Let’s say that you have really gotten organized, and you’ve succeeded in storing up 30 days of water and food for your family in the event of a disaster. Fantastic! What a great, secure feeling! But now let’s say your neighbor (AKA your daughter’s best friend’s mom) makes a comment about earthquakes at the bus stop about the high risk of earthquakes (or floods or blizzards or tornados or hurricanes) in your area, and bemoans the fact that her family wouldn’t last “more than two days” in the event of an emergency because their little house has little storage and they don’t even have a real pantry, much less space for a bunch of extra food and water. What’s going to happen in your neighborhood when the $H1? hits the fan? Sure – you could run into your home, lock up and ignore the knocking at the door, but who among us is really going to let their elderly neighbor fend for herself, or ignore the neighbor kids who are home all alone because their parents are stuck in the city indefinitely after the ferries (or trains, or highways) are shut down? Yes, you and your family should be prepared. But once you are – your whole neighborhood really needs to be, too.
WHERE TO BEGIN?
My family and I live on an island in the Puget Sound in Western Washington State, and we are acutely aware of our isolation if things go wrong in/near Seattle. Here in our little town we’ve been informed straight-up that our area will be LOW PRIORITY after a large-scale disaster, and that we should be prepared to be completely on our own for 2-4 weeks after a large earthquake, nuclear accident, tsunami or other major disaster if that disaster also impacts the much larger and much more populated Seattle area.
SO….Here’s where you get to put yourself “out there,” and, yes, maybe risk a little bit of neighborhood eye rolling. It’s true that not EVERYONE is into preparedness like you are, but you’d be surprised how many of your neighbors KNOW and WANT to get more prepared and ready for disasters. They just don’t know where to begin! And if you’re reading this then YOU are probably just the person to get the ball rolling. The good news is: you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There are resources available to help you get your whole neighborhood involved in emergency preparedness, including the effective and proven Map Your Neighborhood program.
Map Your Neighborhood (MYN) is a neighborhood emergency preparedness program created in Washington State but now being embraced in many communities around the country. MYN brings neighbors together with the goal of building up neighborhood resilience and preparedness. By following the MYN program neighbors get to know each other and learn who in the neighborhood has talents, experience, skills or equipment that could help the neighborhood’s members respond to potential emergencies and disasters. Through MYN a neighborhood roster is created with everyone’s contact information but also information about who may need extra help after a disaster (ie elderly or disabled neighbors, and kids, or pets (!), whose parents don’t work nearby). A MYN map is created and shared showing where neighbors’ natural gas or propane tanks are located so that others in the neighborhood can check on and (if needed) turn of tanks after a disaster. Through MYN neighbors can get together to share or bulk purchase preparedness supplies, build bonds and friendships that will strengthen neighborhood cooperation, and practice disaster “drills” so that everyone can get more comfortable with what would need to happen if/when a disaster occurs.
Here’s a great explanation of Map Your Neighborhood from the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) May 2008 newsletter:
The “9 Steps” MYN participants learn nine steps that begin at home and then reach throughout the neighborhood. Immediately after a disaster, residents check to ensure that their own families and homes are safe and sound. They don protective clothing; check for natural gas leaks and shut off the gas to their house if necessary; shut off water and electricity to the house if needed; tape a placard onto their front door or window signaling their status (“OK” or “Help”); and take their household fire extinguishers out to the front curb for use in the neighborhood. Those who are able then go to the designated Neighborhood Gathering Site, where they use the skills and equipment information prepared earlier to assemble four teams. One team remains at the site to monitor local radio broadcasts for emergency information; another team uses the neighborhood contact list to check on individuals who may need extra assistance and transport them to the care center if appropriate; a third team checks neighborhood gas meters and propane tanks and shuts them off when needed; and the remaining team walks door-to-door to check on homes displaying the “Help” placard (or no placard). As the teams complete their assignments, they report back to the gathering site and make further plans as required.
This may sound overwhelming, but the program is very straightforward and easy to get started! The hardest part is just stepping our your front door -- In our neighborhood I helped organize our first MYN meeting by personally knocking on the doors of 18 neighbors’ homes and inviting them to my house for a meeting. We had a great response to that meeting almost a year ago, and are having our second meeting soon. This time we’ve invited some representatives from the fire department to come talk about the plans for the island’s disaster response and to run us through a “tabletop drill” to practice how to respond as a neighborhood to a significant local disaster or emergency.
Interested in starting a MYN program in your own neighborhood? Here’s where to find out more: