Preview of a new strategy: “Block leaders”

The most important task in neighborhood earthquake planning is also the most difficult: block-level organizing; that is, helping people educate and organize their close neighbors. Phinney Hub is beginning a new focus on supporting and educating individuals who want to become “block leaders” to reach out to the people who live nearby.

After a major earthquake, neighbors will be the only available responders.  Professional responders – Fire, Medical, Utility, Police – will be overwhelmed with emergency conditions throughout the city. The 9-1-1 system will be similarly overwhelmed. Neighbors will be the only source of help in the hours and days immediately following a major quake.

Quick and coordinated action on the block is necessary to prevent the spread of fire (from leaking gas lines) and to treat life-threatening injuries (from objects thrown around inside houses). Professional responders speak of “the Golden Hour,” the 60 minutes after a disaster during which most lives can be saved and most damage averted. After a major quake, it will be neighbors on the block who respond during that Golden Hour.

The City of Seattle and the State of Washington each have block-level organizing programs, which take slightly different approaches. “Seattle Neighborhoods Actively Prepare” (SNAP) emphasizes different “teams” with responsibilities like utility control, first aid, and search-and-rescue. The state program – “Map Your Neighborhood” – emphasizes knowing in advance where gas meters are located, and who in the neighborhood may need special care.

Both programs require meeting with the entire neighborhood in advance (or at least with as many people who will come to a meeting at someone’s house). Obviously, this is the best way to get people involved, in the abstract, but it can be daunting and impractical to collect a block full of busy neighbors to discuss a disaster that no one wants to believe is actually going to happen. Follow-up – that is, keeping interest alive and preparations current – is always a problem.

We are going to experiment with a different approach. In organizing Phinney Hub, we have discovered that a small number of individuals – a fraction of society – have the interest and capability to lead their neighbors in organizing for disaster. We intend to focus on those particular people, providing education and support as they work to organize their blocks. Our theory is that it is most important to have a few people on each block who are thoroughly prepared and ready to lead. In a crisis, they can be the nucleus of an organized response.

Are you one of those people? We want to talk to you! Please attend our meeting Wednesday, September 2, 7:30 p.m. at Phinney Center to help us launch our new strategy. Or email us at

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