For a Philadelphian, it may feel like public emergencies have become a regular thing lately. In late March, a chemical spill in the Delaware River threatened our water system, which affected residents in multiple parts of the city. Parts of West Philly experienced another water emergency a few weeks ago. Two weeks ago, we experienced gruesome air quality caused by smoke drifting over from the Canadian wildfires. Tornado warnings have also increased in the area within the past five years. Depending on the emergency, residents may panic and scramble for quick fixes. This weekend, a neighborhood workshop will help you be prepared for lots of different emergencies, which may not stop disasters but could lessen stress and reduce damage.
Emergency preparedness can take many forms, says Germantown Residents for Economic Alternatives Together (GREAT) committee member Howard Bailey. Executive Director of Overbrook Environmental Education Center Jerome Shabazz says emergency preparedness is “really about resilience preparedness” and should focus on three major parts: (1) what to do when there isn’t a disruptive event, which he says can be different than preparing for a specific event, (2) what to do during an event, and (3) how to recover from it.
GREAT member Lindsay Stolkey says their group got the idea to start their Emergency Preparedness initiative in January 2022 during their MLK Day gathering, when neighbors continuously brought the subject up. “It seemed to be a big theme for people,” she says. “After the couple years of COVID, there being times where the grocery store shelves were empty, and we were experiencing different, usual things.”
From that experience, the group has explored different topics around emergency preparedness. Their first exploration of the subject was food alternatives and security. They hosted workshops like growing food in small spaces, dehydrating or canning food, and crop swaps. Earlier this year, they focused on fire safety. And this month, neighbors will be able to discuss water emergencies.
March’s chemical spill left Philadelphia residents rushing to grocery stores to buy bottled water. This left many shelves empty, and what water was left got way more expensive. Mt. Airy resident Nahje Royster says they were one of many to buy water in bulk amounts and recounts the time of uncertainty.
“I made sure my mom got some clean water, and I also had a co-worker who was recovering from an accident, and they needed water, so I brought like seven or eight cases,” Royster shares. “I was worried for them, and I didn’t know how long it was going to last. I needed to make sure my cat had drinking water. But it was really wild how the grocery store was nearly empty that day. And the price of the water was disgusting. Seeing how these companies were capitalizing on a crisis was really stressful.”
When asked if they believe emergency preparedness could be helpful, they agreed but listed some potential setbacks. They say, “Emergency preparedness, as a whole, doesn’t account for vulnerable populations. It does not account for the disabled. It does not account for the poor or the homeless. It doesn’t account for people who don’t have childcare. It doesn’t account for the contingencies that is everyday life.”
Stolkey says emergency preparedness should keep the community in mind. “Our approach is that you’re not on your own to do that preparation. It’s a collective and community-oriented process. And that if people who live near each other are pulling together what they know or what their skills are, then together they can be more prepared or more resilient to whatever those [emergencies] might be.”
Bailey says it’s crucial to build resilience to be ready for emergencies, “otherwise we become victims of something that we know is going to occur.” History is another essential aspect in understanding emergency preparedness, as it always repeats itself, and there are people to lend stories that hold potential strategies. That is a leading concept in the planned workshop.
Bailey elaborates, saying, “We don’t have to have all the answers. That’s not our job. Our job is to facilitate the conversation. We do not have to recreate the wheel. This has been done over and over again, and we have short circles and longer cycles, and we tend to forget or set aside things, and we shouldn’t do that.”
Shabazz says environmental literacy as a whole is vital to increase, with emergency preparedness being one small part. “I like to think of environmental work as intersectional work. It’s the intersection where environment, health, and community life all come together. And I think it really matters to the non-scientific folks how the environment [affects] their health. We need to start paying attention to the climate and conditions, as they exacerbate our health.”
Some things Bailey and Stolkey say will be discussed at the workshop are storing water, ways to prevent flood damage, like raising appliances off the floor, the workings of rain barrels, and whatever other stories/strategies neighbors may bring to the forefront.
Neighbors may be particularly interested in where their water is sourced. Stolkey says the group recently learned that Germantown’s water comes from multiple sources. She says, “That could be useful information so that if there is some kind of contamination, maybe it’s only to a particular source. And rather than everyone thinking there’s a problem, you’ll know when it’s a problem for you or not. Maybe your neighbor across the street doesn’t even have the problem, and you could get your water from them.”
The workshop will include information tables, food, kids’ activities, community discussion, videos, and more. Building Emergency Preparedness & Germantown Community Resilience with Water happens this Saturday, June 24, from 12-3 p.m. at First United Methodist Church of Germantown at 6001 Germantown Avenue.
Residents interested to know where their water comes from can use this online tool from the Philadelphia Water Department. To learn more about the event, visit the event’s Eventbrite page. You can also learn more about the workshop and GREAT’s work at www.greatgtown.org.
For folks interested in emergency preparedness who cannot attend this workshop, check out Philadelphia’s Office of Emergency Management website at www.phila.gov/departments/oem, where you can learn how to create a plan, schedule a workshop, and more. Folks can also learn more about what programs and resources are available at the Overbrook Environmental Education Center by visiting www.overbrookcenter.org.