Neighborhood Disaster Planning

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Flooded area in Seattle, 2000

Three Seattle District Councils and neighborhoods created communications hubs and community outreach on emergency preparedness in 2009, using $21,000 that I secured in the Council’s 2008 budget.  In 2010, these three groups convened a planning summit for other communities to learn from their experience, and a number of other groups are seeking to develop systems as a result.

Hanukkah Eve windstorm, 2006

Emergency planning at the Citywide level is a critical task that I have focused on in my oversight of the City’s preparedness programs.  Seattle has also long had an active and effective community education program around emergency preparedness.  Adding this community-based organizing initiative is exactly the kind of approach that will strengthen our ability to respond with resilience, especially in the event of a major disaster such as a large earthquake.  The goal of these projects is to establish a network of sites around the community to provide emergency communications and resources in local areas.  This could be especially important in communities where transportation infrastructure may be damaged or disabled, isolating the community from outside assistance. Under the first round of this program, the West Seattle and Southwest District Councils equipped nine Hubs around West Seattle with General Mobile Radio Service radios, which allow for two way communications over short distances.  Each Hub has a licensed operator and emergency bags, and the locations of the Hubs are publicized in a brochure and in newspaper and web information resources. The Magnolia/Queen Anne District Council equipped eight Hubs with radios and licensed operators, and performed a similar outreach and publicity campaign.  Fremont and Wallingford community members developed seven Hubs and accompanying outreach and publicity. After the planning summit, a number of other communities formed planning groups to begin work on developing their own networks, including Capitol Hill, Belltown, Green Lake, View Ridge, Montlake, and Phinney.  Green Lake is partnering with Wallingford on two Hub sites, and has identified two new ones.  Capitol Hill has identified three Hub Locations.  Recognizing the success of this effort, the Seattle Police Foundation has awarded the program a grant for $13,000 to purchase equipment for 30 new Hubs.  Our goal is to eventually have a citywide network that will be mobilized and connected. The three existing Hub networks were tested during a 2010 earthquake simulation exercise, and demonstrated their capability and value.  The Office of Emergency Management is now working to integrate these networks into the City’s overall emergency preparedness strategy. This new community-based emergency response capability will be an important asset to the City.  Expanding it, however, will require additional funding.  Even the modest costs will be tough to come by under current budgetary constraints.  In the long run, even if the funding is found, maintaining the effectiveness of the network will depend on strong City support and continued volunteer engagement at the community level.  Since no one can predict when a major emergency will take place, it will be important to figure out how to keep these networks fresh and able to recruit and engage new volunteers in the future.  These are challenges that we must take on as part of our preparedness strategy.