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If bird flu strikes, neighborhood will be ready
Block party part of Clintonville effort to unite against crisis
Monday, May 22, 2006
Barbara Carmen

Clintonville’s newest neighborhood block watch is planning a big summer street party as a key part of its plan to fight bird flu.

Eight neighbors gathered Thursday at a corner cafe to sip coffee and start planning how they might unite to prepare for a deadly flu outbreak or any other disaster.

"Should it happen, the recommendation will be social distancing, do the elbow bump and stay 3 feet away — and that’s not practical always," said Betsy Hubbard, one of the meeting’s leaders.

The neighbors agreed they have a lot going for them. Their wide Clintonville front porches would allow them to both stay apart and stay connected.

They can buy the recommended three months’ worth of food stocks, which might pinch their wallets but isn’t impossible, as in some poor neighborhoods.

And, as a group, they’re welleducated. Thursday’s gathering included a retired teacher, a Central Ohio Breathing Association research director, and an information-technology manager.

But like most people these days, few know all their neighbors. So the plan is to organize as an official city block watch through the Columbus Division of Police.

Then, they’ll throw a block party to meet the 80 neighbors on E. Longview Avenue between Calumet and High streets. The neighbors likely will chat about the usual stuff such as recent housing sale prices, new paint jobs, new babies, new neighbors — and impending death.

Columbus Health Commissioner Dr. Teresa Long applauded the residents’ plan for a block party.

"It’s important for people to get to know their neighbors and get informed," she said. "It sounds like they’re getting connected, and that’s important for all kinds of emergencies, whether it’s a serious winter storm, a blackout or a pandemic."

A three-month food supply appears to be more than enough, Long said. Many families might not have the income and space for such a big supply.

She also recommended that each household have up to a six-week supply of any medicines prescribed by doctors. Residents also should have emergency kits that include matches, candles, a manual can opener, a flashlight, soap, a thermometer, tissues, anti-fever medicine and water, Long said.

The new Longview Avenue Neighbors Association is passing out "contact information" sheets to compile a street directory and create a database of those who can help during a pandemic flu, blizzard or blackout. They’re looking for military or survival training, and firstaid, carpentry, medical or foreign-language skills.

The neighbors also are asking for emergency-contact information. And they’re spreading the word about a system of colored flags neighbors can use to signal how they’re doing.

"Red would mean ‘We’re in deep trouble,’ while orange would mean ‘Somebody’s sick,’ and green, ‘Everybody’s fine,’ " said Judy Kress, a Longview resident who works for the Breathing Association.

The flag idea is interesting, Long said. But residents must know exactly what each means.

"If you put out a red flag, does it mean go get a doctor or does it mean come inside, they need help? " she asked.

Scientists are closely watching a fatal strain of the flu, one currently transmitted only by direct contact with sick birds. They fear, however, that the virus will mutate or hitchhike on an everyday flu bug and start jumping from person to person.

The world is overdue for a bad bout with the flu, said Kress, whose Breathing Association is working with county and city officials to prepare.

"I got to thinking about how we have young neighbors with families. If parents are sick, how can we as a neighborhood help the children? And what about people who are older, or who live alone? "

Neighbors at the meeting were full of questions: How much food would they need? Why would you need to store water?

In the end, they agreed it would be best to plan for the worst and hope for the best.

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