Taking preparation seriously

It's a subject many people never talk about. What if the unthinkable happened to us? What if a major earthquake hit our region? What if a major epidemic struck or Seattle fell victim to a terrorist attack?

Hard questions to be sure. But many if not most of us, whether consciously or not, act with an attitude that It Can't Happen to Us.

One Capitol Hill woman is taking the subject of disaster preparation head on. Not only that, but Marlyn Keating became inspired enough to enroll her neighborhood in preparation projects as well.

Keating had been thinking about such issues since Hurricane Katrina showed so clearly that the government may not provide the necessary assistance following a large scale catastrophe. In addition, she's been taking a class lately, one goal of which was to help create a project that has a positive benefit for the community. Disaster preparation seemed a logical choice.

"I was imagining that we could create a possibility of greater connections and connectedness on our block," she said. "We all know we should be doing some of these things, but most of us don't. It might gather steam if we tried to do this as a group."

She also realized that while she has lived on Federal Avenue East for more than five years she really only knew most of her neighbors in passing. If a disaster were to strike, and, for instance, communication with the rest of the city were impossible, knowing one's neighbors better could prove essential.

Others seem to have felt the same way. During a gathering last week to discuss disaster preparation strategies, 14 out of 18 households took part, with one family unable to attend and another out of the country. The meeting included a great deal of information sharing. An overview of each home's special needs, such as pet care or individual medical requirements, was tabulated, along with everyone's contact information.

The block decided to do a walk-through of each house in order to learn where, for instance, gas shut-off valves can be found, and then share that information with everyone. The goal is to achieve a basic level of preparedness by the July 4 weekend. Included in that goal is for each household to have stored the necessary water and food and first aid supplies, among other common-sense tasks. Designated meeting places will be determined as well.

"I can't say I was surprised by such a strong neighborhood response, but I was pleased because I didn't really know what to expect. I was invested in this, but I wasn't sure others would be," she said.

Keating's research has generated a great deal of information on the subject. Information from King County, the city of Seattle and the International Red Cross fills a thick bound notebook. In Seattle, the Seattle Neighborhoods Actively Prepared (SNAP) program, which replaces a more group oriented program in September, will provide group training on various aspects of disaster preparation and response.

Keating's efforts were also inspired by a three-block group of roughly 50 houses on 11th Avenue East who have been coordinating on disaster preparation efforts for awhile now. And her group is likely to expand. Neighbors on the east side of 10th Avenue East have been asked to participate and have shown an interest in taking part.

Her personal efforts are focused on getting her home where it needs to be by the July 4 deadline. This means getting a large and varied list of supplies together, a task she knows from experience is very easy to put off.

"This is hard stuff to think about but we should all be doing these things," Keating said. "It's not easy, but as far as some kind of large event or disaster, it's probably not a question of 'if,' but rather 'when.'"

Doug Schwartz is the editor of the Capitol Hill Times. He can be reached at editor@capitolhilltimes.com or 461-1308.

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