Thursday, October 11, 2007

In the Dark

We’ve had a couple of power outages in the neighborhood recently. I’ve discovered them waking up at around 6 a.m. I can’t be more specific about the time because the first sign of the outages was that the red digital numbers on the alarm clock had vanished.

The outages lasted no more than a couple of hours, just long enough for me to feel twinges of ignorance about preparedness. The big Aladdin lamp needed its wick trimmed. Where was the trimmer? The flashlight battery was too low for me to conduct a search for the wick trimmer. The battery-operated radio was in the basement — somewhere.

If I lived in Baghdad, God forbid, at least I’d have my outage and disaster routines down cold.

So it was that I encountered my neighborhood’s emergency guru, Sally McLaughlin, today at the Southwest Community Center where we both challenge our bodies in the exercise room.

Sally has taken it on herself to organize the two or three blocks around our houses — disaster-wise. She and her husband, Larry, are members of the Hillsdale Neighborhood Emergency Team (NET), a perspicacious organization if ever there was one.

Three or four years ago, about 16 of us met one evening in Sally’s living room to talk about emergency preparedness and, by implication, our lack of it. I can remember at most two tips from that night: Fill the bathtub with water as a reservoir and know where the shut-off valves and switches are. We also walked away with a telephone tree chart, which I can no longer find. It's probably next to the wick trimmer.

The rest of that evening is a fog except I recall Sally's offering us chocolate chip cookies, which were excellent.

So today when Sally suggested that we hold another meeting, I thought aloud of how we might make it all more memorable. Drawing on my recent outage experience, I suggested that after we got seated, Larry might go to the basement and throw the master power switch, creating a simulated power outage.

Sally would wait a little for the astonishment and tittering to end before explaining what Larry had done — and why. We’d remain in the dark. She would bring out four or five candles, and we would discuss emergency preparedness in the flickering dimness.

Sally could lead us through the preparedness topics. She might say, “What if we were in this situation for three days? What might cause that? What might happen? What would we do? What would our concerns be? How might we help each other?“

I’m not sure what we’d say or what else she might ask, but I'm sure of one thing: I'd remember what it was, and what if felt like to discuss disaster — in the dark.

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