Block captains plan for disasters

DOWNEY - Most of the emergency preparedness articles written for the Patriot have focused on individual and family preparedness. However, last month a special emergency preparedness training session was offered for Downey Neighborhood Watch block captains at the Fire Department headquarters classroom. The objective of the event was to give the block captains additional emergency preparedness information and to encourage them to prepare their 'block' for an emergency.The first part of the hour and a half event focused on the forecasts of a major earthquake in our area (sometime in the next 25-30 years). Experts' projections of major damage and the implications of such a disaster were also displayed and discussed in detail. The second part of the training session offered suggested actions for each neighbor and for the block captains. The block captains were encouraged to create their own emergency plan for their household and to include their neighbors in their plan. Neighbors were included by having shared knowledge of their emergency contact information, specialized skills and special circumstances. Special emphasis was placed on the importance of being able to check each others welfare immediately after an emergency. The block captains were advised of the importance of knowing the locations of the utility shut-offs at their neighbors homes as well. A display was set-up in the classroom that offered them an opportunity to practice their utility shut-off skills. They were advised they may be 'on their own' providing initial actions after an emergency and that they should know the strengths and weaknesses of their neighbors. For example, knowing who knows first-aid or has the strength to move things around could be critical information following an emergency. Handouts were provided to remind the block captains to review specific, post-emergency actions with their neighbors. First, all neighbors are encouraged to take immediate care of themselves and their families. Once their family is safe, the next concern is the protection of the head, hands and feet of everyone who may be helping out with checking on their home and neighborhood. Immediately after an emergency is not the time to lacerate a foot or to injure your hand. Checking on the utilities (natural gas, electricity, water ) serving each house is the next priority. Frequently the utilities can remain 'on' after an emergency. However, if a smell of natural gas is detected or if water lines have been severed, the supply valves will need to be turned 'off'. Next, neighbors should communicate their post-emergency situation with those who live on their block. This communication is best done face-to-face. Neighbors can surely check-in on those with special needs and determine if they may need a hand getting settled after an emergency. Telephones should only be used to report an emergency. Once the status of the neighborhood is understood, those who are able can then begin to address the identified problems. This step in the post-emergency response may require neighbors to gather and share fire extinguishers and other tools. Neighbors may need to assist others who may not have the skills or strength to help themselves. Emergency supplies may also need to be shared. Thirty people attended the training session in May. Jane Guzman, the new Neighborhood Watch coordinator, helped facilitate the event. Cecilia Tapia from the American Red Cross made a short presentation to the Block Captains as well. Future training sessions for the block captains are being planned. Emergency preparedness training and this latest, 'neighborhood' emergency preparedness training are available through neighborhood watch meetings. The next column will address the actions 'teams' of neighbors can take immediately following an emergency. If you have comments or questions about this column, please send them to

********** Published: June 16, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 9