A few years ago, people throughout the Pacific Northwest became aware of the likely possibility that an earthquake in the Cascadia Subduction Zone just off the coast could disrupt our lives for weeks or possibly months. Communities in the region began to plan for an event like this, focusing on ways neighbors can often provide the most important first line of defense when larger institutions are unable to respond because of the extent of the need and the breakdown of interconnected systems such as power, water and transportation.
In Portland, citizens were invited to join Neighborhood Emergency Teams where they could be trained to rescue people from collapsed buildings, suppress fires and offer first aid care to the injured. In West Linn, a mapping project brought together neighbors to collect information about skills and tools people would be willing to share in an emergency as well as teach one another how to assemble a kit of equipment, food and water capable of carrying their families through the first days following a major disruption.
The aim of these efforts has been to be minimize the damage and loss of life associated with such emergencies and speed the process by which people can return to some level of normality in their daily lives. This capacity to roll with the punches thrown our way is oftentimes called resilience.
Over the past two years we have had to deal with forest fires and the smoke associated with them, a pandemic and economic dislocation, an ice storm that cut off power for up to five or ten days, a life-threatening heat dome and now the possibility of cyberattacks associated with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
My own and other families experienced the value of such neighborly support during the ice storm a year ago February when a couple down the street asked whether we'd like to use a generator for a few hours to charge our cell phones and rechill our freezer. They would then carry the generator to another neighbor. As the power outage continued, they polled their extended family and were able to collect enough generators to provide back-up power for several homes.
A few months before, during the week when fires forced the evacuation of rural homes in the vicinity of Oregon City, the same neighbors invited several families to camp in a pasture on their property with whatever livestock they needed to bring. In these two instances, this family exhibited the kind of support that could be critical as our community continues to face similar challenges in the future.
To encourage more people to explore this possibility, the West Linn Sustainability Advisory Board will be offering an online class on the formation of Neighborhood Resilience Teams as part of its educational series. Such teams, made up of people from 20-25 nearby homes, would be ready to aid one another in the event of an emergency. But more than this, they would be responsible for encouraging neighbors to talk with one another and build supportive relationships before that time, looking for ways they could collaborate with child or elder care, cooperative gardening or fruit tree harvesting, tool sharing, house or yard projects, or the hosting of monthly potluck dinners, picnics or block parties.
Many neighborhoods in the city already demonstrate elements of this kind of mutual support. The formation of Neighborhood Resilience Teams would create a structure that might encourage more people throughout West Linn to reach out to others and create what some call a "sharing community" for more of our citizens. Doing so would also go a long way toward creating an interpersonal infrastructure capable of enhancing our ability to respond effectively to the short- or long-term emergencies we or our children could well face in our uncertain future.
If you are interested in exploring this idea further, please join me on Tuesday, April 12 at 7 p.m. for a virtual meeting to share your ideas and help shape what this project might look like. You can register for this free and informative one-hour webinar by going to the West Linn Sustainability web page, the West Linn Library page, or register directly at calendly.com/wlpl-programs/sustainability-april?month=2022-04.
Greg Smith is a West Linn resident.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.