In the living room of his sunny Queen Anne home, Byron Hardinge is pulling out enough medical supplies to patch up a village. First, two first aid kits and a backpack, equipped with gauze, wound wash, masks, sponges, face masks. A fluorescent vest. A hard hat. A black bag stocked with yellow window signs that say “HELP.”
Patching up a village is exactly what Hardinge is prepared to do. As a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) member, he keeps tabs on 44 houses within a two block radius, in the event of a natural disaster such as a massive Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake that the New Yorker warned everyone about recently.
“Somebody’s gotta do it!” Hardinge says. He harkens back to the 2001 Nisqually earthquake, before he was a CERT-trained earthquake aficionado. When the shaking stopped, like most people, he went downstairs and flipped on the TV, trying to get information.
“I felt bad,” Hardinge said. “Why didn’t I go check on elderly Mrs. Smith down the street? She was probably scared to death. That jolted me to take action.”
The national CERT program trains citizens to respond and cope with the aftermath of natural disasters: how to put out a fire, how to treat someone who is bleeding and in shock, and how to keep oneself safe as a rescuer.
Hardinge introduced the preparedness strategy five years ago at the block party he and his neighbors hold every year. He had plenty of takers. Now, the neighborhood knows the protocol: check yourself, check your family, check your home--in that order. Make sure your gas isn’t leaking. Turn off the water in your home while it’s still potable, which can prevent it from becoming contaminated. That should take about fifteen minutes, after which, everyone will meet at the bottom of the hill across the street, away from any powerlines. Then, a search and rescue team will be dispersed to check on anyone who hasn’t made it down, and shut off the utilities at empty houses.
Hardinge says the yearly neighborhood block party is the perfect time to do a community headcount. Getting to know members of the community—their ages, professions, and abilities—makes it easier to visualize their roles in the event of an emergency.
For instance, it would be nice to have a firefighter or a nurse living on your block. But don’t count on them to take over, Hardinge says, because they may have to report for duty. People assume they’ll be able to call 911, but during a natural disaster, first responders will be understaffed and might not be able to make it out for a week.
“Sunshine up the street is able-bodied, so she would be on the search and rescue team,” says Hardinge. “Her daughter would be looked after. We’d have the elderly watching the kids and the pets.”
These tribal-sounding community roles are uncommon in transient areas like the city, where people might live for years without getting to know the people in their neighborhood, block or floor.
The most important thing is to really visualize the aftermath of a natural disaster. Do you have enough water and dried food to last for days (and is it located in an easily accessible place)? Who would you be stuck with? How could you rely on your collective abilities help you all survive? Think it through in steps. If nothing else, it’s a good excuse to get to know your neighbors, and, while “The Big One” scare is still fresh in everyone’s mind, maybe even throw a little end-of-summer block party.