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Healing the earth, healing the mind: how Keysight is helping communities recover

2018-11-07  |  6 min read 

When the Tubbs fire broke out in Northern California in the fall of 2017, Keysight Technologies knew full well that the immediate concerns of its +1500 local employees and the community centered on basics such safety and access to food, water and shelter. As conditions stabilized, however, a less visible yet equally important concern arose: the impact of the disaster on mental health. 

It’s understandable that a traumatic event can lead to a plethora of mental health impacts, including stress, anxiety and a sense of loss – often impacting one’s ability to make forward progress. It follows that treating these conditions can help speed recovery. That’s why Keysight has made efforts to support local mental health services and research focused on those impacted by the Tubbs fire, while implementing small, but meaningful, actions to help bring positivity back to the Keysight employees and local community. For example, Keysight CEO Ron Nersesian recently sponsored a tree planting ceremony to mark the one-year anniversary of the fire. While a seemingly small gesture in the grand scheme of rebuilding our community, it served as a mental health and healing opportunity to take part in adding new growth in a field of desolation. 

Listening to the experts and taking action

Over the summer I had the pleasure of speaking on a panel at the North Bay Business Journal 19th annual Health Care Conference where local corporate executives, non-profits and mental health professionals discussed ongoing recovery efforts and impact of the year-anniversary of the Tubbs fire on the community’s mental health. The collective agreement was that mental health recovery is a long process and the need doesn’t show up right away. Debbie Mason, CEO of Healthcare Foundation Northern Sonoma County, noted that the "bulk of data shows that people aren’t really going to seek help until the nine-month to 2-year period.” So now is the time to focus on and act in this space.

As such, the Keysight Foundation donated to the Wildfire Mental Health Collaborative, an initiative of the Healthcare Foundation and National Association for Mental Illness, along with numerous local Santa Rosa psychologists, researchers and community organizations to, as the Collaborative states, “ensure that all Sonoma County residents have access to evidence-based strategies to recover and build resiliency post wildfires.” 

In addition to providing self-driven, therapeutic and macro community healing opportunities, the collaborative is hoping to vector these efforts into a study that can be used by other areas impacted by disasters in the future. Whether it is another wildfire, hurricane, tornado or other extreme event, the hope is what has been learned in Santa Rosa can provide insights into mental health services and treatments that have worked well in our community to help speed recovery in other communities. 

Planting seeds: Healing the scorched earth and the community’s spirit

Keysight CEO Ron Nersesian plants tree to mark one year anniversary
Keysight CEO Ron Nersesian planting a tree on Keysight property during
a recent ceremony to mark the one-year anniversary of the fire.

In addition to supporting broader mental health services in support of disaster recovery, the little things, just small gestures of emotional and mental support, can make a big difference in community recovery. For example, much of the community, including Keysight’s headquarters was surrounded by green vegetation (trees, shrubs and gardens) before the fire — and after, the resulting acres of barren fields, parks and hillsides serve as a constant reminder of what has been lost. Keysight’s property itself lost hundreds of trees during the event, and thereafter many more were removed for safety reasons. That sight has been difficult for employees to look at from day to day. 

To recognize the anniversary of the fire and add more green back into our environment, we recently held a commemorative tree planting ceremony at our Santa Rosa site. During the event, Ron Nersesian spoke about the resilience of the community as he lifted the first shovel of dirt for a Laurel tree that is now planted next to a plaque remembering the fire. Employees were then able to take part in planting additional trees nearby. The effort is meant to provide a sense of hope for the future while supporting normalcy for our local employees. 

At Keysight, we have learned a lot about the strength of the human spirit and how to move forward after a disaster. It is my hope that this experience will help other communities remain mindful of the toll on mental health and the importance of managing it to more fully address recovery.