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A team approach to neighborhood preparedness
Neighborhoods should work together during times of crisis.
WRITTEN BY :   Mark Sauter, City of Downey

DOWNEY – Most of the emergency preparedness articles written for the Patriot have focused on individual and family preparedness. However, last month we traveled down a road less traveled. We addressed a number of actions we could perform as a ‘team’ of neighbors. Emergency situations call for special operations in a neighborhood.
Immediately following a major earthquake, communication systems like our land-line and cellular phone systems stop working dependably. The resources of the fire and police departments are usually consumed (short-term) with checking on damages to their equipment and facilities and then conducting an assessment of the City. This inventory of city life hazard occupancies and infrastructure assets may be performed with the members of the public works department. A street-level foundation of knowledge regarding the general condition of the city, and where the problems are, is necessary to help those in the greatest peril, maximize the effectiveness of the city resources and to prioritize the responses. As the emerging needs of the city are known, a recall of city employees can occur and requests for additional aid can be made.
Neighbors can respond in a similar manner immediately after an earthquake. They can first check on their own families and homes. Once they have some certainty of their own safety, the neighbors can move on to assist others and to form teams to address their local neighborhood issues. Able residents can begin to get equipment (fire extinguishers, first-aid kits, tools, etc.) ready for use at their neighbors’ homes. A sign can be placed on the front door advising would-be searchers that all is well.
Next, the neighbors can meet in a designated place. Since we don’t know what the weather or time of day will be when the major earthquake strikes, it will be helpful if we determine a primary and secondary meeting place before the emergency arrives. If possible, we can appoint someone to stay at the meeting place. This person can listen to a news radio, make a map of the neighborhood for use during the upcoming search and document the actions of the teams.
Next, a team of neighbors can begin to check on each residence. The team need not be made up entirely of young, strong, athletic residents. Hopefully, neighbors who are able have walked out of their homes and are reporting their situation to the search teams. Someone with the team will need to serve as a ‘runner’ to communicate the teams findings with the person at the meeting place. It will also be helpful to have someone with knowledge of the house and family at each address. Knowing something about where the resident may be in the house and the temperament of any pets on the premises will be helpful. When you can, leave a note on the door indicating what the search team found.
Remember, the objective of the search party is to understand the problems of the neighborhood and to help the neighbors when it is possible to do so. This help should not endanger the neighborhood rescuers. Leave the intricate rescues and safety problems to the fire and police officials.
Identifying the real, serious, immediate problems of the neighborhood will save precious time and community resources. Neighbors can communicate the need for emergency resources via any workable communication system (phone, runner, radio, etc). When emergency personnel arrive, they can be immediately directed and deployed to the known problems. Knowing, for sure, that some families are out of town (and therefore their seriously damaged home doesn’t need a full search) is amazingly important.
Assign another team to check on the status of each homes’ hazards. Are the utilities and perimeter of the home secured? Is there a smell of natural gas? Wires down? Ruptured water lines? Some of these hazards can be mitigated right away. Some of them must be noted and people kept away from them. Communicate the teams’ findings to the person at the meeting place. Leave a note on the door, too, if possible. Ultimately, that information will be helpful for each resident, whether they were at home or away when the earthquake hit. Remember, not everyone will have the ability to check everything at their own home. Some neighbors may need assistance leaving their home when it doesn’t appear to have sustained much damage.
Next, look for an area where those who have had to leave their home can find shelter. You may need to assign another team of neighbors to do the reconnaissance work of finding a suitable place and then helping neighbors get to that place. Can your shelter team make their guests comfortable? Keep in mind; it may take some time for City emergency services to arrive. What better way to help your neighbor than to shelter them from the elements?
Finally, start thinking about what your neighborhood can do over the next 24 hours. Remember, the experts are all advising that we need to be prepared to take care of ourselves for 3-7 days. No utilities, no food, no water, very little assistance from anyone but neighbors. Think about how tomorrow will be when the electricity and phones still don’t work. We will still need fresh water and food for our families and neighbors. Leaving the area in a mass evacuation may be very difficult. Shelter from the elements will be a necessity as well.
Future columns will have more information and ideas on what you can do individually and collectively to make the best of things after we experience a major earthquake.
If you have comments or questions about this column, please send them to ready@downeyca.org.

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Published: July 28, 2011 – Volume 10 – Issue 15



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