Recent examples of regional emergencies caused by natural disasters have shown that the people who really make a difference -- responding immediately -- are the volunteers trained in emergency response techniques. People with emergency preparedness skills, with the added advantage of knowing their own neighborhoods, can be invaluable in a crisis.
'We are the non-professionals who can talk with people, network, help ourselves and our neighbors,' explained Marco Fusaro, chairperson of the Woodstock Neighborhood Emergency Team (NET), at a recent NET meeting.
Fire Department Captain Mark Gift, who, with three other firefighters, made a guest appearance at that February NET meeting, agreed wholeheartedly. 'Yes, that's your strength, since we will be overwhelmed with requests for help, and possibly slowed down by impassable streets and other damage.'
In the past few months, re-organization of neighborhood emergency teams has been discussed among NET members, the Portland Fire Bureau (FIRE), and emergency planners. Originally each of Portland's 96 neighborhoods was to have its own team. However, since an official team needs at least twenty members, neighborhood teams having only two or three trained people were too small.
Re-organization was finalized in December, making all NETs a part of a 'Fire Management Area' (FMA). An FMA is made up of an area served by a certain fire station. For example, FMA #25 includes the neighborhoods of Brentwood-Darlington, Creston-Kenilworth, Foster-Powell, Mt. Scott-Arleta, Woodstock, Reed and South Tabor. FMA #20 includes Ardenwald-Johnson Creek, Eastmoreland, and Sellwood-Westmoreland.
Now, instead of 96 small teams, there are 30 large teams. This allows every FMA to have at least one experienced team leader who can communicate with new graduates and welcome them to meetings and ongoing trainings.
Increased contact between the Portland Fire and Rescue and the NETs is also becoming a priority. 'The NETs and the Fire Department should be working together more. It's important to get to know each other,' Captain Mark Gift said.
In a memo to emergency team trainees, Lawrence Behmer, NET coordinator for the Portland Office of Emergency Management (POEM), noted that soon NETs will have increased opportunities for contact with fire stations. 'In the future, designated training hours and money will make it possible for each fire station to do annual refresher trainings with all of the NETs in their FMA,' Behmer wrote.
When disaster strikes the Rose City, people will meet in neighborhood staging areas, such as school parking lots or mall areas, which will serve as locations for evacuation and assistance for the community. These sites will gradually be re-evaluated with more input from POEM and FIRE.
'We know our neighborhood, but the Fire Department has the experience to know if the Woodstock staging area -- a section of SE 43rd Ave. between Bi-Mart and Safeway -- is the best choice', Fusaro pointed out to those attending the Woodstock NET meeting.
NETs around the city are being urged by POEM and FIRE to strategize how they will communicate in an emergency. For example, Woodstock resident Joe McMains is a Ham radio operator; he will be getting together with two other Ham operators from FMA 25 to talk about a communication system. 'We also will be purchasing more walkie-talkies to help NET members communicate with each other in an emergency,' he said.
If you'd like to join these prepared citizen-volunteers, In Portland, each of the NETs is composed of people who take 26-hour of basic training, and participate in a simulated disaster exercise -- offered free by Portland Fire and Rescue (FIRE) and by the Portland Office of Emergency Management.
The seven training sessions cover disaster awareness and home preparedness, basic fire suppression, utility control and hazardous material identification, disaster medicine, urban search and rescue, building size-up/visual damage assessment, trauma intervention and disaster psychology, as well as NET team management.
For additional information about NETs, visit the Internet website: www.portlandonline.com/oem/index.cfm?c=dbggh. To register for NET trainings or for advanced and refresher training, call 503/823-1260.