Creating NEROs: There is safety in neighbors

Whether it’s a major winter snowstorm complete with power outage (as in 2006, 2008, 2010 and earlier this year) or a massive earthquake, if we want to be safe and know that those we love are well, then we need to get together and make our plans now.

County and state emergency managers that work with VashonBePrepared have made it very clear that it could easily be 10 days before we begin to see aid after any disaster that’s big enough to also affect the mainland.

Vashon is expected to stand alone, and there are two very important things we can do to make sure we and our families are ready.

First, and most importantly, Islanders should get their emergency supplies of food, water, batteries, etc., put in place right now. This will take a load off your mind as that big winter snowstorm with our name on it approaches. The good news is if you are ready for a big storm, then you have made it most of the way to being prepared for an earthquake as well.

Just make sure that each member of your family has a stocked “go kit” — a bag of essential supplies needed to keep you OK for 36 hours — in the car or by the bed, and then you’re really set.

Secondly, join a NERO, a Neighborhood Emergency Response Organization. This may sound official, but all it means is that you and your neighbors are getting together and making a plan about who is going to check on whom in an emergency. NEROs are the critical first building block of our disaster response system on Vashon: They help ensure that every household is checked to determine if anyone has been injured or is missing, thus ensuring that help, if needed, can be called in quickly.

Did you know, according to FEMA officials, that 80 percent of those who need help during a disaster receive that help from friends and neighbors? Our firefighters, EMTs and CERT volunteers will not be able to be everywhere at once in a disaster — especially if 911 is down. To be really effective they have to have a way of finding out who is in critical need of help so that they can prioritize their response; that information comes primarily from NEROs that are ready to swing into action and supply it.

Setting up a NERO is simple. Contact Joe Ulatoski, VashonBePrepared’s NERO coordinator, and let him know you’re interested. He can tell you whether there is an active NERO that already exists close to you that you can join or, if not, he’ll help you get one started. Your NERO can be anything you want it to be — from five households to a whole street. It’s up to you and your neighbors. When talking to folks about forming a NERO, remember to include seniors, anyone who lives alone and others who might be especially vulnerable in the event of a disaster. And if you already have an agreement with friends and neighbors to look in on each other, then sign yourselves up as a NERO so that any information you have about someone who needs help in a disaster can get through the channels and receive the quickest possible response. What better insurance could you get? And this is free; all you have to do is sign up.

When I started the NERO in my neighborhood I didn’t know most of the folks on my street, but Joe encouraged me not to be shy, to take some of the VashonBePrepared information booklets to give people and just walk around and talk to my neighbors.

When I got out there, it took me less than an hour to do, and I really enjoyed meeting everyone. As soon as they understood what a NERO was, every person I spoke with was happy to have the information and to know that they were going to be included. Many wanted to know how they could help in a disaster and offered the use of equipment they owned in case it was needed to help clear roads or rescue people. That’s what NEROs are — you and your family, friends and neighbors being ready to help each other when it really counts.

So don’t wait for the big one. Get yourself ready and join a NERO or start one with your friends and neighbors now.


— Erin Durrett teaches at Little Tree Montessori and homeschools her 11-year-old daughter.

To form a NERO, contact coordinator Joe Ulatoski at 463-1321 or at jbigranger@centurytel.net.

To learn more about NEROs, go to Vashon Island Fire & Rescue’s open house between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday. Or for more information on preparedness, visit www.VashonBePrepared.org and click on “Are You Ready?”


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