NEIGHBOR-TO-NEIGHBOR RESILIENT RESPONSE
TO EXTREME WEATHER
by Pamela Boyce Simms
At its best, transitioningsimultaneously honors the past, is keenly aware of what is emerging in the present moment, and prepares us for a radically transformed future. We envision a simpler, superb-quality future even as we sensibly prepare to navigate the turbulent transformation. The message in the present moment is clear. Frigid cold snaps, record-breaking heat waves, floods of increasing frequency, and crop failures from either too much or too little water are upon us now.
Neighbor-to-Neighbor Resilient Response is a collaboration of Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH), Ulster and Dutchess County Interfaith Community, Community Caring Connection (C3) People’s Reporter System, and Woodstock Time Bank. The program invites New Yorkers to get through the uncharted narrows of accelerated extreme weather victoriously, in community.
Resilient Response is about getting to know our neighbors as we:
1. Purposefully care for each other’s emotional wellbeing,
2. Implement a multi-tiered non-emergency and emergency communications system
3. Train for mindful preparedness with emergency management professionals
Get to Know Your Neighbors
Would you feel comfortable turning to the people who live in closest proximity to you for help in an extreme weather crisis? Do you have opportunities to really talk with your next-door neighbors and the people living on your street?
New York residents have witnessed time and time again that neighbors are the “first responders” in extreme weather emergencies. Encouraging Ulster and Dutchess county residents to know their neighbors is the first goal of Resilient Response.
Authorities, often arriving woefully late in emergency situations, warn concerned citizens, “We’ve got this. Stand down. Stay inside so you don’t make matters worse.” Yet residents who used their chain saws to free up tree-blocked roads, who knocked on doors telling others of services available nearby, or invited neighbors to share their generators were the responders who relieved suffering after the recent superstorms.
Neighbor response consistently proves to be highly effective during extreme weather crises while government action is constricted by: 1) uncoordinated interagency information sharing, 2) insurance liability issues, 3) inability to officially request assistance from pivotal resources, such as faith communities, toward which residents invariably and immediately turn.
Community members also discovered that government and mega relief agencies measure success during emergencies in vastly different ways than residents. Agencies may consider a low death toll a resounding success, while householders declare victory when they don’t have to be without running water or electricity for two weeks, which was the case for tens of thousands of New Yorkers. Resilient Response addresses the householder level of emergency experience.
A Resilient Response Working Group of representatives from local and regional Transition Town networks, Ulster and Dutchess County interfaith communities, and communications systems resource persons formed on January 20, 2014. The group is developing ways (see below) to collectively interconnect their networks on an ongoing basis to progressively build resilient community bonds.
When Things Fall Apart We Tell Resilience Stories. Periods of transition can be disorienting and anxiety producing as once reliable patterns and institutions disintegrate around us. We can respond by embracing constructive ways to face and work through the uncertainty and anguish together.
The Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH), the Hudson River Playback Theater, professional NYS Storytellers, and the Woodstock Timebank have partnered to create Resilience Stories, a storytelling platform. This spring, Resilience Stories will begin providing intimate, café and salon storytelling entertainment forums throughout Ulster and Dutchess Counties where residents can share stories and support each other through challenging times.
Layered Non-emergency and Emergency Communications System development is also on the Resilient Responsedocket.
The Community Caring Connection, (C3) People’s Reporter System,supported by MATH, addresses the ongoing need for better communication with municipal agencies about unmet community needs. Once identified, needs will be matched to appropriate resources, prioritizing community members in need of special assistance.
The C3 database and smartphone application allow anyone to note a community problem by cell phone (e.g., potholes, road erosion, dangerous trees, etc.), submit a report, and a picture of the problem—switching into high gear for critical information during emergencies. The Resilient Response Working Group invites neighbors to map (non-emergency and emergency) community resources to build-out the C3 clearinghouse.
The second tier of “grid-down” emergency communications preparation supported by Woodstock Timebank members and MATH involves the community development of satellite phone and ham radio classes, clubs, and networks.
Preparedness Education and Training: New Yorkers who fended for themselves and spontaneously took care of each other during the superstorms could be doubly effective if they were emergency trained. An EPA-FEMA Training on “Community Engagement after Natural Disasters” on January 27-28 initiated the Resilient Response Working Group’s process of connecting their networks with training from relief agency resources. The intent is to cultivate an informed grassroots cadre of “peoples’ emergency-preparedness leadership.”
Resilient Response to Extreme Weather encourages Transitioners, friends, and neighbors to come up to meet, compliment, and supplement government emergency response at the grassroots level. We are challenged to proactively demonstrate personal and collective resilience.
“If we wait for the government it will be too little too late; If we act as individuals it will be too little; but if we act as communities, it might just be enough, just in time.”
–Transition Towns Co-founder Rob Hopkins
Pamela Boyce Simms is a Certified Transition Trainer
Mid-Atlantic Regional Transition Hub, of Transition US
Mid-Atlantic Regional Transition Hub, of Transition US