Most emergencies are completely unpredictable. Local authorities are required by law to prepare an emergency plan so that resources and experienced people are on standby to respond quickly and in the best possible way when a major crisis -- of whatever kind -- occurs.
But how often does one think about setting up a plan for getting one's own family ready for emergencies?
According to Esther Nigenda, Leland Manor's neighborhood association leader and neighborhood resource coordinator, "after a disaster your biggest resource is the person standing next to you."
Nigenda, along with Leland Manor resident Kathleen Hughes, serve as neighborhood preparedness coordinators that are part of an Emergency Services Volunteer program organized by Palo Alto Neighborhoods (PAN) and the city of Palo Alto. The program consists of Block Preparedness Coordinators (BPCs), Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs), Medical Reserve Corps and Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES).
"These are all neighbors who have signed up to help other neighbors in case the city or other resources should be overwhelmed or unavailable," Nigenda said. "After a disaster BPCs will check on all neighbors on their block and, when available, CERTs will be deployed to help neighbors as well."
Nigenda moved to Palo Alto in 1995 and is a full-time caregiver for her adult, autistic son. When she first moved here, she wondered who could help her and her family in case of an emergency. That's when she met Kathleen Hughes, whose son was one of Nigenda's son's classmates.
As neighborhood resource leaders, she and Hughes organize neighborhood meetings, hold potlucks or soup nights and send monthly newsletters to all neighborhood coordinators containing information about the volunteer program, free class offerings and other emergency preparedness resources.
"Building community is (the) goal," she said.
One of the many resources used is a website, Do1Thing.com, which offers a 12-month program providing information on how to prepare for an emergency shown in steps.
"This one is easiest for neighbors to follow," Nigenda said of the website. Do1Thing focuses on one particular issue each month; for example, March highlights sheltering. The goal is to "know how to respond safely when instructions are given to evacuate or take shelter." The page includes a fact sheet, video and a to-do list for the month.
Besides writing newsletters to the community, Nigenda also visits all the neighbors in her block, going from door-to-door in a vest, hat and badge to inform them about emergency preparedness and give out "Help OK" signs. People are supposed to display these in their windows, so in the case of a disaster, the block coordinator can help evaluate what problems there might be and whether it is minor or major, requiring help from another neighbor or the city.
"Some people say 'You are wasting your time'; others say, 'I don't need to be prepared, I can come to your house'; or people say 'I pay my taxes, why should I do that?'" Nigenda related from experience.
She said her biggest concern was that nobody was open to or free to participate in the program. However, everyone on her block agreed to engage, she said. Her latest effort is to start up a program for seniors and individuals with disabilities.
Anybody who is interested in joining or helping the Emergency Services Volunteer program can contact Esther Nigenda and her crew at firstname.lastname@example.org.
12 things to do to prepare
January: Start planning ahead for emergencies. It will be easier to make the right decisions when the worst happens.
February: Make sure to have drinkable water during a power outage since your water supply depends on having power to operate the system. It is recommended to have at least a 72-hour supply of commercially bottled water.
March: In a disaster you may be asked to either evacuate or shelter-in-place. Practice your emergency safety plans, e.g., in case of a fire, you'll already know exactly what to do.
April: A large duffle bag or plastic tub with a lid makes a great storage place for an emergency food supply. Make sure your family, including pets, will have what they need when disaster strikes.
May: Know how to make sure you and your loved ones are safe in a disaster, no matter if you are at work and your children at school. Have a plan for people who count on you to know what to do if you can't reach them.
June: Before disaster strikes, talk to your family about your household's unique needs. Make a list of special items you may need in a disaster.
July: Make sure you have a working family communication plan. Cell phones, Internet and email may not be available.
August: Community preparedness starts at home; find out how you can get involved to create a resilient community.
September: Double-check that everyone in your household is able to receive, understand and act on emergency information. Getting correct information during an emergency is the key to taking safe action.
October: We count on electricity for heat, food and medical needs. Verify your family is prepared in advance for a power outage.
November: Put together an emergency kit with important items to keep at home, and a "go bag" with items you will need to take with you if you evacuate.
December: Take a first-aid class. Actions you take in the first few minutes after an injury or other medical incident may save someone's life.
-- from do1thing.com