Recognizing that churches and neighborhood groups are already connected to people in the community in ways that government is not, leaders in the Masten District are devising their own plans to respond to natural and man-made disasters.
“A prepared community is going to survive,” said Bernadine J. Kennedy, who is helping coordinate the effort.
The United Black Men’s Think Tank and about 30 representatives from block clubs and churches met Saturday in the Delavan-Grider Community Center to talk about ways the community can be ready in case of weather disasters, fires and gas leaks, among other harmful situations.
The idea is to be prepared for disasters big and small, in a way that doesn’t require residents to rely on the government.
“We have to have the ability to meet our needs ourselves,” said L. Nathan Hare, acting director of the think tank. “You’ve got to be willing to fight for you.”
Hare described to the group the devastation wrought by Superstorm Sandy and said the community must be prepared for natural disasters, and also more mundane catastrophes, such as house fires.
“We just want to be prepared in order to deal with [disasters], to organize the community,” said Council Majority Leader Demone A. Smith, who represents the Masten District.
Plans call for churches to be used as places to store clothing, food, water, batteries and blankets. Churches and the block clubs surrounding them will appoint liaisons to each other in times of crisis.
Both types of organizations would also have someone who is familiar with local, state and federal disaster resources, speakers said.
“The day is gone when block clubs put a corner sign up and have a cookout once a year,” said Dr. James A. Lewis III, executive director of pastoral care at Erie County Medical Center.
Block club captains were told they should know who lives in each house on the block, whether the occupants are in poor health and whether there are pets in the home, and they should have a phone tree for everyone on the block.
Lewis urged people to have someone in their organization who can give spiritual counsel, noting that it can often diffuse a tense situation. He also suggested that people have photo identification if they want to be admitted to a crisis scene as a member of the clergy.
The group is using existing resources in the community and is not seeking funding to develop disaster plans, Smith said.