There’s a fire in your building. Quick, are the exits clear? Do all the fire escapes work? Are the elderly and infirm out of the building? Want another worst case scenario? There’s a blackout. There is no electricity in the building, the elevators aren’t working, and people are panicking. What do you do?
These aren’t premises for a new reality show on Fox TV. They could actually happen. Look at the track record: in the past four years, the New York City metropolitan region has been hit with a series of natural and man-made disasters.
But instead of being scared, New Yorkers should be prepared. That’s the message of the Ready New York campaign, sponsored by the New York City Office of Emergency Management [OEM], part of a nationwide campaign to shore up the nation’s emergency preparedness.
As part of an effort to test the response time of such first-call responders as police, firefighters, and hospital personnel, the OEM has teamed up with the Empowerment Institute to train New Yorkers to take care of themselves and each other. One of the group’s events is “All Together Now,” a one-day training session on Saturday, September 24, to help local leaders, including co-op and condo board directors, learn how to prepare for a natural or man-made crisis. (More seminars are to be scheduled for the remainder of 2005.) It includes tips on how to communicate, build teams, assign tasks – checking on the emergency lighting, investing in back-up generators, building stores of nonperishable food, water, and batteries — and running drills. The goal of the program isn’t to frighten people, it’s to make them aware of the dangers of not being more proactive about their health and safety, says David Gershon, CEO of the Empowerment Institute.
“We have been working for 25 years to design behavior change and public participation programs for cities,” he says. “We developed a program in 1999 [for the Federal Emergency Management Agency] called ‘All Together Now’ for the possibility of a Y2K problem,” adds Gershon. That program model is now being used by New York City as a part of a new effort to focus on emergency preparedness for a variety of potential disasters.
“We were taught the techniques of how to get organized,” recalls Alan Leidner, a co-op board director on the Upper West Side who went through a pilot program of All Together Now in October 2004 – “It took us a whole day to master the techniques, and then we went back to our buildings to apply them.” It was stressed, before the training, that two people should come from each building, so that there would always be a back-up.
Leidner, who heard about the program at a conference several years ago, says he was pleased when the model was brought to New York. As the former director of geographic systems for New York City, Leidner was in charge of the emergency mapping and data center that served the information needs of the fire department and other response community personnel after the World Trade Center attack of September 11, 2001.
The lessons from that experience have stayed with him. “We know that there were a lot of people who were trapped in their apartments in Battery Park City for days after 9/11. Only, by luck, someone went door to door,” discovering trapped residents. And it doesn’t have to take a disaster on that scale to immobilize a building, block, or neighborhood.
“The emergencies in New York seem to come with some regularity: electrical blackouts, blizzards, downpours, flooding from the city [water pipes],” notes Leidner, a life-long community organizer, with a background in organizing block and tenant associations.
For Gershon, who has spent two decades developing leadership training programs, the point of the program is to create a culture of resiliency in an age of terrorism. “This program is part of a larger effort by the OEM to help people prepare.”
For information on how to sign up for the September 24 training, call Citizens for NYC at 212-989-0909 or go to the Empowerment Institute’s website at www.empowermentinstitute.net. The one-day seminar is free and open to all board directors, space permitting.