Emergency preparedness starts with island’s neighborly ways

We need that “Neighbors Helping Neighbors” movement on the island to grow even more.

We already had the biggest February snow since 1923 and could have more. Some called it a whole winter in a single week. Some folks even called it Snowpocalypse. At VashonBe- Prepared, we call ourselves lucky that it wasn’t worse. One reason it wasn’t worse: the way our community came together to deal with impassable roads and loss of electric power. We’re lucky that so many people lived up to the motto of VashonBe- Prepared — “Neighbors Helping Neighbors.”

We witnessed community outpourings of encouragement, support and logistical help. Just one example: A visiting family with an infant was stuck in a vacation rental that had no heat. But once the call came out on social media, two different nearby neighbors braved heavy weather and deepening snow to reach them. Another example: People answered the call to shovel snow at the Methodist church, so Vashon Maury Community Food Bank volunteers could continue snow-week food distribution operations. We could go on, but suffice it to say that we heard story after story of people shoveling and plowing for neighbors stuck at home — even chainsawing and dragging fallen trees off driveways. It’s clear that neighborliness, a can-do attitude, and even heroism, abound here on our island home.

Special thanks go to the social service nonprofits on the island that work on the everyday vulnerabilities of elders, families with infants, folks with mobility challenges and more. The food bank, Interfaith Council to Prevent Homelessness and many others all live our neighbor-to-neighbor culture every day — even when it isn’t storming. And when winter descended, many of those same helpers stepped up their game. When weather made roads impassable, food bank volunteers and staff rapidly put together a solution to meet food bank clients in more accessible places, including delivery for some who were unable to get out at all. That response was faster and more efficient thanks to planning and forethought, long before the first snowflakes fell.

On Vashon, we are the envy of mainland communities because we have homegrown our VashonBePrepared partners such as our CERT group, the Voice of Vashon Emergency Alert Service, ham radio operators and our all-volunteer emergency operations center. But the couple of hundred islanders who train for emergencies can’t do it all for our 10,000+ neighbors. We need that “Neighbors Helping Neighbors” movement to grow even more.

So, this winter-in-a-week has been a sharp reminder. Despite an impressive level of rural resilience among island residents, there will always be some vulnerable folks who must depend on others for help. That would be even truer in a major disaster — The Big One, the 2006 windstorm, the 1996 ice storm and a dozen other island emergencies described in The Beachcomber’s recent preparedness insert published on Jan. 3. Our advice: Right now is the best time to apply lessons learned from the recent severe weather. Just get started: Make a plan, build a kit and stay informed. It’s a lot more fun to be part of the solution, extending a helping hand to friends and neighbors, than to be part of the problem, begging for help and hoping it arrives. If you’d like us to give a hand organizing your neighborhood to be more ready, email NERO@VashonBePrepared.org

For lists and ideas on how to better prepare your household, visit VashonBePrepared.org.

But we are too few volunteers trying to do an awful lot. We need your help. New volunteers can take on all sorts of interesting jobs. So, if you’re interested in volunteering, but not sure where to start, please send an email to volunteer@vashonbeprepared.org.

The community is strength — I hope the storm’s most lasting impact will be the inspiring stories of neighbors joining together to help each other make it through. Planning now can make all the difference. Household preparation for a winter storm also goes a long way to making us more ready for whatever sort of challenges the future brings. Let’s keep working on greater readiness that helps us get through whatever happens, together.

— Vicky de Monterey Richoux is the President of VashonBePrepared.org. She spends most of her time entreating neighbors and neighborhoods to just get started, and then keep going.