Communication, shared information will be important
By Laurelle Walsh
Rather than wringing their hands over the stresses of wildfire season, one group of Twisp River residents is taking a proactive stance by forming the first-ever MethowReady neighborhood group.
Headed up by neighborhood leader Judy Harvey, the residents of Elbow Canyon — a hidden vale off Poorman Creek Road — are getting acquainted, learning the locations of each other’s homes, exchanging phone numbers and making a plan for surviving the next disaster.
Elbow Canyon is inhabited by “very independent-minded individuals who are capable of taking care of themselves,” Harvey said. “But there are going to be times when we need to help each other.”
Harvey, her husband Jim, and 10 of their neighbors recently got together to learn about Map Your Neighborhood (MYN), a program designed to help neighbors support each other and share resources during and after natural disasters. The Harveys found out about MYN at an Aero Methow Rescue Service open house last May, and attended a MethowReady leader training session in July.
Harvey said she had long wanted to get the neighbors together to meet and share contact information “just in case. The MYN program helped us do that in an organized and efficient manner,” she said. MethowReady provided Harvey with training and program materials for each family. And at last Wednesday’s Elbow Canyon neighborhood gathering, the group watched a DVD that walked them through a disaster response plan, and helped them create a skills and equipment inventory, a neighborhood map and a contact list.
One way in, one way out
“In an emergency, resources are spread very thin and people need to be able to take care of themselves,” Aero Methow Director and Elbow Canyon resident Cindy Button told the group.
Elbow Canyon Road is a narrow lane flanked by trees for the first quarter mile before opening up into a network of long, connected driveways. It is one way in and one way out, “something that has bothered me since we moved here [in 1996]” Harvey said.
It’s a layout that could be particularly dangerous during wildfire — a fact that everyone gathered in the Harveys’ living room was acutely aware of. “I’ll be honest, I’m not going to be around to help in a disaster,” said Angie Wallis. “If there’s an evacuation notice I’m out of here. They won’t have to tell me twice.”
The recent Twisp River Fire was clearly visible from many of the 15 residences in Elbow Canyon, and was less than a mile away when flames briefly jumped Twisp River Road on Aug. 19. “If the wind had shifted again it would have run right up here,” said career firefighter John Button, who called in the fire after spotting the smoke from his home.
“It’s good to know who’s gonna do what in a fire,” observed Ken Schneider as his neighbors discussed fire scenarios. “They’re gonna have to drag me out by my heels,” Schneider said, adding that he intends to stay and defend his property.
Cindy Button emphasized the importance of heeding a Level 3 evacuation notice: “There’s going to be a problem when they [the firefighters] are trying to bring big engines up here and people are blocking the road,” she said. She also noted that if everyone gets emergency alerts by phone, the sheriff “won’t have to drive up and down roads notifying people.”
Designed for a different setting
One component of the MYN packet is a two-sided sign with “HELP” printed on one side and “OK” on the other. According to the MYN system, which was designed for dense neighborhoods in earthquake-prone areas, when the disaster event has passed, residents are supposed to post that sign in a window to let their neighbors know if everyone’s OK, or not. But where should the OK sign be posted in a neighborhood like Elbow Canyon where people can’t see each others’ houses easily, the group asked.
Cindy Button suggested that after checking on all the neighbors, someone could post the OK sign at the bottom of the road so that emergency responders wouldn’t have to drive around and check. A similar discussion ensued over the MYN plan for establishing an easily visible neighborhood gathering site.
“We’re really two distinct neighborhoods in this canyon,” Judy Harvey said. “Maybe there’s not one good spot; maybe we need two spots,” echoed Jim Harvey. “To my mind, having a gathering place is more for after an earthquake,” Judy added.
The group discussed the types of disaster scenarios that would more likely happen in the Methow: snow, ice and windstorms; fallen trees; floods; and road washouts. Everyone seemed to agree that having a MYN plan in place — even if not perfect for their situation — was better than nothing.
“The program is obviously not meant for a rural setting,” said Judy Harvey. “Each neighborhood is unique here in the Methow, but it was easy to adapt the program to our particular situation through discussion and just common sense.” One spontaneous adaptation was a plan to bring the neighborhood’s horses to the Buttons’ corral in the event of a wildfire.
Several group members volunteered to inform those not in attendance about the program; Harvey said she would talk to the seasonal residents. All agreed to get back to each other about which emergency radio frequency to choose, and then conduct a neighborhood hand-held radio test.
MethowReady encourages more neighborhood groups to form in the valley. For more information on Map Your Neighborhood or MethowReady, go to www.methowready.org, or call Preparedness Coordinator Sandi Scheinberg at (509) 449-5590.