Menlo Park residents and city staff gathered on May 11, to brainstorm ways to handle lengthy power outages followed a windy, wet winter that left some areas of the city without power for days.
The Menlo Park group Menlo Park Community Ready (MPC Ready) hosted the community sessions meeting and had 21 attendees, including Menlo Park Fire Protection District Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen, Assistant City Manager Stephen Stolte, Mayor Jen Wolosin and council members Betsy Nash and Maria Doerr.
Residents offered advice on how they dealt with the outages, from lighting the gas stove with matches to taking hot showers to deal with the cold weather from the storm. Some issues didn’t have easy solutions, such as health care equipment that runs on electricity and refrigerators full of groceries that spoiled after the electricity went out.
A presentation showed ways that residents could cope while the power is out, such as using battery-powered fairy lights to light the house or camping stoves to cook, as well as using sleeping bags to stay warm.
“If we’re trying to electrify to save the planet but then the grid goes down … how do we get our needs met?” asked Nancy Larocca Hedley, vice chair of Menlo Park’s Environmental Quality Commission.
One focus of the meeting was the ways that neighbors can help each other during crises, such as one resident who assisted her 90-year-old bedbound neighbors during a multi-day power outage.
Hedley said that her street has a WhatsApp group chat where neighbors can keep each other informed. Lynne Bramlett, an MPC Ready organizer said that neighborhood communication is essential in an emergency.
“There are scholars who study this disaster research showing (that) in a disaster, people are helped by their neighbors,” Bramlett said. “The reality is there won't be nearly enough first responders.”
Bramlett said that was one of the reasons for the development of MPC Ready, which started in January 2020. Neighbors initially came together to plan disaster preparedness, but ended up providing community support.
Menlo Park city officials say they’re working with MPC Ready and may be collaborating in the future, though it’s uncertain what form that may take. Bramlett said they're hoping to partner with the city similar to the way Atherton is working with the local emergency preparedness group ADAPT.
For anyone interested in getting involved in disaster preparedness, Bramlett suggests programs such as Red Cross Ready.