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    Albany falls short of block captains

    By Linjun Fan

    Less than a third of Albany’s 200-plus blocks have a person who can organize neighbors to evacuate in case of emergency, even though the city’s Fire Department has been trying to get people interested in playing the role for more than a year.

    A block captain is a trained volunteer who is able to coordinate neighbors to evacuate before outside help comes. A neighborhood can better deal with a disaster if they have someone ready for organizing a timely evacuation. Albany started its block captain program after the 1989 earthquake, and once had nearly 200 residents registered as block captains.

    But less than 10 percent of them remained active in 2006. Sandy Weeks, the disaster preparedness assistant of Albany Fire Department, sent out 200 letters to the block captains on her list but just got about 20 replies saying that they were still doing the job.

    “The others said they are too old, or no longer interested, or they don’t have time anymore, or they have moved, ” Weeks said.

    So Weeks started a new community emergency response program since fall 2006, offering comprehensive training to people interested in neighborhood disaster preparation. She got the first class full with 20 people, but only four people showed up for the second class. And two for the third, which she couldn’t teach because the class is structured for a group of people.

    Now she offers in-house training for those who don’t have time to go to the fire department.

    “I have no problem of showing up in your house, if you have a group of neighbors together, ” Weeks said.

    Weeks said that it’s not a matter of if disasters are going to happen, but a matter of when. However,  she finds it hard to get people alerted.

    “People just have short attention spans. It doesn’t take too long for them to forget. What can we do? ” Weeks said.

    Getting to know your neighbors’ names could be a good start to prepare for disasters.

    “Now if there is a major disaster, most people don’t even know who their neighbors are, ” Weeks said.

    Call Sandy Weeks at 510-528-5775 or email her at sweeks@albanyca.org  if you are interested in being a block captain or getting some disaster preparation training.

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