Anxiety and community.

We gathered in the parking lot to put up tents and inventory our supplies. There were about 20 folks there; I knew about half of them. We talked about how we can make ourselves safe, and about our fear that we can’t really make ourselves safe at all. We talked about reaching out to our neighbors, and about how most of our neighbors don’t really want to talk about it.

The Hub drill July 29 was theoretically supposed to be about sending messages on the radio, but we didn’t send a single one. It was more important for people to talk to each other in person. We had a big talking circle where we introduced ourselves and shared whatever useful knowledge we have, or our questions if we don’t know anything. Then we split into two groups; one to talk about the specifics of preparedness and the other to talk about connecting to our community.

This method was successful! People felt good about meeting other people with the same concerns. We made real and comforting social connections. We heard from some interesting individuals with relevant experience: One woman had been through the early days of Hurricane Katrina; one man has rigged his house and garden shed to be an off-the-grid refuge in case of disaster. They shared what they know, and helped other people feel empowered.

As the volunteer leader of the Hub, I am more and more convinced that “emergency preparedness” is a proxy for the general anxiety that pervades our society. Everyone knows it’s impossible to “prepare” for a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake. It’s a civilization-ending event, should it occur. Everything from British Columbia to northern California would be uninhabitable for a decade or more. You can read it in the Cascadia Rising after-action reports: FEMA, Washington State, State of Oregon, Seattle Times.

So if we can’t survive “The Big One,” what are we doing at the Hub? I think we’re seeking other people who perceive the same threats that we do, and who experience the same anxiety. I think we want to know how other people deal with the fear that everything we know and love could be wiped away in an unpredictable moment. How are we, as human beings, supposed to cope with that? Does anyone know? Has anyone discovered a humane and compassionate way to alleviate some of the tension that we feel every day?

Well, yes. There are some such folks. None of us have perfect ideas, but it is comforting to hear what other people have to say, and to see them taking action in their own lives. Some people are deliberately practical. Some are explicitly spiritual. Some just want to be around other people! It all works.

Drill, then party.

Phinney Hub will participate in a city-wide communications drill on Saturday, July 29, 9:00 AM – 12:00 noon. We’ll set up our canopies and radio antennae in the parking lot of Phinney Center (Phinney Ave. N & N 67th St.).  The emphasis of this drill is “Hub-to-Hub communications,” so we’ll work with brother/sister Hubs to transmit information throughout north Seattle.

Subsequently, in September, we’ll have a party at Linden Orchard Park (Linden Ave. N & N 67th St.). The exact date is to be determined. The City of Seattle recently decided that P-Patch gardens will be the default gathering places in an emergency, throughout the city. See this announcement. We’re working on getting in touch with our P-Patch neighbors at Linden Orchard to plan this neighborhood-wide social event together.

This is what a Block Leader looks like

Great story in Seattle Weekly about Byron Hardinge, a Queen Anne resident who exemplifies what a Block Leader can be.  He’s a CERT member, CERT trainer, and SNAP instructor, and he’s poured his energy into getting his neighbors ready for a big quake.  (CERT is the Federal citizen response program, and SNAP is the City’s.)

This article has an excellent discussion of what people on the block need to think about for earthquake response – the best I’ve seen in the mainstream press.

Read the article at Seattle Weekly.

Community Preparedness Network: first meeting sizzles with purpose

The first meeting of the Community Preparedness Network drew 32 experienced neighborhood organizers to learn about creating earthquake response teams on residential blocks.  The room was bursting with energy!  Speaking personally, it felt good to meet so many mature, intelligent people who are devoted to the welfare of their neighbors and their community!

CPN is a new effort to recruit and support Block Leaders – people who take responsibility for reaching out to their neighbors.  Many people have begun organizing their block, but they often hit a roadblock after the initial meetings.  It’s difficult to figure out exactly what to do to build coherence and expertise in the response effort.

The Community Preparedness Network will link Block Leaders to one another to exchange experiences and knowledge.  We can learn what works and what doesn’t.  We can help each other develop and use Tabletop Exercises and other teaching tools.  And we can give each other social support in the sometimes lonely work of organizing our neighbors to face disaster!

A work plan is forthcoming, based on the intense energy of our initial meeting.  If you want to learn more about becoming a Block Leader, please email me at

–David B. for CPN

Neighbors are the key to survival

A commenter on the PhinneyWood blog pointed us to Professor David Aldrich, whose research shows that social networks are key to survival and recovery in disasters.  NPR did a story.

The research concerns less-developed countries (India), or places with more cohesive social bonds than we have here (Japan, New Orleans).  In Seattle – as in many American cities – we may not even know the people on our block or in our building, much less trust them.

Our challenge is to open social channels while also teaching specific disaster response skills.  Not trivial!