WALLACE BAINE: Why Westside’s DYI Crisis Management Plan Must Become a Thing

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Quick, who is your next door neighbor?

The guy who plays that Pink Floyd album over and over again? A woman who can not silence her Pekingese? A couple who always leaves their recycling bin on the street one more day than everyone else?

If we Americans are honest with ourselves – not exactly a famous American character trait – we should admit that we primarily know our neighbors through the prism of our troubles with them.

Many of us can speak of a good game when it comes to getting to know neighbors, with idealized visions of block parties and flat cafes dancing through our heads. But our day-to-day behavior often tells a different story. Real estate agents know the truth: the more space and the less potential contact with neighbors is almost as desirable as an ocean view.

But isolation from neighbors is an indulgence, like too much cake or alcohol or television. It’s alluring and comfortable, but someday, especially in times of crisis, it can take a heavy toll.

The good news is that more and more people, at least in Santa Cruz County, are realizing that connecting with the immediate neighbors, like regular exercise and cutting out carbohydrates, is worth the effort (and the frustration and awkwardness) in the long run.

This is what happens as a result of traumas such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the CZU fires and even the 2020 presidential election. The crisis often makes it possible to realize that despite the fences and gates and The fetishization of privacy, humans are social animals and knowing who your neighbors are is not just about happiness and fulfillment, but survival.

A circle of friends on Walk Circle.

A circle of friends on Walk Circle.

(Kevin Painchaud / Santa Cruz Belvedere)

A neighborhood in the Westside of Santa Cruz is a prime example of what can happen when neighbors make good neighbors a priority. Since the pandemic and the fires, this district has implemented a plan, not to exchange pots and hedge trimmers, but to build a unit of solidarity for the benefit of all in the event that another crisis, even more catastrophic, arises. .

The program is known as Map Your Neighborhood, and it usually falls under the rubric of disaster preparedness. This assumes that in the event of a crippling disaster – fires, floods, terrorist attacks, earthquakes (yes, we’re owed for one of those) – emergency personnel, from police to utilities, will be overwhelmed and will not be able to respond quickly. Into this void can come neighbors who are trained and prepared to help their neighbors. Call it DIY crisis management.

Administered by the county CERT program (i.e. the Community Emergency Response Team), Map Your Neighborhood is all about collecting and sharing information.

I was a rookie journalist during the Loma Pieta earthquake in 1989 and the afterimage that stuck with me all those years later is, in the minutes and hours after the earthquake, people everywhere in their backyard, not knowing what to do or where to go, waiting for some sort of Superman to show up. The same phenomenon could be happening today (allowing people to look at their unresponsive cell phones in a way they couldn’t in 89.)

All of us who live in the earthquake country know that we need to know where our gas and water cuts are. But Map Your Neighborhood raises the bar – you also need to know where your neighbors’ closures are. You need to know who in your neighborhood is vulnerable and / or alone, or who has health or mobility issues.

You usually need to know who has useful skills or equipment, who has a generator that could keep someone else’s life-saving medicine in the fridge. Who is good at calming children or pets? How many fire extinguishers, flashlights and chainsaws are there in the neighborhood? Who knows anything about electricity, structural engineering, treating minor injuries?

If these people can do it, so can others.

If these people can do it, so can others.

(Kevin Painchaud / Santa Cruz Belvedere)

The Westside neighborhood, which adopted the Map Your Neighborhood plan, initially drew its circle in a conservative way. (There is an ideal number of people to participate in a plan, above which things get cumbersome and inefficient.) Many of them have invested in MURS radios, limited-range two-way walkie-talkies that work when cell phones cannot. And they met regularly to assess their needs and resources. In November, they even plan a sort of “false earthquake” repeat.

“We created this kind of mental health block on our street,” one of the neighbors told me. “We watch all the news and what’s going on in the country, in the world. And that makes a lot of us very anxious and isolated. For those I have spoken to, it is like an antidote.

“It’s kind of like, Oh, okay. Instead of feeling helpless in the face of what is going on in the country and the world, there is something very immediate right outside our door that we have built, basic trust and goodwill, and a plan to base, because no one can predict what will happen except that it will be chaos.

Instead of feeling helpless in the face of what is going on in the country and the world, there is something very immediate right outside our door that we have built, basic trust and goodwill, and a plan to base, because no one can predict what will happen except that it will be chaos.

The county CERT office said the fires and pandemic had spiked interest in neighborhood self-reliance in emergency preparedness, but in recent months that interest has started to wane again. . CERT offers free training in a number of emergency management skills.

This kind of neighborhood re-engagement doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing thing. Of course, CPR and two-way radio training sessions and regular neighborhood meetings, all of this can be a big request. But even establishing a common Google document with the 10-20 households closest to you, exchanging information on who has what or who needs what would be extremely beneficial in a crisis.

The most fundamental problem here is that this kind of awareness goes so far against deeply held American habits and values. The current of contemporary life flows strongly towards the freedom to be isolated and to act only on individual desire. Social media pathologies flourished in this isolation. The country’s horrific political stalemate is the result of widespread mistrust of the “you need a village” and “no man is an island” truisms that many of us see as hard-earned wisdom.

Most of us fail to this point. For my part, I will never win Neighbor of the Year. But as the scaffolding of modern life – social media, mass entertainment, remote working, commuting, internet technology – is a giant house of cards, when it all crumbles, that hand you reach some rubble is probably going to be your neighbor. Shouldn’t you know more about them than their backyard musical tastes?

To learn more about the free CERT or Map Your Neighborhood training, go here.

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