Charging flashlight batteries is a good way to prepare for severe weather, but charging your social networks can save your life when disaster strikes, says a Purdue University expert.
"People who fare better or even survive after a disaster like Superstorm Sandy or Hurricane Katrina often credit that to their neighbors," says Daniel P. Aldrich, an associate professor of political science and a disaster recovery expert. "Unfortunately, knowing one's neighbors is not as common because adults spend more time indoors and in front of TV and computer screens. Now is the time to step outside to strengthen or build new community friendships because they are such a valuable part of our lives whether there is a disaster or not. And, talking about weather is always a good conversation starter."
Aldrich has five tips for making friends and strengthening relationships before the next storm:
1. Act like Mr. Rogers and get to know your neighbors. Most rescues in the immediate aftermath of disasters are carried out by neighbors and not professionally trained first responders.
2. Work to build networks at the neighborhood level by attending concerts, block parties and sports events in the area.
3. Connect with disaster managers, heads of churches and other important contacts who will be active following disaster.
4. Make a list of the email addresses, phone numbers and permanent addresses of people nearby, especially those who might need your assistance when the power goes out.
5. Invest in the community through volunteer work.
Aldrich is author of the book "Building Resilience: Social Capital in Post-Disaster Recovery," which includes a study of the recovery of various neighborhoods after Hurricane Katrina. He also has studied disaster recovery and community rebuilding following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami in Tamil Nadu, the 1923 earthquake in Tokyo and the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan. Aldrich, who was a professor at Tulane University when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, credits a neighbor with encouraging his family to evacuate as the storm approached.
He continues to work with colleagues at Louisiana State University to study disaster recovery after the hurricane, as well as after the April 2010 oil spill. Aldrich and his colleagues are observing high rates of depression, domestic violence and divorce as they interview area residents since the Gulf spill. He is currently in Tokyo on a fellowship and studying the recovery and rebuilding efforts from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.