Photo By: Town Crier File Photo
If the power fizzles, mobile networks die or families face separation in the aftermath of a natural disaster or emergency, one local advocate wants Los Altos residents to be prepared to bounce back by creating resilient neighborhood networks that function with or without the assistance of emergency responders.
“It’s not if it happens, but when,” said Los Altos resident Sherie Dodsworth, certified public accountant and entrepreneur, of her efforts to develop stronger neighborhood networks to communicate with the city and first responders when an emergency strikes.
Working hand-in-hand with the city and organizations like the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce, neighborhood watch groups, amateur radio operators and local Boy Scout troops, Dods-worth launched a new initiative to build the networks last fall.
Motivated in part by concerns for her elderly neighbors, who would face major challenges during an emergency, Dodsworth crafted the framework for Los Altos PREPARE – a Los Altos Community Foundation-supported program that engages residents in emergency preparedness planning, outreach and education.
“Our goal is not just preparedness, but also safety by incorporating neighborhood watch and social media,” she said. “The more we know each other over a cup of coffee, the better our community will be.”
To rally volunteers for the initiative and spark community interest, Los Altos PREPARE has scheduled a free Intro to the Personal Emergency Preparedness program 3-4 p.m. April 18 in the Los Altos City Council Chambers, 1 N. San Antonio Road. In addition to a one-hour presentation by Santa Clara County Emergency Services coordinators George Hurst and Mike Sanders, participants can learn about opportunities to organize their families and neighborhoods in the wake of an emergency.
Bringing the city up to speed
Without a dedicated budget for engaging the community in emergency preparedness, the city of Los Altos lags behind some neighboring cities, according to Dodsworth.
Although Los Altos, through annual trainings and drills, trains its police, fire and public works personnel to operate an Emergency Operations Center (EOC), there is currently no coordinated plan for how individual neighborhoods should communicate with the EOC during an emergency.
The Los Altos Recreation Department began offering a free Personal Emergency Preparedness (PEP) class three years ago, but Dodsworth notes that only a small number of residents have participated. Six people registered for February’s PEP class that had the capacity for 25, and Dodworth said the class she attended drew just 10 participants.
In comparison, more than 1,000 Los Altos Hills residents have trained in Personal Emergency Preparedness or are certified as members of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).
Dodsworth wants Los Altos PREPARE to lead the charge in creating a grassroots neighborhood network that can make Los Altos “better and stronger.”
In addition to ensuring that every neighborhood in Los Altos is emergency-ready, Los Altos PREPARE will cooperate with the city to improve preparedness information available to residents through the city’s website and continue to encourage enrollment in PEP and CERT classes.
For residents unable to attend the Los Altos PREPARE launch, the Recreation Department is registering participants for April 20 and May 11 PEP classes at losaltosrecreation.org/current-brochure.html.