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Preparing together

The other night, I had a neighborhood gathering to prepare for an earthquake. I’m sure a lot of people are doing this, but this was a little different from most such events. Usually, we get an expert to come from the city, but this time, we didn’t.

We’d already had someone from the city a few months earlier, and, yes, she’d been very informative. But, essentially, we all just sat there, listened and went home. This time, we all talked and learned from each other and came away feeling more prepared.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. I’ve been involved with educating adults for many years, and we are not meant to be passive learners. You learn better when you’re involved. You learn more when you turn to each other.

“But,” you’re thinking, “what did you do without a speaker?”

First, we reviewed what we knew (surprisingly a lot), and then we speculated about how to actually do it.

We realized that the way we respond in an earthquake involves more than just remembering the rules or following a script like “Duck, cover and hold.”

It involves judgment, being able to make quick decisions based on the circumstances. It means thinking and talking about earthquakes ahead of time, sizing things up and problem solving about what you would do.

Judgment is something that usually comes from a lot of practice, something you’re not going to get in the case of earthquakes. So we need to prepare ourselves by talking with each other.

Taking heed

For instance, one woman talked about how, in a recent motel stay, there was a big picture above her bed. She took it down. She knew that one of the things most likely to cause damage in an earthquake is a falling object. (Her teenage daughters laughed at her, but I’m sure they learned a good lesson.)

Another person told how, when he goes to Costco, he tries to imagine what he would do in a quake. There are stacks of things there that could fall on shoppers, but holding up the stacks are sturdy, steel frames — he’s diving into one of those.

People’s stories got us all thinking and coming up with our own ideas.

We shared a lot of tips: where to store our water (both outside and in), what kinds of foods we were getting (soup and peanut butter), what to keep in our car (blankets and water) and where our family contacts are (out of state). We each got a lot of fresh ideas and insights.

We passed on new things we’ve learned. For instance, if you’re in bed when things start shaking, you’re not supposed to get under your bed, as we’d learned in the past; you’re supposed to stay in bed and pull the covers over your head. And no standing under doorjambs anymore either!

Ultimately, whatever you do, you need to prepare by talking and planning ahead with others.

Lessons to learn

The most helpful thing we discussed was what we need to do together. The city is developing a hub system — a place that can be equipped with a communications device that would connect with the city and other neighborhoods.

Our neighborhood’s main hub is a little far away, so we agreed that we would gather on the triangle of grass in our street to arrange things like search and rescue and first aid.

Further, we decided that we would use the garage door of one of our houses to put up notes and messages, and so on (very clever, we thought).

We explored everything from what kind of radio is best (battery or wind-up) to how much cash to tuck away.

One woman realized that, 20 years ago, when she first heard the advice about storing cash, she had put aside $50 and recently realized that may not be enough. Of course, we all had a good laugh at that.

And, actually, we laughed a lot. It felt good preparing together. We felt much more secure because we had come to know each other better.

As people left, we talked of meeting monthly at a local coffeehouse just to get together.

The big lesson we learned is that we all know a lot more than we think, that we need to come together to share what we know, that building community is one of the most important things we can do.

It’s probably true for lots of things in our lives.

Editorial Notes: EB contributor Cecile Andrews is a long-time author on the subject of simplicity and originator of the Simplicity Circle idea. She has convinced me that:
  1. The "technology" of conversation and group process is more powerful than most of our physical technologies.
  2. These skills and techniques can be learned.
Cecile is involved with projects to build Sustainability and Community in her North Seattle Neighborhood and in Palo Alto, California. The theme is living Simpler, Slower, and Smaller. She has been a visiting scholar at Stanford University where she received her doctorate in education, and an affiliated scholar with Seattle University. A former community college administrator, she now works with community groups to explore the issue of living more simply: how to live lives that are sustainable, just, and joyful. Website: YouTube talk -BA

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