kids process. Project Camp is a new nonprofit community based organization that started here in California and has gone national. And they come in and they set up camps at shelter sites or FEMA sites so that kids can have a place to hang out while their parents work on really hard things like filing FEMA forms and insurance forms. And so they set up these camps and they use art integration and play integration and you know a way to help these children process what they’re going through but also give parents a break or the opportunity to deal with some of the hard things that they need to deal with post-disaster. So there’s some really great volunteer organizations that are doing amazing things. And every time we hear about him, we try to bring them in as a partner.


Tom Clareson (43:34):

That’s great. And, you know, in PAR [Performing Arts Readiness], we’ve had a class on community recovery through the arts. But that was really focused when we built it: we had two people who were teaching this who were involved in Superstorm Sandy and involved in the New York City area. 


Kelly Hubbard (43:53):

Yeah, and I’ll just add to that. We’ve done other concepts like, you know, we have the benefit in our county, Santa Barbara, where we do have a lot of local arts. On the bigger side, some pretty big performers and artists who live in our community. And so we’ve had things like HOPE 805 do concerts and fundraise for the community. And that’s been a real benefit too.


Matthew Kowal (44:15):

Just a quick tip to pass along from, um, I’ll paraphrase phrase from Suu-Va Tai with a national cert program and a conversation we had about arts and cultural venues as resilience hubs and getting re reimbursed after a disaster. And one of the tips there is that it’s much easier to get reimbursed if you’ve done any of those activities prior to the disaster. So invitation is jump in and do some smaller, more manageable services in terms of disaster, you know, response will help you in that application. 


Kelly Hubbard (44:47):

Yes, very fair.


Tom Clareson (44:50):

PAR is redeveloping the community recovery class with everything that we’ve learned from the time of the pandemic and from the time of some of the other more recent disasters that have happened. So that will debut most likely in May or June on the PAR website through our webinars, and we will have really updated types of examples. And Kelly’s given us some even good new examples and good new programs to look at there, so thank you for that.


Matthew Kowal (45:24):

Great. I’ll put a link in the show notes to check out FEMA’s Inspiration Handbook for Experiential Learning where Art of Mass Gatherings is in there as ways that we can work together in those blue sky times to build the muscle memory for what you need and the connective tissue between all these organizations and these skills in a time when you’re not under total trauma and so that it’s there when you need it. 

One of the quotes Jenny Filipetti from Majestic Collaborations says is that a lot of times emergency managers will say that resilience is a latent feature of your community and that until there’s a disaster or an emergency, it’s hard to measure. 


Kelly Hubbard (46:06):


Matthew Kowal (46:07):

But we say, go to the festivals you have today and use that as a way to start reading what resiliency “roses and thorns” you’ve got going on or not, and then start, you know, building these relationships while you’re sharing a delicious piece of chicken, listening to music, and you’re like, hey, public health person, hey, emergency manager, hey, you know, and at that moment, you’re in an open-hearted place, open-minded place to think about possibilities. And it’s a more of an equalizing place to think about accessibility when it’s not kind of after the hurt and the pain and the design failure. 


Matthew Kowal (46:42):

Because a catastrophe naturally, it moves from emergency to a disaster to, at worst, a catastrophe. And when the catastrophe hits, all of the plans are out the window. Everything’s fairly well-wrecked, and it’s not a good time to start building. Or it’s necessary to build new ways out of that. Yeah, you need it in your bones, huh? It’s so good to have you here. And I feel like, in a way, we’ve talked around so many of the lessons you’ve learned are built into the work you do every day. And it makes me think, too, that there’s a crisis communications class that Performing Arts Readiness offers where people can learn to be more like you. You are so good at it, Kelly, of really giving such good succinct, helpful comments under, you know, these questions. You’re just such a consummate pro at that and it’s heartfelt too, you know. Anyways, what might we, you have a great webinar, people can really dive into this question of Route 91, but you found yourself there with your daughter, you both thankfully made it out of that. What did you pull from that we need to start thinking about?


Kelly Hubbard (47:48):

Yeah, so in the longer presentation, I talk about specific planning considerations for what you might call pop-up events or events that aren’t in permanent venues or semi-permanent venues. I think there’s very different considerations that come into play because you don’t have this standing venue that you learn from each time, right? I think we dive into some of the first aid considerations and proper marking of where resources are for both the attendees as well as those who are planning. When you talk about pop-up events and you have these pop-up fencing and temporary fencing, those are meant for controlling your audience and their movements. They’re not intended for evacuation and if you need mass evacuation. So we get into those discussions. 


Kelly Hubbard (48:42):

I think we also talk a little bit about decision points, communications, fundraising, the impacts of fundraising, and for post-event for those who are the victims and survivors. We talk about nomenclature. We often don’t name the harasser or the violent act. We talk about collaboration with your local partners and how to enhance that.

And there’s so much more there. But hopefully through sharing my own story of what our hurdles were and staying alive during that event and getting information post-event, really try to share some areas that hopefully venues can use to enhance their planning prior to any event they have. And hopefully plan for something they never have to deal with, but at least have the plan if they ever need it.


Matthew Kowal (49:40):

Wow, you’re an inspiration. You’ve like, woven this straw into gold and I’m so, we’re honored to have you with us.


Kelly Hubbard (49:50):

It’s a little selfish, you know, I have this love and passion for music and that’s a personal love and passion, and I have this professional love and passion for emergency management. And so, you know, if anything, my experience at Route 91 made it so that I was able to bring those two passions together. And it’s selfish in the sense that I want to ensure that I continue to feel comfortable and safe going to the thing that I love, which is music, live music, and live entertainment. And so it’s blending my two worlds and hopefully creating a safer environment for others while I get to do what I really love to do.


Matthew Kowal (50:34):

You know, it’s vitamins for our whole culture, and we need it too. We can’t retreat from ecstatic experiences together.


Kelly Hubbard (50:44):


Tom Clareson (50:45):

And I think Kelly, one of the things that I’ll say to sort of bring things to a close here is that when you gave your presentation, I didn’t know what to expect when you were going to be talking about this at the Santa Barbara Art of Mass Gatherings. And it’s one of the few times, literally in my professional career, that the whole crowd was speechless and you could have heard a pin drop through a whole 45 minute presentation. And the fact that you were able to, in some ways bottle that up and really think about the lessons learned aspect of it and do that for us as a live online webinar is amazing. And I think the way that you were able to take some of these themes that are really appearing now on our horizon and thinking about what we need to do with climate situations, what we need to do with civil unrest situations and who we need to reach out to. I truly appreciate your wide angle perspective on this. And I will say I’m a live music fan as well. And just the idea that someone who’s in an emergency management capacity but also thinking about it from someone who is an arts and culture aficionado, is really great. It’s the whole package of what we need to be learning from.


Kelly Hubbard (52:16):

Yeah. Thank you.


Matthew Kowal (52:19):

Excellent. Well, thanks so much to Performing Arts Readiness, for providing the support to do these Art of Mass Gatherings podcasts. There’s a previous podcast with Ms. Emma Stewart where we dive into that civil unrest preparedness overlap, talk about Pride Fest as a place where they’ve been doing lots of training for their volunteers. I encourage you to check that one out. And we will see you at the next episode! Thanks so much for joining us today, Kelly.


Kelly Hubbard (52:50):

Thank you.


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Lessons Learned from the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival Shooting

Learn more about these topics in Kelly’s free webinar for Performing Arts Readiness. You’ll learn practical and potentially lifesaving takeaways when it comes to ingress and egress planning and decision points for event cancellation. The next session is at 2PM EST on June 24th, 2024.

Arts + Cultural Resilience Mapping

The foundation of the Art of Mass Gatherings is a unique four pillar framework: safety, sustainability, accessibility, and community engagement. These factors are critical for the safety and success of public gatherings of all kinds, from festivals to political demonstrations to disaster response sites.

The Four Pillars of Resilient Gatherings

The foundation of the Art of Mass Gatherings is a unique four pillar framework: safety, sustainability, accessibility, and community engagement. These factors are critical for the safety and success of public gatherings of all kinds, from festivals to political demonstrations to disaster response sites.

Artist Credits

The artwork used in the podcast thumbnail was created for us by illustrator, graphic novelist & concept artist Dion Harris. It represents the intersectional roles that professionals trained in the Art of Mass Gatherings might play in their communities: from performers to event producers to teachers to emergency response professionals.

The intro & outro music is written & performed by podcast host Matthew Kowal with his band The Reals. Listen to the original song, "Fairly Natural."

This podcast is brought to you by