Guest Columnist

Madison Park Emergency Planning: The new normal — Know your neighbors

Despite all the disruptions, fear and uncertainty we’ve been living through recently, we’ve seen the best of what neighbors can be for each other — offers to shop, cook or do chores for those designated “at risk”; stuffed animals bringing cheer from windows; signs thanking essential workers; Little Free Libraries transformed to Little Free Pantries; and telephone poles posted with scan codes to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

We should take heart with all this evidence that people do care about the common good, do want to make a contribution and be morally responsible citizens. Yet modern life has disconnected us from those around whom we live. Most of us are actually more connected with people at work, school or exercise and hobby groups than the person down the hall or street. I can attest to this. I’ve lived in Madison Park for over 15 years, and I’m embarrassed to say that I know only a handful of people beyond my immediate neighbors.

As we move out of months of confinement into a world reckoning with grief, financial depression, systemic racial injustice and climate change, we are asking “what does this moment require of us?”

We can turn to West Africa for inspiration. In March, Oeindrila Dube, a political economist, and Katherine Baicker, a health economist, reported on lessons learned from the 2014 Ebola epidemic ( Their conclusions emphasized that, in the context of so much disruption, loss and sacrifice, building social support for making behavior changes was critical. Successful communities mobilized people at the grassroots level to go beyond self-interest into collective action.

Reading this brought me back to Seattle’s earthquake preparation recommendations. They expect neighborhoods to create small, self-supporting groups, Seattle Neighborhood Actively Prepare groups, around a central communication hub. In Madison Park, we’ve set up an emergency hub communication system to be activated near the park tennis courts, but the formalizing of block-by-block SNAPs has been pretty hit or miss.

If we thought responding to COVID-19 was bad, imagine going through an earthquake without ambulances, police, firefighters, electricity, Internet, heat, clean water, safe roads and bridges and safe homes. No one is coming to help us for weeks after an earthquake. We’ll only have ourselves and our neighbors.

So, I’m encouraging for a renewed push for Madison Park neighbors to form SNAPs now. You need to be able to recognize who your neighbors are and be available to respond to help those in need and inspire local remedies to any acts of racial injustice and climate change.

As we start to move our lives out into the world again, let’s make the new normal one of greeting our neighbors by name and finding ways to stay more regularly connected. We will continue to need and be a resource to each other in the times ahead.