Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) is leading a renewed campaign to educate citizens on how to prepare for disaster with a series of citywide meetings this week, including one tonight in Southwest.
The meetings are intended to address public concerns about potential terrorist attacks, increase neighborhood-level emergency preparedness and recruit volunteers to the District's Citizen Corps program. The sessions build on 16 community meetings held last September that drafted community-level emergency plans for the city's 39 neighborhoods.
"Many of you have raised questions about what would happen in your home and your neighborhood if the District of Columbia faced a major disaster such as a terrorist attack or a major snowstorm," Williams explained in a letter sent to 700 community leaders last week.
The mayor said officials would answer questions such as, "How do you prepare for an emergency? How does the city's evacuation plan work? What does Code Orange mean for me and my family? What will happen in my neighborhood to help residents get through an emergency?"
"The effectiveness of our response in an emergency depends on your involvement. Please attend," Williams wrote.
City emergency management, health, transportation and public safety officials joined the mayor at the first meeting for downtown constituents Monday at the Washington Plaza Hotel on Thomas Circle. Another was planned for last night at Allen Chapel AME in Anacostia. Four more meetings, including tonight's 6:30 p.m. session at the River Park Mutual Homes community center, have been scheduled.
The Citizen Corps initiative, which is run by the D.C. Commission on National and Community Service, and the D.C. Emergency Management Agency teamed up to organize the meetings. The agency is working to increase public input into local emergency planning. The corps is training volunteers to be reserve police, firefighters, paramedics and medical workers.
The Emergency Management Agency is asking residents to refine 39 plans developed during a series of training and planning meetings last fall. The work, done by Kroll Associates, cost $800,000 and was funded by a federal grant that expired Sept. 30.
While the effort identified 600 activists, some participants later expressed disappointment that the project "evaporated" or was a "waste of time," in the words of one.
Ricki Green, a television producer who attended a session for the Cleveland Park area last fall, recalled, "We simply were asked to tell some consultants from New York where landmarks were in our area -- 'Really, the National Cathedral is around here?' " Green said. "We were told we would be contacted about being trained to ready and staff a neighborhood communications center or evacuation center if needed. None of us ever heard from the D.C. government again."
The effort has been reorganized and relaunched with the Citizen Corps effort.
"This second round of community meetings will give us the opportunity to validate our plans. We'll also use this opportunity to continue to educate citizens about preparedness and response," said Peter G. LaPorte, director of the Emergency Management Agency.
The corps has set a goal of recruiting 700 citizen volunteers, including 200 senior volunteers, and training 600 people to help perform basic first aid and fire and rescue work in their neighborhoods.
The D.C. commission has received $400,000 from the Corporation for National and Community Service to carry out its work, plus $34,738 to create a governing council of representatives from 24 civic and nonprofit organizations, and $147,684 to train neighborhood response teams.