A conversation around the table: Preparing for emergencies

A conversation around the table: Preparing for emergencies

A conversation around the table: Preparing for emergencies

Gathered around the literature table at the June 1 Madison Park Emergency Communications HUB event, a group began to chat about how to mobilize our different streets to be better prepared for a serious emergency. Our own households were at different stages of preparation, but we realized how inadequate any of that would ultimately be if we weren’t working with others on our block.

That was the purpose of this literature table and Emergency HUB communication event at Madison Park. And, this is why our city has put out a call with resources for neighborhoods throughout Seattle to get ourselves organized into what they call SNAP groups (Seattle Neighborhoods Actively Prepare), a confusing acronym since that is also the name for the food stamp program, a totally different endeavor. SNAPs are loosely defined as two-block clusters of neighbors whose houses face the same street. The plan is for these clusters of neighbors to shelter in place and be self-sufficient for two to three weeks post-disaster.

You can visit the website of the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and find abundant resources to prepare your household for an emergency, and how to form a SNAP group with your neighbors.

Forming a SNAP group

Our extemporaneous conversation group felt it would be worthwhile to gather again soon around a table at BING’s to share some of our experiences, our questions and possible ways to form and move SNAP groups forward. Here are highlights of what we learned that we hope you will put to use.

Those neighbors living on Hillside and 39th Avenue East to East Prospect Street described how they organized their 40 houses into a SNAP. A few neighbors already knew each other, but recognized that, despite living on the block for a while, they still had the awkward question: “Who’s my neighbor?” Before they could organize anything, they decided to collectively reach out to everyone on the block and ask if they would participate.

 A member of this core group found a helpful resource online, the King County Parcel Viewer, an interactive map for finding who owns what parcel of land. One of them set up a data bank, while another drafted a letter about an initial upcoming meeting in one of their homes, and they began to distribute the letters by hand and email.

They planned the first meeting to be mostly social, a chance to get a sense of each other, build trust, and then actually vote on whether they wanted to start a SNAP group. After a unanimous agreement to form a SNAP, they developed some ground rules on how their contact list would (or wouldn’t) be shared. They also asked for others to join the SNAP Coordinating group. 

This larger team of coordinators planned a second meeting, a block party, and developed a 6-9 month plan for disseminating home preparation information and training neighbors to function as a member of one of six SNAP teams post-disaster. 

OEM encourages SNAP neighbors to create these six teams: control of utilities; search and rescue; basic first aid; shelter and support of neighbors, children and pets; communication; and damage assessment.

Moving into action

Members of the initial planning group attended the three larger Madison Park Community Council Emergency Preparation events held in recent months. They have also held their second neighborhood meeting, where registered nurse and city volunteer Ann Forrest provided a detailed review on how to prepare their homes and their families in case of emergency. Adjacent neighbors beyond their block are welcome to attend these Hillside block events to listen and learn, but they are charged with returning to organize their own blocks.

To further promote emergency preparedness, the Hillside SNAP has registered to have their street closed for the Aug. 6 nationwide Night Out event, promoted here by Seattle Police Department Crime Prevention to heighten crime prevention awareness, and unite our communities. If your block is participating in this, be sure to get some emergency preparedness literature to distribute. You can download any number of handouts with a Google search, or pick literature up at the downtown OEM office, 105 5th Ave. S., Suite 300.

Making tasks manageable

During our conversation, we considered possible ways to break down all the available readiness information into smaller, less overwhelming task lists. Drawing from all the literature available, which will eventually be archived on a neighborhood website with a link posted on NextDoor, some initial ideas were brainstormed:

As a household or family

First, focus on how to survive the earthquake (stop, drop and hold) in each room of your home, and modify your home to reduce injuries from falling objects and broken glass.

Second, make specific plans/agreements about how to reunite with family if you are away from home or need to leave an unsafe home. Choose an out-of-state person all family members can connect with if you can’t reach each other. When you create your neighborhood SNAP, your SNAP communication team will be your initial resource for communicating about lost family members, pets and making contact, if possible, with your out-of-state contacts.

Remember the Madison Park Communication HUB in the park is a place to go to communicate important dangers that need help beyond the resources of your neighborhood.

Third, as you build a “survival kit,” take on one aspect a week, such as your clean water supply, first aid and essential medications, nonperishable foods, clothing, sleeping bags or blankets, light sources, power chargers, essential tools and so on. Consider some bulk purchases together, perhaps supporting Madison Park Hardware.

As a SNAP block cluster group:

• Begin to greet each other more on your block, learning names and general household information.

• Steadily build trust, make a contact list, and form agreements about how it will be used.

• Consider a book study together, supporting our new neighborhood bookstore, Madison Books, perhaps a novel like Peter Hiller’s Dog Stars, Sandi Doughton’s scientific reporting, “The Full Rip 9.0: The Next Big Earthquake in the Pacific Northwest,” or Amanda Ripley’s “The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes — and Why.”

• Do an assessment of tools and skills in your block cluster.

• Form the six essential SNAP teams.

• Attend some kind of class together to gain confidence about acquiring and offering skills. A range of classes are offered around the city, covering first aid, search and rescue, lifesaving bleeding control, ham radio communications, utility safety and damage assessment.

Turning hopes into plans

We all hope there won’t be a disaster with a serious disruption to our daily lives and safety. We also know it’s hard to breathe with your head buried in the sand. Seismic research suggests that, at some point, Seattle will have a severely damaging earthquake, with all the attending emergencies — fires, water contamination, gas leaks, unusable roads and bridges. If we translate our hopes for the best into thoughtful planning, we can mediate chaos and avert an every-man-for-himself reaction. We can turn to, and not on each other.

Find a starting place for yourself with your family, household and loved ones. Extend yourself to your neighbors. Gather around a table for some conversation. Take up a volunteer role in our Madison Park emergency preparation and response work. Keep informed through notices on NextDoor, the Madison Park Times’ online and monthly newspaper, and the three electronic screens in the retail village.

Please join us at the next Madison Community Council event for a Stop the Bleed and Active Shooter Survival class from 7-9 p.m. Monday, Oct. 6; registration information and venue to be announced soon.

Appreciation goes to the Hillside SNAP coordinators — Sarah Armstrong, Kristin Bunce, Susan Mecklenburg and Jamie Rawding — along with Jennifer Chen, Capitol Hill HUB captain, for taking action and gathering for conversation around the table.