Senior Director of Capabilities Development, Team Rubicon
Most Americans think disaster preparedness means disaster kits, insurance, or reinforcing homes. These all provide value for navigating a disaster, but I’d argue the most important thing to do before a disaster is to get to know your neighbors. It’s the neighbors who will save you.
Knowing what hazards exist in your community sets the stage to being prepared. In New York City, hazards are likely to be hurricanes or Noreasters; in Houston, hurricanes and flooding are well-known hazards; and in California, it’s wildfires and earthquakes. Knowing this will help you prepare, whether that’s having supplies to secure your dwelling or investing in insurance.
Planning is also essential. A disaster kit is incredibly helpful, but stocking up on essentials isn’t always feasible. So at the very least, you must make a plan for how you’ll navigate during a disaster by asking what you and the people you care about need to survive.
Invest in your neighbors
In actuality, the best means of preparing for a future disaster lies in social capital.
Social capital is about building wealth in relationships. It means getting to know your neighbors and community — perhaps through an app, a community group, or by going door-to-door while practicing physical distancing. You can engage with your community by doing something as simple as offering to pick up extra bottled water for a neighbor before a storm or doing a check-in after it is over.
Meet your first responders
In the event of a disaster, the first responders aren’t typically Urban Search and Rescue, but the neighbors. It’s the neighbors we saw rescuing people from roofs in Houston during flooding — the Cajun Navy was first on the scene after Katrina. Knowing who those neighbors are, and having access to them, is the greatest indicator that you could make it through a disaster.