Friday, October 20, 2006

Neighbors Helping Neighbors

Our neighborhood had a disaster drill last week. Just prior to the drill I'd volunteered to be the alternate area-captain for our area of three streets --- about 55 houses. At 7:00 pm, when an earthquake was supposed to have occurred, I put on my orange vest, red backpack and black fannypack and proceeded to our EAP (emergency assembly point.) (I have not yet been issued my orange hard-hat.) The turn-out for our area was pretty good, but it was woefully inadequate in some of the other areas.

Since then, I've attended a meeting to evaluate the drill, and I've been compiling lists of various sorts: emergency supplies that each household should keep on hand, the basic information we should collect from each household (like how many people live in the house), and an up-to-date list of names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses of the street captains, alternate street captains, area captains and alternate area captains. Mostly for my own benefit, I started to compile a list of the families on our street. It was not difficult to write down each house number, but I was dismayed to learn that seven out of 21 houses are not listed in our community directory. I was even more astonished to realize that I would not recognize three of the families that are listed, and I have no idea who lives in five of the houses --- and this street is just one block long.

We've lived here for more than 35 years. When we first moved in, most of the families had pre-school children and we knew each other because the kids played together. Those kids have now grown up and left town, some families have moved away and other families have moved in. There's a wider range of ages and life-styles. Many of the women have full-time jobs and are not around during the day. I've never been the sort to pop into a neighbor's house every day for coffee, but I certainly have some catching up to do to form at least a nodding acquaintance with my neighbors.

The need to do this was emphazied on the night of the disaster drill when 20 minutes into the drill, an older man appeared, looking for other disaster workers. He explained he'd come from a street a few blocks away. At first we thought he was confused.

We told him, "Your EAP is further down the road."

"I've been there for 20 minutes," he replied, "but no one else has showed up."

It turned out that he'd been asked at the last minute to substitute for one of the street captains in his area. He'd done his duty very well, seeking out the nearest group when no one appeard at his EAP. He came wearing a badge with his name and address, carrying a cell phone and operating a crank-generated flashlight. Further conversation revealed that he'd lived though the London Blitz in World War II. We took his concluding words to heart.

"When you've been though an experience like that, you know how important it is for neighbors to help neighbors."


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