Greg Hempen said the first hour after a disaster is so critical that it is often called “the golden hour.”
“That hour has the greatest potential of saving lives, reducing injuries and decreasing damage to property,” he said.
Hempen, a member of the Missouri Seismic Safety Commission, was in Joplin on Wednesday and Thursday offering workshops on disaster preparedness. He was presenting a program called Map Your Neighborhood.
Hempen said the program is used extensively in responding to earthquakes in Washington state, and it can be applied to any disaster that is so large that emergency personnel are overwhelmed.
When that happens, neighbors become first responders. The program is designed to help neighbors take care of one another after a disaster and prepare them to be self-reliant for the first 72 hours.
“That’s why this program is entirely designed around the neighborhood,” Hempen said.
He recommended items everyone should keep under a bed for a disaster, including:
• A hard hat or bicycle helmet.
• Sturdy shoes, because the most common injury in disaster zones is cuts on unprotected feet.
• Leather gloves or other work gloves.
• Signs reading “Help” and “OK” to place on doors or windows immediately after a disaster to indicate the condition of those inside.
Hempen also recommended a 90-minute neighborhood meeting, in which the skills, knowledge, equipment and supplies within the neighborhood are noted. People with disabilities and children who are often home alone can be identified before a disaster.
In the event of a disaster, neighbors would go to a predetermined gathering place and form teams, with one team checking on other neighbors, one team monitoring a weather radio, and another team checking or shutting off gas meters and propane tanks.
“You’re taking your problems into your own hands,” Hempen said. “It’s a really powerful program.”
Debbie Fitzgerald, Healing Joplin project manager with Ozark Center, said the program is worthwhile.
“Being prepared for any emergency brings peace of mind and a sense of calm,” she said.
Kathryn Wilson was one of those attending the session. She is minister of mission and outreach at South Joplin Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and she said she planned to share the information with church members.
“I think a lot of times as a citizen in a community, we don’t know how to respond to a situation,” Wilson said. “It also helps us to know our neighbors.”
The program was offered in conjunction with the Missouri Seismic Safety Commission and the American Society of Civil Engineers. It was funded by the Ozark Center's Healing Joplin project.
ANYONE SEEKING INFORMATION about the Map Your Neighborhood program may call Debbie Fitzgerald at Ozark Center, 417-347-7720.