Yesterday at 5:27 pm, my cell phone rang. The caller: PUBLIC ALERTS. The message: A soothing Mayor Sam Adams telling me the city was testing its emergency system and thanking me for signing up my phone number in the city's database.
I was just one of 328,000 people to get the call yesterday. This is a slight miracle, because just two weeks ago, a similar test of the emergency alert system utterly failed, reaching only one percent of the people who signed up for alerts. If there had been, say, an e-coli breakout in our water system, a massive fire tearing across town, or a noxious gas leak, 99 percent of people who try to keep informed wouldn't have known about it.
But as Nathan Gilles' story in our paper this week notes: Even when the alerts work, Portlanders might be screwed in a disaster. The city relies on trained neighborhood leaders to be responders during a real disaster—the leaders in the city's NET program are supposed to be responsible for helping get their neighbors to safety, administer basic first aid, and reach people trapped in rubble. But just three of Portland's 95 neighborhoods actually have active teams with about 15-20 people each. Ouch. Read about it all here.
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