Seattle is due for a destructive seismic event, and the potential for any manner of disaster has neighborhoods banding together to plan for what comes next.
Madison Park volunteers tested their readiness in late April, during a simulated citywide power outage hosted by the Seattle Emergency Communications Hubs and Seattle Auxiliary Communication Service.
“That’s the annual training with the radio operators and the hubs where we practice the whole citywide preparation drill,” said Bob Edmiston with the Madison Park Community Council.
The Madison Park Hub is a designated site for resident volunteers to gather and coordinate with city departments and other Seattle Emergency Communications Hubs neighborhoods in the event of a major disaster, connecting people with resources and information.
While there are several other neighborhood hubs across the city, Edmiston said the Madison Park Hub is the only one still active in the Central Area. One in Judkins Park and another in Cal Anderson Park are all but defunct, he said.
“There is no hub from water to water basically, except for Madison Park,” Edmiston said.
Organizing the hub started about five years ago, and Edmiston said he spent the past year, leading up to the April 28 emergency drill, working on his radio equipment and communication skills.
“It worked OK,” he said. “There were a lot of lessons we learned, but we learned enough this year that I think we’ll be really prepared next year.”
The Madison Park Community Council worked with Seattle Parks and Recreation to install a concrete pad and Hub box in Madison Park, next to the tennis courts, three years ago.
“It’s not actually emergency supplies; it’s information supplies,” he said, adding that doesn’t include radio equipment, which wouldn’t fair well with Seattle’s weather.
Edmiston and one other volunteer are the only amateur radio operators for the hub, and can also communicate with the city’s emergency operations center through email and digital formats. Both are volunteers with the Seattle Auxiliary Communications Service.
“If something happens, hopefully one of us will still be alive and in Madison Park,” Edmiston said.
Seattle ACS volunteers regularly practice email over radio and digital communications, he said.
The April 28 emergency drill listed Madison Park as a radio-only participant.
“As it turned out, we had enough volunteers to do some public education and explain our hub and stuff,” Edmiston said. “One of the things we didn’t have was we didn’t have a volunteer to do PR.”
Promoting the event was carried out on social media platforms, including Nextdoor, but turnout by residents was still low.
Edmiston said he has about a dozen volunteers he can call on, but the Madison Park Hub doesn’t have a volunteer organizer, which gives him pause about adding more to the list.
“We need to make good use of the volunteers we have first before we ask for more and do a terrible job of managing them,” he said.
Ideally, there would be a few people acting as volunteer organizers, who could hold meetings throughout the year, Edmiston said.
The youngest out for the April 28 drill was a Boy Scout, Edmiston said, who helped test two-way voice communications on hand-held radios that can reach from one end of the neighborhood to the other.
The Madison Park Hub is not the place to go immediately after a disaster, as volunteers would be tending to their own families first, Edmiston said. The hub would go up the following day, and help people in need of supplies and services, using Seattle’s network of hubs to find resources. Edmiston said that could be someone coming to the hub in need of water.
“We might happen to know of another resident who has a rain barrel, and it’s full,” he said, “and we can connect the two.”
Or maybe a diabetic is in need of insulin, and volunteers from another hub know where some can be found in their neighborhood. Runners on bicycles could be deployed to fetch supplies, and, alternately, bring needed supplies to another hub. When a disaster hits an area, Edmiston said, bicycles are the most reliable means of transportation.
There are many ways to get involved in organizing neighborhoods to respond during a major emergency, and Seattle’s Office of Emergency Management will be providing a number of free training courses this fall. Click here to learn more.