Neighborhood Emergency Team volunteers practice natural disaster - KPTV - FOX 12

Neighborhood Emergency Team volunteers practice natural disaster drill in SW Portland

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Emergency responders in Oregon are always preparing for a potential natural disaster. It’s on the minds of many after crews around the United States have battled floods, fires, and other tragedies this summer.

First responders say, in the event of any natural disaster, there just aren’t enough of them to reach every person in need. 

That’s why emergency managers in Portland urge individuals to prepare themselves and their neighbors in case of an event where they’d need immediate assistance. 

Donna Herron organized an event in southwest Portland Saturday with her Neighborhood Emergency Team, or NET, made up entirely of volunteers. 

“It’s on us, as neighborhoods, to organize and have some sort of system and basic training to serve our neighbors until first responders can get there,” said Herron.

The event drew around 50 volunteers to practice search and rescue drills with scenarios they could face during an earthquake.

Jeremy Van Keuren, Portland Bureau of Emergency Management’s Community Resilience Manager, says in any disaster, 90 percent of people are rescued by their neighbors.

“Neighbors knowing neighbors and neighbors helping neighbors, that’s what’s important and that’s what creates community resiliency,” Van Keuren said.

Volunteers say it’s all about practice.

“Just like any sports star practicing over and over again. That’s what we need and that’s what the community needs to do. To be prepared,” said Tom Fitzpatrick, who’s been a NET volunteer for two years.

Emergency response for Fitzpatrick is practically second nature. He and more than 1,000 others in Oregon are active NET volunteers, part of Portland’s Neighborhood Emergency Team program. 

With help from the firefighters, volunteers underwent advanced training Saturday. They’re ready to act as a bridge to emergency responders if a disaster hits.

“You can do your own assessment of how many police are available, how many fire people are available. You can find that on the internet. You divide that into the number of folks in the city. They’re not coming. They’re not coming right away,” said Fitzpatrick.

When emergency responders do come, people like Fitzpatrick say they will have already prioritized who needs help.

Volunteers say the responsibility is on the public to know their neighbors.

“They’re the closest people to you and they’re the ones that are most likely gonna come to your aid if you need the help,” said Herron.

“I hope it’s not in my lifetime but you never know when an event can happen,” said Fitzpatrick.

Van Keuren says there has been an increase in people who want to volunteer. Training is free and people can organize their own neighborhood emergency management team.

For tips and more, head to PBEM’s website here.

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