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Neighborhood Networks Keep Burlingame Residents Connected, Safe and Prepared City

Case Story

Council Member Terry Nagel started the first Neighborhood Network in Burlingame after hosting a coffee discussion with neighbors about emergency preparedness. She was concerned that some residents were operating under the false assumption that “they will rescue me if there is an emergency.”

Neighbors filled out forms asking for contact numbers and emails, names and ages of children, pet information, and equipment and skills that might be useful in an emergency, such as generators and camping equipment, medical training, speaking a foreign language or experience in working with children. The information was organized into two directories: a public one with information that neighbors agreed to share with each other and a private directory that is accessible only to block captains who sign an agreement not to share this information except with safety professionals in case of an emergency. Each household was asked to donate $5 to help pay for printing the directory and fliers.

The six block captains who run the Neighborhood Network in Burlingame’s Poppy Drive area distribute neighborhood news and emergency tips via e-newsletter and fliers dropped on doorsteps; publicize opportunities for emergency preparedness, CPR and other training; advise residents of ways to get connected with the city via an emergency alert system, city e-newsletters, a crime reporting system and citizen engagement projects; and host social events.

Instead of overwhelming people with preparedness information, they decided to pass out fliers each month that urge neighbors to do one small thing to prepare for emergencies. A grant allowed them to produce nine educational fliers illustrated with entertaining cartoons by San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist Don Asmussen. Nagel challenged Asmussen to produce emergency preparedness fliers that people would actually read. “I think he succeeded quite well,” she said. (See the cover of this preliminary report for a sample of Asmussen’s work.)

The group attributes much of its success to social events that make it fun to stay connected. “We do things like caroling, potlucks and coffees at election time to discuss ballot issues. We even had a holiday party with a mountain of snow for children to play in,” Nagel said. “As a result, our neighborhood is more tightly knit.” Elderly residents tell her they feel safer, young families have found playmates and babysitters for their children, and neighbors stop and talk with one another on the street. Last year, neighbors on her block worked together to thwart a burglary in progress. “A year before, they never would have gotten involved,” Nagel said.

Nagel is currently working to expand the Neighborhood Network to other parts of the city. To date, 61 Burlingame residents have taken a “Network Your Neighborhood” course taught by the block captains. Nagel hopes to create connections between networks and to integrate them more completely with the city’s emergency preparedness plans. She believes such networks can boost civic engagement by helping city officials and residents communicate more effectively with one another.

For more information, contact Burlingame City Council Member Terry Nagel at 650-347-3576 or tnagel@burlingame.org.

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