3 Steps to Family and Neighborhood Emergency Preparedness

Step 1: Organize your neighborhood into groups of about 10 families.

Step 1 creates community-based neighborhood Groups of 10. These groups are meant to be geographically connected and all inclusive, excluding no one on the basis of race, political persuasion, or religious faith. Because the 3 Steps plan will have to interface with existing emergency plans, find out whether or not there are any existing emergency plans in place. If there are, find the sponsoring organization and see whether the 3 Steps plan would complement their effort. If it would, or if there are no existing plans, then implement the 3 Steps plan.

Define a geographical neighborhood of about 100 families in the smartest way possible. Find a person to be the 3 Steps Neighborhood Chair. The Chair should then recruit other committee members as appropriate to establish the 3 Steps Neighborhood Committee. That Committee should then establish an informal Command Center from which to coordinate activities during an emergency.

The Neighborhood Committee then draws a map of the neighborhood and divides the neighborhood into smaller geographical groups consisting of about 10 (6 to 12) adjacent, or next-door families.  One adult in each group should be selected as Group Captain; other members should be selected as Assistants.  The group should then designate an emergency Staging Area, a large, flat area within their group boundaries where families would assemble during a time of disaster to organize rescue and first aid efforts.  The neighborhood map should indicate the boundaries of each Group of 10 and the locations of the Chair, Command Center, Captains, and Staging Areas.

Next, maps of each individual Group of 10 families are drawn, showing family names and telephone numbers.  Group lists should include local phone numbers and also an out-of-state phone contact for each family--someone to call to leave or receive messages about the welfare of family members. During a time of emergency, long distance lines are often available when local lines are not. These lists are distributed to the families and the Neighborhood Committee. 

(Click here for a detailed report of a sample implementation in Provo, Utah.) 

(Click here for VERY SPECIFIC DETAILS on how to do Step 1.)

Step 2: Prioritize and acquire emergency supplies.

Step 2 helps neighbors acquire the supplies they need, beginning with first things first. Now that the entire Neighborhood has been organized, the Neighborhood Committee meets to prioritize preparation needs, carefully respecting each family's stewardship for self-reliance. Neighborhoods often arrange to do group buying of emergency supplies that take advantage of sales and quantity discounts. Flyers and information sheets are distributed to educate families on various emergency topics and also to make them aware of group buying opportunities. The following list of activities and preparation items was used by the Provo Canyon and Edgemont 10th Neighborhoods in Provo, Utah in approximately the following order of priority. Choose your own priorities and add other items that your Neighborhood will need.

  • water storage, water purification, and sanitation supplies
  • 72-hour kits, survival kits, and emergency car kits
  • emergency shelter supplies
  • food storage items
  • wood, coal, propane, and emergency heating
  • first aid kits and medicinal supplies
  • walkie-talkies and other communication aids
  • hand crank grain mills
  • dutch ovens
  • fire extinguishers
  • gardening skills and non-hybrid seeds
  • personal and financial records

(Additional information including order forms that you can adapt are found in the 3 Steps booklet.)

Step 3: Get emergency response training

Step 3 encourages members of each Group of 10 to get CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) training.  Many cities offer CERT classes.  The CERT class is a seven-week course designed by the City of Los Angeles and made into a national program by FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  It is usually taught by local city police and fire departments.  The CERT class consists of training in the following emergency response skills:

  • emergency preparedness
  • light search and rescue
  • suppression of small fires
  • disaster medical operations (triage and treatment)
  • organization and layout
  • disaster psychology

FEMA's rationale for providing CERT training is this:  If a disaster were to happen, the 911 emergency response system would be overwhelmed within minutes making professional city personnel unavailable for a minimum of three days--perhaps much longer.  It would be up to local citizens to conduct all emergency rescue operations and medical care during that time.

We encourage taking CERT training for 3 reasons:

1. The more training members of your group get, the better they can help in a time of emergency.

2. CERT training increases the safety of rescuers. CERT-trained individuals know better when and when not to become involved in hazardous rescue operations.

3. CERT training provides a degree of immunity from liability when volunteers participate in city-directed emergency rescue operations. This indemnification holds as long as such volunteers act in good faith, without malice, and are not grossly negligent. In addition, volunteers--like other citizens--have the protection of state and federal "Good Samaritan" laws.

Ideally, each Group of 10 would send as many people as possible for CERT or other emergency training. When neighborhood members have received emergency training, simulation drills could be conducted to give neighbors a chance to practice working together as a group. The staging area diagram (on page 15 of the booklet) shows how a staging area could be organized to handle 11 crucial assignments during a possible emergency.

Peace through Preparation

Finally, we wish to remind you that the motto of the 3 Steps plan is, "Peace through preparation".
Although it is hoped that you will never need to use your 3 Steps plan, there is peace through preparation for any eventuality. Please help your neighborhood to understand that the 3 Steps effort is not to cause fear, but rather to replace fear by working together carefully and systematically in order to prepare supplies and learn skills so that if emergencies come, there will be no need to fear.

Maintaining the 3 Steps will require ongoing effort.  Neighbors will always be moving out and moving in.  Neighborhood Chairs or Group Captains may need to be replaced.  Semiannual reviews of CERT and other emergency training should be conducted.  Reorganizing, improving, and maintaining a state of readiness should be part of the Neighborhood Committee and Groups of 10 planning.

There are other threats to our quality of life which are as equally serious as natural disasters. Now that your neighborhoods have learned to work together in preparing for family and neighborhood emergencies, you and your neighbors might consider working on other projects that will further unite, preserve, and renew the community, e.g., support for our children, neighborhood watch, etc.


Figure 1. Example of a neighborhood map.  Emergency preparedness groups have been circled. Group captain's names have been underlined. The names of neighbors whose yards are staging areas have been circled.

(Please note that this neighborhood, although typical, is fictitious.)

What is a Staging Area?

A staging area is a predetermined location within a Group of 10 where all members of the Group gather together as soon as possible after a disaster has happened.  It is typically the largest, flattest, and clearest front lawn within the group--a place where there is enough room to conduct a rescue operation if necessary.  If a front lawn is not available, a parking lot, driveway, tennis court, or road may be the best option.  It is also advisable to select an alternative place for a staging area and also an indoor alternative.

The idea of having a staging area is something we've adopted from the CERTcourse (Community Emergency Response Team training-Step 3 of the 3 Steps  plan).  What it does for a neighborhood to have staging areas selected in advance is incredible.  Every man, woman, and child (old enough to be conscious) knows where their staging area is and knows to meet there as soon as possible after a disaster--after they have done all they need to do to take care of their own families.  This means that within a few minutes, everyone in a Group of 10 who is home and OK will show up at the staging area.  Then the Group can assess within minutes who is not home or not OK and then organize efforts to help the rest of the members of the group.  The group can utilize the skills and efforts of everyone who has shown up to organize and run a rescue effort.  There is a place for everyone. The diagram of a staging area (on page 15 of the 3 Steps booklet) shows 11 different jobs that people could be assigned to do.  While some people watch little children, others organize search and rescue.  Others are in charge of first aid, food and water, setting up a sanitation area, communications, transportation, etc.  And because everyone ABLE to come HAS come to the staging area, no effort is wasted looking for people who are OK anyway.  Only the exceptions--those who haven?t shown up--need to be dealt with.  Also, people are not being asked to leave their families to go some long distance to help rescue others.  They are helping the families within their small Groups of 10 while they can see with their own eyes that the rest of their family is being watched over by the group.  Later, when the group has done all that they can for themselves, they can go help other groups or call on other groups for more help if needed.

Think of how much it will cut down on chaos in a disaster to have this planned in advance.  You can picture how this could work in something like an earthquake or a disaster-level windstorm.  If the disaster is something lesser like a blizzard or power outage in the winter, the adults can meet at the indoor staging area and within seconds assess who has wood-burning stoves or other heat sources, and where to temporarily relocate other families in need within the group.

Each Group of 10 should decide where their staging area will be and where they will have alternative staging areas, both in-door and out-door.  The Neighborhood Committee should decide which staging area of the entire neighborhood would serve best as a Central Command Station.

Figure 2. Example of a Group of 10 Staging Area