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

Public Meeting, Wed. Sep. 2, at Phinney Center, 7:30 p.m.

Phinney Hub will host a public meeting about neighborhood earthquake response on Wednesday, September 2, 7:30-8:45 p.m. at Phinney Center (Blue Building), 6532 Phinney Ave. N.  We will share information about how to prepare your household, and how to cooperate with your neighbors to save lives and protect property in the aftermath of a major earthquake.

Phinney Hub is beginning a new focus on helping individuals become “block leaders” to reach out to their neighbors.  If you want to receive support and education to become a leader on your block (or in your apartment building or other community), please attend this meeting!

For more information, please email

All the References

Our References Page is updated.  We have chosen items that give you the most information in the most accessible way, as best we can judge.  We’ve added some of our own recently-published material, as well. (Please see and evaluate the Complete Concise Guide to Earthquake Preparedness and Response in the Home.  We would value your feedback!)

We’ve also added a Videos page where you can see what it’s like inside a home or office during an earthquake.  You can viscerally understand why it’s necessary to Drop, Cover, and Hold On at the first sign of shaking. You can also see the value of securing the furniture and fixtures inside your home.

We are now at work creating a system to help you organize your block of neighbors to provide mutual aid in an earthquake emergency. Block-level organization is a difficult thing to accomplish, yet it is the most valuable preparedness effort we can make after getting our own homes ready.

Please feel free to be in touch with us at

North Seattle Hubs collaborated on great drill!

IMG_0043IMG_0031IMG_0037Three hub groups in North Seattle collaborated on a practice drill Saturday, June 6, with great success.  About 25 people attended and practiced communications procedures that could be useful after an earthquake.  Fire Engine #21 and a police officer from the North Precinct dropped by to say hello.

The three hubs represented were:  Phinney Center, Greenwood Senior Center, and Epic Life Church.  Together these locations span the neighborhoods of Phinney Ridge and Greenwood from 67th Street in the south to 105th St. in the north.  See map.

The hubs will be showing up at neighborhood festivals throughout the summer to promote emergency preparedness in our community.

Bird’s-eye view: Nepal earthquake

I’m watching the Nepal earthquake recovery via the Internet.  Here’s the 30,000-foot view:

Eight million people are affected.  Roughly two million need immediate aid in the form of water, food, shelter, and medical care.  The government is not up to the task, failing to execute even basic relief operations.  International aid is flowing in, but there’s a bottleneck at the Kathmandu airport.

The country is poor, to begin with, and it’s a catastrophic strain to come up with the resources to help millions of people.  Outside the capital, in the rural regions near the epicenter, entire villages are flattened and the roads – hard to travel in normal times – are blocked by landslides.  The misery in the mountains is unknown, but no doubt dreadful.

People are fleeing the capital city for fear of aftershocks, disease, and lawlessness.  There are not enough buses to transport the hundreds of thousands who are trying to leave. People are living outdoors under tarps, and there’s a cold rain.  People are getting angry, and the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.

The earthquake was no surprise.  After a big quake 80 years ago, the region was studied and another quake was predicted.  Building codes were recommended, but they were ignored because it’s expensive to build sturdy buildings and the country and its people are poor.

My amateur analysis:  This disaster is a grievous wound to the country of Nepal.  The nation will be weakened.  The UN says $415 million is needed for immediate aid.  As always, substantial aid will come with conditions, presumably reflecting the interests of governments and institutions that want influence in that part of the world.

Looking homeward, a big quake here in Seattle would change the reality that we live in.  We don’t have as many weak brick buildings as Nepal does, though we have some.  But our complex infrastructure is vulnerable to long-term disruption, and our advanced economy has further to fall. The recovery here would also involve mass evacuations and powerful players vying to control the future of the city.

Store water, and be ready to get out, should the need arise!

Waiting for the Big One

The thing about preparing for a big earthquake is that nothing changes.  It’s not like weather – or war, for that matter – where the fronts develop and move, and can be observed.  The probability of a major quake remains the same, and unknown.

The arena of action is not the physical world, it’s the world of people – their agendas, their schedules, the allocation of energy in their lives.  This is a case where the old aphorism is unquestionably true:  It’s not what you know, it’s who.  (Or “whom,” I suppose.)

I’ve been meeting great people and learning a lot about how they make sense of the world.  There are some people who focus intently on the consequences of an earth-shattering quake.  Most of them work for under-funded government departments.  Most of them are trying to convince people to make some preparations in advance, because that’s all you can do.

But they don’t have enough money to meet the threat, because the money has been routed to war-making rather than society-building.  Our bridges are falling down, and there hasn’t even been an earthquake yet!  Meanwhile, more than half the federal budget goes to multi-billion-dollar airplanes and multi-million-dollar cruise missiles, and other such accouterments of late-stage empire.

So the people on the ground are left to do the best they can.  It was ever thus!  Meanwhile, the earth moves – slowly now, and soon with a convulsion that will shake our civilization.  And I meet new people and I learn what they’re doing and I join them.  Because that’s all you can do.

Meeting Report: Kelly Kasper on Household Preparedness

We had nine people and two kids (plus Kelly, our presenter, and me) at the March 9 meeting of Phinney Hub.  Not bad, though of course one would always like to see the room packed to the walls.  (It will be packed in the days after a quake, that’s for sure!)

Kelly gave a great presentation about Household Preparedness.  Here are a few of her special tips, drawn from many years teaching industrial safety and disaster preparedness:

  • Rather than a “disaster,” she talks about preparing for an “interruption.”  This is brilliant, because: 1) it tells us to be ready for a lack of usual services and supplies, and 2) it points us to the goal of “getting back to normal as soon as possible.”  An “interruption” is not the end of the world as we know it, but rather a temporary condition that we can prepare for, live through, and recover from.
  • She advises to “start with what you care about,” like your kids or pets.  Think about why you are making these preparations, and you’ll be motivated to do it.
  • She emphasizes preventing damage in advance – i.e. “mitigation” – by strapping down furniture and securing objects on shelves and in cabinets.
  • Reuniting your family will be the only thing you can think about until you are together again, so crisis communications are critical, she says.  Pick an out-of-area contact and give that contact information to each member of your family.  Don’t forget to tell the out-of-area contact!
  • Recheck your disaster kit every six months.  Spring and fall are good times, around the time that Daylight Savings Time changes.  Use the change of seasons to adapt the contents of your kit to the weather that’s coming up!

We at Phinney Hub are grateful for Kelly’s support!  You can reach Kelly at 206-397-4283 or on her web site at