i, 2, 3What About Emergency Supplies and Plans?

What a claim for me to make – Map Your Neighborhood is the most important preparedness step! What about standard recommendations of emergency supplies and plans? The reality is that only 10 % of you have adequate emergency supplies, despite wide-spread preaching since 9/11. The problem – preaching increases awareness but not necessarily action (unless increased guilt about lack of preparation counts as action). I agree that supplies are very important. I just admit that most won’t have them, so we need other ideas.

Family emergency plans, like all plans, work only if the emergency fits your prediction when you made the plan. I still want you to define communication plans and meeting places outside your home – often they’ll work.  But what if disaster occurs when your kids are home with a teenage baby sitter and you’re an hour away at a professional basketball game? What if your frail parents are visiting when disaster strikes? The basic unpredictability of disasters means holes in your family plan are fairly likely. So have a plan – just don’t count on it excessively.

 

Neighbors May Be Your Only Saviors

My answer: I believe wholeheartedly that neighbors play the most important role in how your family gets through a disaster. Disasters create many emergencies at the same time. Professional responders, including police, firefighters, paramedics, and utilities, are typically overwhelmed and must prioritize their responses. Even in winter storms (a “mild” disaster), roads can be inaccessible and power out for hours or days. Residents must rely on their neighbors for help!

Unfortunately, current culture often leaves us disconnected from those who live near-by. Do you know all your neighbors? Do you even know their names? Is there a plan to check on each other? Do you know who might need extra assistance, and who might have helpful talents? Preparing your neighborhood is vital, and Map Your Neighborhood is a process to do this.

 

What is Map Your Neighborhood?

MYN Logo

Map Your Neighborhood teaches 9 important steps to follow immediately after a disaster, first to secure your home, and then to help your neighborhood. It creates a neighborhood map identifying locations of gas meters, propane tanks, and other hazards, as well as a list of all residents, particularly those likely to need help.  It identifies those with skills (e.g. medical, ham radio, machinery operators) or equipment (e.g. chain saws, generators, winches) that might help in an emergency. The neighborhood chooses a neighborhood care center for children and elderly so they are not alone, and a gathering spot for those willing to check on other houses. Map Your Neighborhood teaches a team approach to neighborhood response, including communications and staying safe while helping (team is everything in disaster response).

These are two of my favorites from the nine steps:

  • Help/OK card: Everyone has a window card with Help on one side and OK on the other. After a disaster, as soon as you check on everyone in your house, you put the card in a front window. When scouting the area, neighbors go first to houses with Help cards or no cards (in case someone is hurt or trapped, and can’t put up the card). An OK card means that house is OK for the moment.
  • Fire extinguishers: In a disaster (after checking for fires in your own house), you put your fire extinguisher on the curb for others to use if needed. Fire is a major problem after a disaster, particularly if water is out. A quick way to share fire extinguishers may save the entire neighborhood!MYH responders

 

Anyone Can Do This – Including You!

The best news – Map Your Neighborhood takes only one 90 minute neighborhood meeting, and costs nothing (except maybe cookies at the meeting)! Neighborhood watch programs are a good place to start this program, but even if your neighborhood is completely disconnected, it is still easy to do Map Your Neighborhood. The key is a little work and personal outreach before the meeting, and leadership at the meeting (and maybe afterwards) for seeing the process through. Who should the leader be? HOW ABOUT YOU? Most people are afraid to “take charge” but this is the time to step up.

Uncle Sam

A “neighborhood” is usually 15-25 “houses”. After a disaster, there is a golden hour when rescue is most effective. Base the number of residences in your program on how many can be checked in one hour, given the distance between. Defining house and neighborhood is also very liberal. One or two floors of an apartment building can be a neighborhood, as can 10 widely spread rural properties.

 

Get Map Your Neighborhood Started Now!

How do you do this Map Your Neighborhood thing? Neighborhood Watch teams, local CERT teams, or local emergency management offices often arrange these sessions – if you have this resource, definitely use it. But you can do it without outside help. The Washington State Emergency Management Department designed the program, and has many resources on line. The most important is a Map Your Neighborhood Discussion Guide which takes you step by step through everything you need to put this in process in place, all by yourself!   http://www.emd.wa.gov/myn/documents/myn_discussion_guide.PDF

Just one neighborhood meeting might mean life or death for you and your loved ones if you need help after a disaster. Even if you are away when disaster occurs, you know someone will be checking on your house, turning off your gas, and most importantly, checking on and helping your family members. There is really no one other than neighbors to do this – it probably won’t be our public responders. Besides, initial help may lead to neighborhood cooperation as long as the disaster lasts (maybe one neighbor has really good emergency stores and would share).

Now do you see why I think this is the single most important emergency preparedness step you can take? So go forth and organize – a Map Your Neighborhood evening!

Stay safe,

Sheila Sund

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  5. Stephen Carbonaro says:

    I would love to engage my neighbors in a MYN project. But I foresee one serious obstacle to success; the County Fire Department that provided my CERT training did not chose to organize the graduates, not even to the extent of providing grads with identification. With burglaries up, everyone has adopted a cautious approach to dealing with people acting suspiciously. Local Police advise that if someone comes to your door and begins to ask questions about normally private information, demand to see their official ID. If they can’t provide ID, close the door and call the police.
    Do you have any suggestions as to a way around this potential roadblock? I can surely see how someone who had me on their porch asking them about their emergency supplies, power tools, and other resources might feel their home was being sized up for a burglary, or worse. Without official identification, any effort would be doomed to fail.

    Any help you could provide would be appreciated.

    Sincerely,

    Stephen Carbonaro
    San Leandro, CA

    • disasterdoc says:

      This is a concern that I have heard from others – an unfortunate product of the times we live in. I have a few possible suggestions. First is to ask your sheriff or city/county emergency management to act as the sponsor of your MYH project, which would give it legitimacy when you approach your neighbors. Even if the sheriff does not have the time or staff to teach the session, just an endorsement can demonstrate that it is legitimate ( similar to the Neighborhood Watch concept – in fact some people pair Neighborhood Watch with Map Your Neighborhood – possibly a good partnering for your neighborhood.)

      Your first step should just be to get neighbors to meet together on one occasion, perhaps requiring ID for admission to show they are really neighbors. The only pre-meeting contact might be to pass out information about the time and purpose of the meeting, which could even be done via mail or flyers. In one meeting, you could accomplish a lot, even if you can’t do the whole MYH process. It would give a chance for neighbors to meet each other – possibly the most important step. You could decide a plan for meeting and helping each other after a disaster, teach about “I’m OK” cards, and instruct people to put fire extinguishers outside after a disaster. Identifying house gas turn-off locations is often non-threatening, even if people don’t want to share who lives in the home or what resources they have.

      If you can get just this much done, it is the first step in neighborhood resiliency. Eventually it might lead to improving trust among the more concerned neighbors, who then might be willing to develop a method to confidentially share information with each other for use in disasters.

      Good luck, and let me now know if you try any of this.
      Sheila

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