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DOWNEY – As we celebrate the coming New Year let’s make a resolution we all can benefit from…let’s promise ourselves to be good neighbors.
Good neighbors know the strengths and weaknesses of their neighbors and the vulnerabilities of their block. They know how they can help their neighborhood immediately after an emergency. They also know what their neighbors plan to do after an emergency strikes.
In my article last week, a number of pre-emergency planning actions were described and recommended. A number of hypothetical questions were also listed to start neighbors thinking ‘outside of their house’. This week, we will cover the actions we should consider after disaster strikes.
Once a major earthquake occurs, there is little time to spend meeting your neighbors or planning for an emergency. Regardless of our affiliation with the person who needs assistance (family member, new person, longtime neighbor), when a disaster strikes we need to step forward, work together and help those who need it most.
So what should we do first? Move quickly to your neighborhood meeting place after you have secured your family and your home. Next, if possible, make some hasty assignments. Assemble a preliminary team of neighbors and assign them the task of getting a grasp on the amount of damage in your neighborhood. If there are enough neighbors, split into two teams. You can call them a “search team(s)” to keep things organized. Have them do a quick lap up and down your street and have them make some mental notes on the condition of things. Are there any houses with major structural damage? Can you see any smoke or fire? Smell any natural gas? Any arching wires or damaged water lines?
Good neighbors should know where the most vulnerable (seniors, children, special needs, etc) neighbors live and keep this in mind as they do their preliminary search work. They should be prepared for someone reporting a problem while they are walking. Hopefully, they will do their best to carry-on with their search. Their objective should be to develop a rough idea of the problems on the block. Once they finish their lap, priorities can be set and they can take action.
After the lap is complete, one method of prioritizing the efforts of the neighbors is to consider which problems involve life-safety first, which ones involve property loss second and finally, which problems involve property conservation. When it comes to an active emergency event like a house fire, take action to move people out of the path of the fire. Attacking the fire may be beyond the skill and equipment level of the neighbors.
However, ensuring the family in the house next door to the fire knows about the serious threat is something very doable.
The strategy of doing a lap, also described as a neighborhood size-up, before committing all of the neighborhood energy and resources into the first problem found is a sound one. The rule of thumb is to only stray from a lap if you can take an immediate action and make a difference in the situation. Keep in mind milling around a seriously damaged, collapsed house without any signs of inhabitants, may take you away from shutting off a gas meter and saving a home (potentially with a stranded person inside) from being lost to a fire.
Once we have a grasp on the neighborhood problems, let’s get our activities in order… first, let’s be safe. Before we jump into a situation, let’s be sure we can do this safely. Few are trained to search damaged or collapsed structures. If a building looks like it sustained serious damage from the earthquake, don’t go inside. Leave the search of that building for a trained rescuer. It will be tough enough to summon the assistance of our local emergency responders, without phones, we don’t need to add ourselves to the number of injured or to the list of emergencies requiring a professional response.
Second, let’s be smart. If you don’t need assistance at your house and you can make it to your front door, let your neighbors know you are OK. You can also notify them by voice, by placing a very visible card/sign in your front entry or by sending someone to the neighborhood meeting place. If you need help, consider using a whistle to summon help or sending someone to notify your neighbors. If a house has been checked by the neighbors and secured, leave a note on the door for everyone to see.
If you are fortunate enough to be one of the neighbors who are helping others, use your voice and your neighborhood knowledge to streamline your searching and subsequent work. Remember, every time you keep a house from the ‘need to investigate more thoroughly’ list, you give yourself more time to take care of those who do need attention.
Next, establish a place to share information. Make it somewhere visible if possible. Consider setting up an E-Z-up canopy in someone’s front yard. Encourage your neighbors to communicate. Can someone keep an account of what the neighborhood teams have done? All neighbors have something to offer to help the situation. Assign a neighbor to listen to an AM radio for emergency broadcasts. Assign another neighbor to chart the search team findings and to document their actions. When the city emergency responders arrive they will be much more efficient with their time and resources if they don’t have to re-search the entire neighborhood. Can someone with knowledge of the neighborhood, and the actions taken since the emergency struck, brief the city emergency responders when they arrive?
How about the treatment of the affected neighbors? They may not be injured, perhaps they simply need some help up and a safe place to rest. Can you organize a neighborhood place to shelter those with damaged homes (or perhaps the occupants are just without their parents). Yes, there may be some injured neighbors. They should be treated, if possible, by someone with first-aid skills. Again, it will take some time for the city emergency responders to arrive. Does someone on the street have a first-aid kit and some basic skills they can apply? Perhaps a couple of pre-identified neighbors can help with the first-aid duties while others are attending to their assigned duties.
Once the preliminary neighborhood search work has been completed and the beginning of the work to care for neighbors and their homes has started, the need for forecasting will arise. Those involved in the hands-on work will have a hard time gathering supplies and getting things together to support their activities for the next several hours. Those neighbors who are not actively involved in the above-mentioned activities should step forward and help with this logistical support. If it is daylight, it will be dark before you know it. Flashlights (and batteries), food, shelter, warmth, sanitation and water are all needed relatively soon after a serious emergency.
As the searchers begin to complete their work at ensuring everyone is accounted for and the number of new emergencies starts to drop-off, neighbors should begin to shift their concerns to block stabilization. Can a team of neighbors walk the block and evaluate the condition of the electric, natural gas or water meters? Are we sure there are no overhead hazards dangling over inhabited areas?
After all neighbors have been accounted for and stabilization efforts have begun, begin to consider the choices for shelter and how to spend the next 3-7 days. Is it possible to remain in the neighborhood or is an evacuation to another area necessary? Does everyone have enough food, water and supplies to stay at home?
Transportation options and the condition of the roads will be factors. The Red Cross predicts 10% of the population will need housing assistance. For Downey, that’s more than 10,000 people. If at all possible, it may be best to stay in the neighborhood. Consider staying off the roads and not going to a shelter. Staying at home also means there will be someone around to keep an eye on things, help others and to care for pets. It is very likely that those who stay will see their share of visitors. The visitors could be good Samaritans, the first wave of insurance or repair staff or others looking to profit from the disaster. Regardless of the visitors intentions, having a few neighbors around to ask questions and to help each other with decisions and actions will be priceless.
The members of Downey CERT meet on the third Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. at Fire Station No. 1 at 12222 Paramount Blvd for training and activity coordination purposes.
Questions on emergency preparedness can be directed to Mark Sauter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published: December 29, 2011 – Volume 10 – Issue 37