How Hollywood Mobilizes After a Natural Disaster

How Hollywood Mobilizes After a Disaster -Getty-H 2019
Mike Meadows; Mario Tama/Getty Images

The 6.4- and 7.1-magnitude earthquakes remind Angelenos of the last time the industry came together amid a crisis, the wildfires, with key leadership from nimble non-profit Entertainment Industry Foundation.

Over the Fourth of July weekend, when twin 6.4- and 7.1-magnitude earthquakes rattled Southern California, millions, including entertainment industry insiders, were put on edge.

But while the tremors were significant on the Richter scale, they originated in the remote Searles Valley. And though the quakes damaged buildings near the epicenter, they didn't rattle enough to trigger a FEMA-level response from the nonprofit that's been a key leader amid other recent crises: Entertainment Industry Foundation's Music for Relief, which after 2018's wildfires coordinated aid efforts throughout Hollywood. 

This contrasts with what happened Nov. 8, when three raging wildfires, including the Woolsey Fire, devastated areas of Los Angeles and Malibu. As calls poured in from talent to their agents, and employees to their companies’ corporate social responsibility departments, Hollywood charity Entertainment Industry Foundation EIF and its disaster-response program Music for Relief sprang into action. It was the culmination of a partnership that began in 2017 as “an overall crisis relief program” to communicate critical information to the entertainment community, says Whitney Showler, EIF vp operations and programs. "We built a program in the hopes that it would offer valuable information and guidance to the entertainment community and foster collaboration," says Nicole Sexton, EIF president and CEO, adding, "Through the leadership of our advisory board of disaster relief experts and the willingness of the community to come together, that is exactly what happened!" This is a timeline of how, after the fires began to spread, the town mobilized via EIF, which ultimately raised $2 million for its Relief Fund that primarily benefited first responders and impacted families.


Showler reaches out to the Music for Relief Expert Advisory Council, including FEMA’s Denise Gilliam and Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s Regine Webster, and Los Angeles Fire Department Deputy Chief Graham Everett, to provide updates on the number of structures threatened, status of evacuation, and the spread of the fire to its entertainment-industry allies, or Unity Partners, including NBCUniversal, ABC Entertainment, CBS and agencies CAA, WME, UTA,  ICM Partners and the National Association of Theater Owners. "Family members and many of our friends were evacuated during the fires, some of them staying at our home until it was safe to leave, and a co-worker lost his home," says Jeff Bader, EIF board vice chair and director (also chief research officer and president of program planning, strategy and research at NBC Entertainment). "In such an uncertain and devastating time, it was inspiring to see the entertainment community come together quickly and generously to lend our support."


The EIF launches its community and industry donation and preparedness page for its Fire Fund, also the recipient of any donations in the event of another deadly wildfire, “for the totality of the disaster cycle, not just the emergency and relief phase,” says Showler, who relayed information to point persons such as Viacom's Adam Robinson, UTA’s Rene Jones, Warner Music Group’s Kristal McKanders, and Endeavor's Romola Ratnam.


Showler continues to consult with Gilliam and Webster to be able to share best practices for response. Many insiders wished to donate clothing and water, but without homes or a donated supply hub, those items were difficult to store. Money donations in this case were best, according to Showler, who adds, “This prevented a logistical jam that could have slowed down the recovery effort.”


EIF identifies the most needed item for its first beneficiary, the L.A. Fire Department Foundation: hydration packs for every firefighter, who are often required to stay on the fire line for up to 12 hours or more. Each backpack carries three quarts of drinking water and a fire shelter to shield responders if trapped. “On behalf of the men and women of the LAFD, I sincerely thank EIF and the entire entertainment industry for coming together to provide equipment that is critical to our safety and that enables us to best serve our communities in times of need,” says LAFD Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas. Also: Ellen DeGeneres offers to record a radio PSA that airs nationally.  


NBC, CBS, FOX and Viacom donate PSA airtime to raise awareness and funds resulting in 23 million impressions across media. 


Comcast NBCUniversal makes a $1.1 million donation to wildfire relief, with a portion directed to EIF.


Activist Artists contacts EIF on behalf of former Grateful Dead bandmember Bob Weir and his band Wolf Bros., who wish to donate as well as raise funds at their show at NYC's Beacon Theater. 


Stevie Wonder, represented by CAA, donates proceeds from his 22nd annual December fundraiser to EIF Fire Fund. presents “House Full of Hope” at Staples Center, hosting first responders and their families with performances by Wonder, Ella Mai, Anderson.Paak and Leon Bridges.  


Paradigm client Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real perform at “Love and Music: A Benefit for the Woolsey Fire” at Canyon Club in Agoura, California, along with Margo Price, Butch Walker, The White Buffalo and others, donating 100 percent of proceeds to EIF’s Fire Fund. Says Nelson, “It gave me great pride and satisfaction to see my fellow humans like Salesforce, the musicians who all came, the firemen and responders and EIF, who basically laid the groundwork to help us become a powerful force of healing so quickly.”


ICM Partners clients, comic Howie Mandel and ventriloquist Jeff Dunham, perform stand-up in Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza as a benefit for survivors of both the Woolsey Fire and the Nov. 9 shooting at the Borderline bar in Thousand Oaks.


Further guidance from the Advisory Council leads to grants to support first responders and affected families in the mid- and longterm stages of recovery, including LAFD, Ventura County Community Disaster Relief Fund, Malibu Emergency Relief Fund, Disaster Recovery Fund of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, and others. 


EIF launches a media-wide preparedness campaign for future disasters. Ultimately, EIF raises $2 million for the Fire Fund that benefits first responders and impacted families. Says Chris Silbermann, EIF board chair and managing partner of ICM Partners: "A number of friends and colleagues were affected by the fires, and universally, they said that the first responders were a godsend. I’m proud of the work the EIF team did and will continue doing to raise awareness, raise funds and to generally support those on the front lines. Their efforts could not be better placed."

A version of this story first appeared in the July 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.