OAKLAND -- The city has tapped a former Federal Emergency Management Agency official for a new post making sure that Oakland is better prepared for any calamity that might come its way.

Victoria Salinas, who worked on improving federal disaster relief programs following Hurricane Katrina, was named Oakland's first Chief Resilience Officer on Tuesday.

Her job is being funded through the Rockefeller Foundation's 100 Resilient Cities Initiative, which aims to help cities take a broader approach to withstanding natural and man-made disasters.

Participating cities, which locally include San Francisco and Berkeley, will produce strategies that go beyond first responders to look at how they can maintain their economies, preserve safe streets, and protect their most vulnerable residents who often live in the least well-built homes.

"This is an opportunity to change the way you look at your risks and your hazards, and how you think about the health of a city," said program President Michael Berkowitz.

All of the participating cities will create strategies for dealing with disasters that could better position them for additional grant funds, Berkowitz said. They also will be expected to share their newfound expertise with each other.

In Oakland, one of Salinas' big responsibilities will be dealing with thousands of seismically unsafe "soft-story" apartment units.

Unlike Berkeley, Oakland still hasn't required property owners to make the estimated 1,500 apartment buildings more seismically sound. Discussions on a retrofit mandate so far have pitted property owners against tenants over how much of the costs should be passed along to tenants.


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Salinas said her work will include looking at how to finance the retrofits. Residents in seismically unsafe buildings often suffer the most following earthquakes, she said, because property owners typically rebuild higher-end housing that the original tenants can't afford.

"It's a huge safety issue, but there is also a socio-economic and social justice issue involved with that, too," she said. "The lack of seismic retrofits is a deterrent to staying part of the community they love."

Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.