Edited 9/9/20 to add information about evacuations

The situation in Portland has become increasingly scary and uncertain in the last few months, for those of us who are paying close attention and in more marginalized groups. It’s hard to summarize, so I’ll point you to a letter a friend wrote about a month ago. The pandemic adds another dimension to this, which would be difficult anywhere, but the US has responded in the most counter-productive ways.

Since late June, I’ve been running a blog that creates nightly reports about Black Lives Matter protests and police activity. If you’re only vaguely aware of the situation, I encourage you to give it a skim.

I’ve been talking to people about what happens next as each phase develops, from our violent local policing to the arrival of federal paramilitaries, to the reappearance of far-right agitators. Some similar principles hold throughout:

  • It’s normal to feel disbelief when emergencies happen. We look to other people around us to validate what we’re seeing. I feel that part of my role is to be here yelling and waving to let you know it really is that bad.
  • Your ability to help other people depends on your own needs being met. If you’re not sure what to do, start in your own home.

As the November presidential election approaches, I expect all of the current crises to worsen. That’s not a difficult prediction, it’s in the interest of people in power to keep doing what they’re doing, and the hotter it gets, the more people who want to cause harm find space to do so.

I asked folks on Twitter what topics they might like to hear more about, and I’ll post there but also thought it would be helpful to stick it all in one place.

First, there are a couple of steps you need to do in preparing for any disaster:

  1. Store up basic supplies like food, water, and medication such that you can handle caring for yourself for at least 2 weeks (6-8 would be better, but start where you can).
  2. Talk to your neighbors. Find out who has kids, who’s elderly or disabled, and make sure you can all contact each other. Also find out about language and communication needs, and who can help interpret.

Then I’m going to suggest a more specific inventory, based on the last six months.

  • What did you learn about your needs during the COVID lockdown?
  • Have you restocked?
  • What’s hardest about that experience?
  • Do you have particular skills that came into use, or that you lacked?
  • Is there anyone in your neighborhood that can help you fill gaps?
  • Is there anything that will change in colder or wetter weather?
  • Did you need help because of health, mobility, or communication problems, and were you able to find it?
  • If you have pets, what needs for them did you notice? What about your kids?

Next, think about safety plans.

  • What are you going to do in situations where you might have called the police?
  • Do you know anyone who’s concerned about being attacked if they go out?
  • Can you make a list of people who can pick up groceries or run errands, watch each others’ kids, keep an eye on your house, escort people to the doctor or work? Some of these things are more challenging due to the pandemic, so you’ll need to talk about everyone’s health risk level, and plan for measures like wearing masks and working outdoors or in well-ventilated spaces.

This is already a lot to get started on. Just pick one or two things that you can commit to doing each week. If you’re already well ahead, ask your friends and family if you can help them work through it and make their own plan.

Below are some of the other things people have asked about:

Storing supplies in small spaces, and deciding how to prioritize

I’ve seen some very creative approaches to fitting canned foods into every corner of an apartment. Under the beds, in every closet – so I suggest walking through your place and looking for where you can put things, even if it seems silly. I’d also make a list of calorie-dense foods that don’t need refrigeration, like peanut butter, and try to be honest with myself about what I’m willing to eat when I’m tired and stressed out. Water is really important during a natural disaster, but the thing we’re least likely to lose access to with the threats I’m describing, so if you already have working tap water, I wouldn’t focus on that. Make sure you include snacks, treats, and some mindless entertainment. For gear, look at things you have that can be repurposed, like camping equipment.

Dealing with no electrical power

I don’t have a lot of experience with battery storage systems or generators, so my own plan is along the lines of: spare phone batteries, safety candles, multiple decks of cards, blankets, and a solar-powered/hand-crank radio. Not having lights in the winter sucks, a lot, and it’s going to affect your sleep/work cycles. If we get to an extended situation like this in Portland, NET (the Neighborhood Emergency Team trained responder program I’m part of) will be activated and so there will be places you can go to get information, find medics, and connect with other support. Outside of Portland, there are CERT programs that may have similar plans. People generally manage this situation ok for a few days to weeks, but boredom and uncertainty are very hard on our mental health (as you’ve already learned, I’m sure!). Especially if you have kids, you’re going to need some options for entertainment. If you’re planning to use a camping stove or grill, please remember that you need to do it outdoors so you don’t suffocate.

Emergency gear, in general

I like to think about this as a set of needs and capabilities. We’ve talked about basics like food, so here’s some other areas to consider:

  • Communication: phones, radios, pen and paper
  • Safety: work gloves, goggles, N95 masks
  • Hygiene: soap, menstrual products, toothpaste
  • First aid: bandages, gauze, maxi pads (best cheap option for bleeding!), antibiotic ointment, athletic tape (if you’re like me and keep breaking your toes…), medical gloves
  • Home maintenance and repair: trash bags, cleaning products, duct tape, a basic toolbox, maybe one of those old Time Life books
  • Entertainment: books, music, board games, puzzles
  • Comfort: favorite foods, cozy blankets and pajamas, bath products, anything that reminds you of people you love

For some items you might need one per person, household, or apartment building. I feel like the pandemic pushes more things onto the household level than might normally be the case, because that’s the safest unit of interaction. It’s also shown us that even in a city, we can’t count on just being able to go to the store for something. One of those pain points for me ended up being lightbulbs, who knew?

Here’s where I also want to talk about fears. What situation terrifies you? What would help mitigate it? Be specific. It’s important to talk to your friends and family about that too. Use it to help you set some priorities.

Targeted harassment and doxing

This could be another whole article. Here’s a good overview. One thing I’ll add is that if someone you know is doxed or experiencing persistent harassment, they will probably want someone trusted to help monitor the threats for them, and possibly give them a safe place to stay while it dies down. Ask first if they’re comfortable with that kind of help.

Opportunistic violence and getting help without the police

I have some friends on Signal that I feel comfortable calling if there’s a situation where I need help. If you don’t already have a safety buddy or two, think about who you could ask. I take daily walks in my neighborhood, and I try to look around for anything that’s changed, people acting differently, new flyers or tags, groups in the park. I’m always asking who’s around me, how I can tell if something is wrong, and where I can run or find someone to help me if there’s trouble. I suggest starting with that next time you’re outside the house, build up your situational awareness. I don’t have martial arts or physical combat skills, so in a confrontation my best options are going to be to get something between me and the attacker, run away, hide. Then I can call someone for a safe escort or ride out. If you have different skills, you might be the ride-giver or someone who’s going to step in front to let another person escape.

A couple of years ago I would have emphasized bystander intervention and verbal de-escalation more. Those are still good, but I don’t think it’s enough for the situations I’m currently worried about.

Solidarity under stress

I’m so glad this came up, because these are not situations where most of us are at our best. Organizing is a cycle of alignment and partnership, meaning “what goals do we have in common?” and “what actions are we willing to take together?”. Circumstances change, so that can’t be set and done. Keep coming back to it. I also find it’s useful to ask whether a particular problem needs to be solved right now and if there’s any harm in people trying their own thing when they disagree about how to do it. I’ve noticed that things become particularly contentious when people feel their needs aren’t being met, and we’re not all great at surfacing that. Also societal oppressions will recreate themselves at every level. We’ll fuck up, and try to do better, right? Commit to that.

Evacuations

An epic windstorm has kicked up wildland fires across Oregon and so today’s question is about evacuating: How will I know when I should leave? Where do I go? What do I bring?

An evacuation order is given in three stages, so I’ll use those to explain the steps to take. There are situations where you might need to leave your home but no order is given; these steps will help you be ready to do so in any circumstance.

One: Ready

If level 1 is announced where you are, this is the time to get your things together and be paying attention to further alerts. Emergency alerts are broadcast in a number of ways, including social media, the emergency radio broadcast system, and push notifications to your phone (like Amber Alerts). In the Portland area, you can sign up for local alert messages for your county by phone and SMS. Other places might have similar systems, so do a search for your city or county and “emergency alerts” or “emergency management” to find the office in charge.

This is also when you should review your plan. There’s likely a place that people are being told to go when they evacuate. Can you get there? Are friends and family able to meet you? Look for a few options for staging points, as well as eventual destinations. If, like me, you don’t drive then you’ll probably need to find someone who’s going to be able to pick you up. Do you have an out-of-area contact person you can tell when you’re safe, and other people know to call? I remember someone who lived through 9/11 talking about how people copied lists of names of survivors who needed their families to know they’re safe, and the names of those being searched for (they recommended noting the time and place you encountered them). Keep the low-tech options in mind, not just phones and social media.

You should also pack a go bag. One way to think about this is 5/15/30: list the things you’ll have ready to go at any time (5 minutes), what you’ll grab if you have a short amount of warning (15 minutes), and the extras that you can get together if you have a bit longer (30 minutes). This article from KQED has some good specifics, including dealing with COVID-19. I recommend adding a couple more things to that list: pens, paper, and baby wipes (yes, even if no one in your group wears diapers).

One thing I’m seeing right now is that there’s very limited indoor shelter space, and people are sleeping in RVs and tents. Put camping gear on your list.

Then, pack up the 5 minute bag and start on the others (if you’re reading this and not currently worried about evacuating, do the 5min bag anyhow and keep it somewhere easy to grab). It is possible that you’ll need to walk at some point (if you’re able) so make sure the critical stuff goes in a single backpack. Charge your devices.

If you have mobility issues or other disabilities, it may make sense for you to leave now so that you’ll have more time to get to a safe place. That also makes it especially important that you have a plan.

Two: Set

When level 2 is announced, that means that you could have to leave at any moment. This is the time to get everything by the door, grab those 15 minute items and move onto the 30 if you can, and take care of anything that needs to be done before you go (closing windows and watering down your yard, for example). Put all the charging cords in your bag. Turn on your phone ringer and clear the do not disturb settings if you have that on a schedule. Keep an eye on announcements (if you’re not on social media, it’s likely a local newspaper or public radio station is doing live updates). Check whether the list of evacuation shelters has changed. Tell your check-in contact where you’ll be heading. Try to breathe.

Three: Go

If you receive a level 3 announcement, go immediately. Look for instructions on what route to take and don’t try to go around unless it’s obviously hazardous. Head to the evacuation site or your other planned destination. There may be different options for people with RVs or livestock. Do not return home until you’ve received an all-clear, because fires can flare up again and conditions may change. You’ll also be in the way of response crews if you return while they’re still working.

After that comes the painful boring part, waiting to find out what happens next, who made it out, what’s left. I find it impossible to read or play card games in stressful situations, but you might want some kind of entertainment, or maybe a journal. Remember that the electrical stuff is going to need charging so be careful with battery use. Try to get some sleep.

💖

Ok this was a lot, so please let me know if it helped and what other things you’d like me to talk about. I have a really basic metric for whether the situation is getting worse right now, which amounts to: how many different kinds of groups of people want to cause harm, and what are they currently doing about it? The more factions and the more things they’re doing, the harder it is for everything to cool back down, and the more we need to be here to help each other. [Edit: this also applies to natural disasters: how many are happening at once? how many places? who’s affected?] But I like surviving. I want you to survive too. Let’s do what we can.

Posted 31 Aug 2020