Whether you are forming a small neighborhood group, a disaster preparedness club, or a prepper group there are 9 steps which will help you get started and begin the path for the success of your group. You’ll want to start with a comprehensive, but family-friendly survival manual such as this one.
- When you’re just starting to put a plan together, first define in what geographical area you want to organize your group. It could be a housing development, an apartment complex, a city or county boundary, or a one block area. This will help you know who to include, what resources are already in existence, and what specific preparedness plans you should make.
- When you have defined your boundaries, check to see if there has been a neighborhood group before. You do not want to duplicate what is already being done or cause confusion with any other groups. This inquiry will give you information about those in your city who can help you as you help others prepare. Make telephone calls to the local Red Cross office, the County office of Emergency Services, local fire department and Humane Society, along with the closest chapter of RACES (Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services). These organizations can give you information about the communities’ emergency operation plan. They may be happy to attend your meeting and share some of their advice and materials.
- Select a location and time for your first meeting. Choose a place and time that will be convenient for most people to attend. If you are holding a meeting for the neighborhood, find a neighbor who is willing to act as host with the group meeting in their home. If it is a community type meeting, find a public place, like a community center, restaurant or conference room in a library. Make the first meeting casual to help make others feel at ease and talk openly. Offer snacks and a drink. It makes it less of a business meeting and more of a group of friends just getting together to socialize.
- For smaller groups, hand deliver the invitation. This gives you a chance to introduce yourself, explain the purpose of the group, and answer questions. Too, a friendly “normal” face goes a long way to insuring newcomers that the group is not militaristic or too “Doomsday Preppers” for their comfort level. If it is a larger group, send out fliers, use social media, local newspaper and magazine advertisement. Many are leery of the phrase “prepper groups”, and those valid reasons are detailed in this article. Unless that is what you are really trying to create, use phrases like self-sufficiency, self-reliance, or family preparedness. It is less intimidating to beginners.
- Have people sign in beforehand and let people socialize a bit. To begin, introduce yourself and share a story about your interest in disaster preparedness. If you do not feel like your story is compelling enough, invite someone in advance who can share their experience. You want others to feel a desire to get prepared but not fear it. People remember stories. If available, have the local fire department or someone from the office of emergency management come and speak.
- Have information packets available to all who attend. Whether they come back to another meeting or not, you have given them valuable information they can use. They may run into the packet months later and decide to get involved. Taking steps to become prepared is a personal decision and you cannot force others to participate. Keep the person updated with any new information that they may find helpful.
- With your group, discuss their concerns and establish preparedness goals. Involve any in the group that have helpful skills. Most people love to teach others a skill they are good at. Not only have you created a group of volunteers, you have found a way to create a closer group.
- Do not forget those with special needs. The disabled, elderly, single parents, ect… Remember that everyone has different needs and may not be able to prepare at the same pace as others. There’s an entire series of articles, “Special Needs Preppers”, on this blog, which will give you dozens of ideas for meeting those needs.
- Decide with those attending what the next steps are and when the next meeting should be. Find others who are willing to help you with the next meeting, be a liaison with community services and reach out to those who were not able to attend.
Helpful hints for having an effective meeting:
- Maybe half of the people you will invite will show up. Do not get discouraged. Just walk into this endeavor with realistic expectations. You can invite more people, see who shows up, adjust your expectations or expand your target area. The attendance may fluctuate in the beginning. Hang in there, so not to get discouraged. After some time, you will know the approximate number of your attendees.
- Keep sign in sheets and notes from all of your meetings. They will help you know what to tweak to make future meetings even better. You can track attendance and topics discussed.
- Once you have found a day, time, and place that works for your meetings, keep it. Be flexible in other things, but not the meeting schedule.
- Keep the meetings on track. One crazy story or odd comment can derail the meeting. Learn how to get the topic back in a polite manner. One technique is to say at the beginning, “We want to keep our meeting efficient and get out on time because we have kids and families. Let’s keep our comments and questions focused on tonight’s topic.”
- Share what you envision this group to accomplish, but keep the details open. You will want the ideas of your group. People want to feel like their opinion is heard and validated. They will keep coming to meetings if feel useful and that their contributions are valued.
- Everyone is part of the group. If a neighbor invites a person outside of your designated area, it is okay. Be thankful that someone is interested and willing to contribute or learn.
- Do not have the meetings go over 90 minutes. People may lose interest or feel that they don’t have the time to attend meetings if they are too long.
- Be sure to thank those who may have helped you. The home owner where the meeting was held, any volunteers with food, hand outs and those who were invited to speak.
- Send a letter and contact those who were so willing to volunteer to help as liaisons or in any other capacity. Everyone likes to feel appreciated and needed.
- Reward your hard work! Have an annual party for your group, have a small celebration or BBQ together when group goals have been accomplished.
If you are asked by someone to prepare a group or do a preparedness presentation, many of the above advice will still apply. But when asked, it means that you have someone who may have something specific planned.
- Whether it is a church, club or business you will be helping, find out what the main goal is. Is this a one-time presentation, a monthly, or yearly meeting? Is there a certain topic that needs to be taught or discussed? Will follow up meetings be needed?
- It is important to know about those you will be speaking/training? Seniors have different preparedness needs than college students. The disabled may require different solutions for their questions than a soccer mom.
- Know the area you will be helping in. Big cities, rural areas and suburbs have different community services, transportation, communication methods and resources. Adjust your information according to the area where you are going to be at.
- Ask if there is specific material that you should be using as resource or should be handed out to your group. You may be required to gather your own information. Use reliable resources. You may be able to ask other local experts to contribute.
- Some reliable sources I can recommend are this book about water storage and purification, this one about planning and carrying out emergency evacuations, and this 52 week book that covers topics for an entire year. Survival Mom’s family survival book is an all-purpose book that also covers both basic and advanced preparedness.
A prepared neighborhood or other community group is a help even to those who are completely unprepared. Those who have had the foresight to get ready in a variety of ways for disasters and other crises can help those who haven’t, and emergency response workers can focus their attention on those who most desperately need it — and that person is probably not going to be you!