About Us
A Brief History



About Us

The California Emergency Services Association (CESA) is a non-profit professional organization dedicated to the promotion of mutual support and cooperation across disciplines. We work to support our members in preparing for natural and human caused disasters and public emergencies.

Our dynamic organization includes academic institutions, representatives from government agencies, utilities, and businesses of all types, nonprofits and faith-based organizations, as well as media and elected officials.


Together, we share common goals as the leaders and practitioners in Preparedness, Response, Recovery, Mitigation, and Protection in California. Our Association includes seasoned professionals, total novices and world class experts, as well as part-time, full-time, paid staff and volunteers.


The CESA Chapters

The Chapters of CESA follow the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services Administrative Regions. Each member is assigned a Chapter at the time of membership registration, typically based off their address or their area of responsibilities. Each Chapter offers leadership development opportunities through committee and board positions.

CESA welcomes everyone who is passionate about emergency management in California. Whether someone calls it Emergency Management, Business Continuity, or Disaster Preparedness, we all are in the business of preparing for, responding to, recovering from, and mitigating everything from planned events to disasters. CESA is a place for you to gain that knowledge and share your experience. 

Coastal Chapter
Serving the Counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Monterey, Napa, San Benito, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano, and Sonoma

Inland Chapter
Serving the Counties of Alpine, Amador , Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, El Dorado, Fresno, Glenn, Kern, Kings, Lassen, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, Modoc, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Stanislaus, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity, Tulare, Tuolumne, Yolo, and Yuba

Southern Chapter
Serving the Counties of Imperial, Inyo, Los Angeles, Orange, Mono, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, SanLuis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura

California Emergency Services Association
A Brief History 

CESA traces its roots to the establishment of the Southern California Civil Defense and Disaster Association in January 1956.  At the height of the Cold War, the first meeting was an informal dinner in Pomona with members from 11 jurisdictions[1].  By 1966, the association had grown to over 200 jurisdictions.  These first members were primarily local government Civil Defense Coordinators and Directors who were looking to influence the state to participate in the federal government’s Civil Defense matching funds program and to share information.  A similar association was started in Northern California in the late 1950s.
The Northern California Emergency Services Council was formally charted incorporated in 1971 and the Southern California Emergency Services Association in 1984.  In the 1980s, the Northern California association was divided into a Coastal and Central Group with the boundaries aligning with state mutual aid regions.  CESA was established as a confederation of these 3 groups.[2]
As the profession shifted its focus from Civil Defense to all-hazards emergency management, the Association began to incorporate multiple emergency services disciplines including fire, emergency medical services, law enforcement, and public health.   As the State’s population and disaster events increased in scope and frequency, the association worked to develop professional standards, cross-level emergency management information, and provide a solid networking framework that supported local emergency managers as their programs grew in responsibility and complexity.  The association began recognizing professional accomplishments through its annual awards program.   
Following major disasters in the 1990s, CESA worked to support the development and implementation of California’s Standardized Emergency Management System (SEMS) as well as press for legislation that would have provided stable funding for disaster preparedness programs via an insurance-funded Trust Fund.  The association also helped emergency managers communicate and prepare for the Y2K challenge. 
Immediately following the events of 9/11, the association worked with the state in developing the new Homeland Security oriented organizations and grant-funding mechanisms that defined many of the emergency management program in the decades that followed. 
In 2015, CESA underwent its most significant reorganization.  The “confederation” of the three associations was exchanged in favor of one true single statewide association with the three chapters continuing to organize events for local members. 
CESA has a long history of developing networking and information sharing opportunities for its members including a quarterly journal/newsletter that was printed in various forms from the 1970s through the 2000s.  Shifting to electronic newsletters and a website, the association continues to provide information and opportunities to its members.   
The association’s most visible activity has been its annual conference which dates back to the 1970s.  Up until 2015, each local chapter would serve in rotation for the conference and lead the conference planning efforts.  This provided each conference with its own unique theme and focus.  In 2016, the conference became a true statewide conference with volunteers from every chapter working on the conference steering committee while continuing to rotate the conference location to allow for greater attendance by local members.          

Letter, Bob Neiman, 2001

[2] Email, Keith Harrison, 2015