Getting ready for disaster

Seattle neighborhoods have options for emergency preparedness

Getting ready for disaster

Getting ready for disaster

When a citywide disaster strikes, cutting off power, blocking roads and toppling buildings and other structures, Seattle residents will be on their own for days to come.

“Really, neighborhoods do fend for themselves,” said Debbie Goetz, community planning organizer with the Seattle Office of Emergency Management, adding, in the event of a major emergency, the city will be immediately focused on drawing in outside resources. “We’re scrambling madly to get things going, but this is really a time when neighbors need to take care of themselves.”

A number of Seattle neighborhoods have spent years building up a network of volunteers and planning response protocols in preparation for such an event.

An article in The New Yorker in 2015 regarding the Cascadia subduction zone and the historical precedent for a major earthquake event in the Pacific Northwest got many Seattle residents’ attention, Goetz said.

There are a few levels of emergency preparedness that can happen in a neighborhood, and it’s up to proactive residents to organize them.

Beyond the immediate concerns of families seeing to their own members and homes, the next level of neighborhood preparedness would be the Seattle Neighborhoods Actively Prepare (SNAP) program.

SNAP typically involves neighbors in a building, on a street or city block that organize and plan what roles they will serve during a catastrophic event, Goetz said. That could mean sharing food, providing first aid and supplies, and light search and rescue.

The next level — casting a wider net — is forming a neighborhood emergency communications hub.

“We’ve been doing preparedness for a long time really in Seattle,” Goetz said, “and the interest in hubs started after a particularly bad winter storm in ’09.”

Seattle Emergency Communications Hubs are managed and operated by community volunteers, each one autonomous, and many coordinating with the Seattle Auxiliary Communication Service.

Seattle ACS is comprised of volunteer licensed amateur radio operators working with Seattle’s Emergency Operations Center to connect it with neighborhoods during disasters and emergencies. It has been operating since 1993. Goetz said Seattle has seven sectors that ACS covers. There are two licensed radio operators and Madison Park residents who volunteer with the neighborhood’s emergency communications hub, which is located next to the tennis courts in Madison Park.

Neighborhood hubs can connect with other hubs and compile information about what residents need and direct people to where supplies are located. These hubs would be activated the day following an emergency event. It’s also a way for the City of Seattle to communicate messages to residents.

Goetz said not all hubs have radio communications. Some have emergency supplies, and others just focus on communications.

The Office of Emergency Management has identified P-Patches as ideal hub locations, Goetz said, and any group can apply for a small parks grant to start a hub.

OEM offered up to $21,600 in funding this year — roughly $1,500 each for 14 groups — to create their own Hub-in-a-Box, which is a storage box that can be filled with communication supplies. The deadline to apply was mid-April. Madison Park received grant funding for a Hub-in-a-Box three years ago.

Capitol Hill once had three hubs — in Cal Anderson Park, Volunteer Park and the Miller Community Center — but the core group of organizers couldn’t get enough volunteers to the sustain the effort, Goetz said. She recently received a call from a resident living near the Washington Park Arboretum who is interested in starting a hub.

Goetz said Lake City has set a great example for what a hub can be, and its members are now leading regular trainings.

OEM will be offering a number of free classes in the fall, covering disaster skills that include basic first aid, light search and rescue and “stop-the-bleed,” which deals with how to pack a wound until first responders arrive, and ramped up following the Boston Marathon bombing, Goetz said.

Residents can sign up with Alert Seattle to not only receive emergency notifications, but also opt-in to be sent notices about traffic impacts, severe weather, utility outages, health emergencies and upcoming preparedness trainings.