National Night Out 2012

National Night Out In 2012

While mother nature did not cooperate for National Night out last evening, I did spend time with residents of two participating neighborhoods huddled under cover (one venue included a garage) in an effort to avoid the rainfall/thunderstorm. So for 2012, I think I will call it “National Night In.” The moderately severe weather did provide an appropriate backdrop for a discussion that not only focused on personal safety, but also personal preparedness. Flickering lights also helped to draw serious attention. My evening message focused on three important aspects of personal preparedness: a realistic 5-day home emergency kit, a family communications plan, and acknowledgement that events such as National Night Out help to facilitate neighborhood awareness.

First, the kit. I’m really not “anti” 72-hour kit, but I am a bit bullish on people purchasing a magical tub of “stuff” thinking that they are covered in comfort for any impending doomsday event. To help make my point, I broke off a bit of the food bricks (also called “emergency rations”) which are contained in many kits, and offered them up to the group for tasting. I know, I know, these are for EMERGENCIES only, but do you really want to gnaw on this stuff when you’re having a really bad day? I think on a good day they taste horrible. The audience reaction ranged from “they taste like cookies” to “yuk!” I strongly urged the group to prepare their own kits and purchase an extra case of canned soup/jerky/canned fruit to include as food. By preparing your own kit, you also have intimate knowledge of the contents and exactly how it’s used (like radios, flashlights, first aid supplies..etc.). I also told the group that 72-hours is simply not enough – prepare for five days. Excellent publications like “Family Emergency Preparedness Plan” and “Emergency Resource Guide” were also left with the participants – and anyone can contact our office for copies.

A family communication plan does need to go beyond screaming. It is essential because the first thing any of us will want to do in an emergency is connect with our loved ones to affirm their safe status. Last night we talked about having an out-of-state contact(s) for family “check-ins” and the resiliency of text messaging. In many disasters, landline and cellular phone abilities have been compromised, but text messaging remains useful due to its low load on bandwidth. Another important point I made was about the GPS locator embedded in most cell phones. Many people disable this function for privacy concerns, and I think this is a BIG mistake. Considering the fact that in 2011 the MAJORITY of our local 911 calls came from mobile phones, the ability for emergency services to locate you by GPS becomes more critical. Many times people call 911 and their call is compromised (suspect intervention, medical problem, or just plain panic) so our ability to use that GPS function becomes critical. Make sure your GPS is activated, and include texting as part of your emergency family communication plan. Whatcom Unified Emergency Management can provide you with contact cards for all of your family members.

“National Night Out against Crime” really has that home-grown tactical crime-fighting sound, doesn’t it? It is easy to envision citizens out on patrol taking care of business! While Sir Robert Peel addressed this concept in the late 1800’s (“the police are the public and the public are the police”), the event is really about establishing neighborhood relationships. It is about getting to know who are the people in your neighborhood (is that Sesame Street Song playing in your head? – Okay, it is now). Sometimes the hardest thing to do is taking that first step in simply introducing yourself to your neighbor. Events like National Night Out facilitates those introductions which can lead to more structured programs such as Block Watch, Map Your Neighborhood, and Community Emergency Response Teams. Why is this important? In large-scale disasters, emergency services personnel simply cannot respond to every neighborhood and every call for help. Having knowledge of every resource (some of your neighbors may be physicians, nurses, builders…etc.) and vulnerable populations (elderly, young, medical conditions…etc.) can help YOU respond to local needs. It’s taking that personal preparedness to another level – neighborhood preparedness. You can learn more about any of these programs through our office.

I always enjoy going out to neighborhoods and talking about personal safety and preparedness. I look forward to National Night Out every year because I know it sparks new friendships, new ideas, and enhances overall community safety/preparedness. And while this year’s event was more of a National Night In, the more I think about it, mother nature really did cooperate. Amongst the flashes of lightening, and booms of thunder, people moved a little closer together. We all felt a little more vulnerable. It was a good reminder that we don’t necessarily have any control over the timing of disasters, but personal/neighborhood preparedness is always a choice.

Whatcom Unified Emergency Management can be reached at 360-676-6681.

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