How Neighbors Can Help Each Other Be Resilient

Dec 19, 2019

In a natural disaster, you may not be able to get help from first responders right away. Your neighbors may be the only people who can help you. For this month's story in our series on Oregon’s Natural Resources and Resilience funded by the University of Oregon Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics, we found neighbors in Eugene who are working together to plan for disaster.


On a recent morning, a group of neighbors gathered in Tom Peck’s living room in his house on Friendly Street in Eugene. They are the emergency preparedness team of the Friendly Area Neighborhood Association. Peck says the team is pushing for preparedness on the individual and local level.

“People have no idea how important this is until a disaster happens and they realize the shortcomings and most communities are so unprepared on a local level, city, county, state level.” Peck says.

Peck is helping organize a day-long first-aid training for neighbors. The group is also spearheading what’s called “Map Your Neighborhood”.

“The primary goal of Map your Neighborhood is people knowing their neighbors.” Says Deb Jones, who’s another Friendly Area neighbor. “Knowing who lives next door. Knowing if they have special needs but also knowing what skills or resources people have.”    

Jones says since they started 2 years ago, they’ve gotten about a 3rd of the neighborhood mapped. She says it’s challenging to get people involved but that it’s essential for emergency preparedness.

“I just think that neighbors talking to each other is really the basis of all this.” Says Jones,  “Of knowing who lives near you and being comfortable enough to interact with them on some regular basis. Once you have that, then it’s so much easier to do all kinds of things- working in mutual support of each other.” Interact

The “Map Your Neighborhood” tool was developed in Washington State. Lane County Emergency Manager Patence Winningham says the idea is to have neighbors prepared to help each other because in a major disaster first responders will be overwhelmed.

A USGS map of the Cascadia Subduction Zone.
Credit USGS

“There’s an expectation that you call 911 and someone’s going to be there in 3 to 5 minutes and that’s not necessarily the case.” Winningham says, “So we need to empower ourselves to be the help until help arrives.” Here in western Oregon we live with the threat of a Cascadia subduction event that would wipe out coastal communities and cause massive destruction up and down the I-5 corridor. Scientists say it’s a matter of when, not if.

Winningham says communities can learn from experiences like last February’s snowstorm and the ice storm 2 years ago.

“Having a plan and communicating it with your family and your neighbors will make you that much more resilient in a catastrophic event. So these little things continue to test us for the big things.”

Winningham says there are lots of resources available for neighborhood groups, but it’s up to each person to prepare.

When Eugene got a 2-foot dump of snow last February, thousands of people were without power for days. A resident of the southeast part of town, saw an opportunity to help her neighbors.

“I had power. And I was able to go to my neighbors and knock on their door and say, Hey, I have power. Come on over charge your cell phones. I have hot chocolate. And it just sort of opens up that door for that conversation.”

 Southeast Neighbors are Preparing is organizing for the next major emergency to make sure everyone is taken care of. Part of that is getting to know each other.

“When things do get rough, we don’t feel like we’re alone. We know, oh I know the person down the road.” One neighbor says, “I’ve met them. I know that they’re helpful and even if we don’t have everyday interactions with them we’re comfortable coming to them in those situations and we have that sort of social infrastructure to make that happen.”

Southeast Neighbors are Preparing members met me at a local church which will be their command center in the event of a major catastrophe.  David Monk is also with Southeast Neighbors are Preparing.

“Our goal is to ideally have every household connected with their nearby neighbors and having those folks in communication, through their block captain to the area coordinator, to our HAM radio operators to the Eugene Emergency operation center.” Monk says.

Southeast neighbors are part of the city’s pilot program to set up a network of HAM radio bay stations to connect neighborhood leaders with first responders in a catastrophic event.

The group is also using “Map Your Neighborhood”. Monk says soon they’ll do a drill where participants will put signs in their windows that say either, OKAY or HELP. In case of a real emergency, first responders would know if they’re needed.

“You can imagine if we do this exercise, and you go up and down a street and you see, of 20 houses, and a dozen of them have the signs in, obviously they want to participate.” Monk says.

Both Southeast neighbors and the Friendly Area group find it’s challenging to get everyone involved. The idea of a major earthquake is hard to grasp and people are busy with all the daily things in life. That also goes for being 2-weeks ready – which is the current advice from the Federal Emergency management agency.

“So I think that it is huge on a lot of levels, and can be very daunting and be overwhelming, especially for folks that have a lot of stuff going on, which last time I checked, is basically everyone.”

Organizers suggest baby steps: pick up an extra gallon of water and cans of beans next time you go grocery shopping. And, part of being prepared is having a plan, knowing that plan, and using it when the need arises.

Funding for KLCC’s Oregon’s Natural Resources and Resilience series is provided by the UO Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics.

https://www.eugene-or.gov/255/Emergency-Management

https://www.lanecounty.org/government/county_departments/lane_county_emergency_management

www.ready.gov

Copyright 2019 KLCC.

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