Neighborhood Disaster Response

Update – June 20: We’ve had late reports from three more organized Blocks! Now we can report that 57 households on 5 blocks participated in Block-level drills. Groups of neighbors gathered at a designated location on their street, then divided into teams to visit every home on the block. In an emergency, people would act as “first responders” for their neighbors, turning off leaking gas, extinguishing small fires, and providing first aid.


At Seattle Net, we focus on preparing for a major earthquake because: a) it is a known hazard of the place we live; and, b) if we are prepared for an earthquake, we are prepared for anything, by and large.

After a major earthquake, the government will begin to mobilize a response, sending people, machines, and supplies to provide rescue and relief. But it will take at least 7 to 10 days for relief to arrive in our neighborhoods, perhaps longer. During that time, we will be on our own.

Professional responders – Fire, Rescue, Medical, Utility, Police – will not be available to help us in our homes; they will be overwhelmed with emergency conditions throughout the city. Normal communications using telephones and the Internet will not work. The usual services and supplies we rely on – water, electricity, fuel, food, medicine, household goods – will be interrupted for days and weeks after the event.

We will face damage to buildings and roads, injured people, a lack of medical care, broken communications, and a shortage of supplies. In these catastrophic conditions, we will be required to take care of ourselves, and to work with our neighbors to make it through until help arrives.

A planning system for the neighborhood

Seattle Net has developed a planning system we call Neighborhood Disaster Response (NDR). NDR is derived from official sources such as FEMA, the American Red Cross, the National Incident Management System (NIMS), and state and local authorities. We have extracted the key features of these official systems and adapted them for use at the neighborhood level.

Neighborhood Disaster Response is about taking responsibility to perform particular functions during an emergency. You can choose what “level” of the response you want to be involved in. These are the responsibilities of each “level” of the neighborhood in an earthquake response, with a link to the main resource page for each level:

  • Household: Each household is responsible to provide shelter and supplies for its members, for one to three weeks.
  • Block (10-25 households, on a residential block or in a building): The members of an organized Block are responsible to be “first responders” for each other immediately after an earthquake. Acting in teams, Block members visit each household on the block to:
    1. Find and extinguish small fires,
    2. Shut off leaking natural gas,
    3. Rescue people trapped inside damaged buildings, if it is safe to do so, and,
    4. Provide first aid to the injured.
  • Hub: A Hub is a place where people gather to exchange information when normal communications are down. Some Hubs use walkie-talkies and are part of the Neighborhood Net. Some Hubs use Ham radios to communicate with city authorities.
  • Neighborhood Net: The Neighborhood Net is a collection of people who use walkie-talkie radios to communicate within the neighborhood and between neighborhoods. Information is gathered by Blocks, Hubs, and individuals, relayed by radio to one or more Net Base Stations, and “re-broadcast” to every station on the Net. In this way, information is spread throughout the area.

There is no “command and control” in a neighborhood disaster response. The response is entirely “spontaneous”; that is, people do what they can, where they are, with the people who are there. We do not expect the response to be organized above the Block level until help arrives from the government, at least 7 to 10 days after the event.

Creating capability in the neighborhood

To learn how Seattle Net helps create response capability in our neighborhoods, please visit our About Page. Please CLICK HERE to join our email list.