What Would You Do?

Thinking Out Loud About Our Neighborhood and Emergencies

First, we’ve been waiting for a little while to get a post up about Stanley Mayes, a Wallach Place resident and the second confirmed candidate for the ANC 1B open seat.  We’ve sent him the same questions we sent to Alexandra, and as soon as we get a reply, we’ll post his answers as well as profile Stanley.  We’ve also floated the idea of a candidate’s forum – so let’s  wait and see.

Which provides an admittedly awkward segue into some thoughts about our neighborhood, and what ifs.  Particularly, what if something bad were to happen in Washington.

Beyond our small slice of this town, Robert McCartney’s feature in Sunday’s WaPo should give everyone pause.  For years we’ve heard of possible threats to the District – we’ve had evacuation plans floated, debates about crisis centers…every argument possible.  Except, perhaps, for the most basic: who declares an emergency in the District?

As McCartney points out, nobody’s really sure.  Which means nobody does…or everybody does.  Or, most likely, some do and some don’t, leading to even more confusion in an already confused town when it comes to unexpected events.

Lying awake Saturday night, listening to the helicopters circling overhead, sirens roaring around town, and the hundred or so voices that make up a Saturday night downtown, the thought came: what would happen if something bad happened…right now?

Would we all be expected to evacuate?  If so, how would we know?  And what would we do – drive, walk, Metro?  Think about the block where you live – do you know who has a car and who doesn’t?  Who may be older, or recovering from surgery, and need help?  Assuming anything short of police cars with bullhorns driving up and down every DC side street, how would we let our neighbors know…and that’s all before figuring out just where we were supposed to go.

Do we take water?  Food?  Our pets?  A gun?  When ‘who knows?’ is the answer, as it is too often in this scenario, then we each have to figure it out for ourselves.

And what if we’re told to stay put – but don’t go outside.  Or drink the water. Does anyone seriously have a real good first aid kit that hasn’t sat unopened for years?  Water enough to drink for more than two or three days?  Stocked up food?

This is no finger pointing exercise.  We – Craig and I specifically – barely have any of that stuff, and even less idea where to go, or who to ask for advice.  Again, meaning we’re probably left to figure it out for ourselves, along with everyone else in the ‘hood.

Now in times of unusual events – the blizzardcanes of a few years back, the earthquake, whatnot – neighbors have always had a good way of coming together.  Storm drains completely jammed with Happy Meal bags, broken bottles and other flotsam to work in heavy rain?  Someone will probably go dig it out so the street doesn’t flood.  Cars buried by snow, with no room to throw it in the street?  People figure out where to put it – all while making sure that everyone has a shoveled walk, not just the able-bodied.  It’s one of the genuinely encouraging things about living in this little spot – it’s a good neighborhood filled with good people.

But what if it gets really serious?  Has any ANC, neighborhood board, or any other formal or informal group even discussed contingency plans?  If so, where are they?  And if not – the more likely, sadly, of the options – then when will we?

I well understand this is not a proposal.  This isn’t blame, it isn’t scare-mongering, and it’s not idle hand-wringing.  We all hope we never have to deal with something bad.  But I fear many, many of us are completely unprepared should we ever need to.


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