Seattle’s Emergency Management Office is partnering with the city’s Department of Neighborhoods to make all community garden P-Patches into official gathering places during an emergency.
Most of us don’t like to think about it much, but sooner or later, we’re bound to experience some kind of big emergency.
“Sustained power outages, deep snow, an earthquake, a flood, a terrorist incident…anything that could interfere with people’s ordinary way of life,” said Barb Graff, Director of the Seattle Office of Emergency Management.
She says designating all of the city’s 90 P-Patches as community hubs was an easy decision, because they’re already natural gathering places
“People do this organically. When we’ve all been impacted by something like a big earthquake, we go outside, we look to each other. Literally, it’s just a place people can go if they need help or they can help,” with things like shutting off water or gas lines, or watching a neighbor’s child while a parent goes to find the other, Graff said.
Community hubs are not places to find public officials or first responders in an emergency. But she says just putting up the signs has already inspired some communities to organize more by getting training as a ham-radio operators or setting up email lists to exchange information.
The move is not entirely new. It expands a pilot program that was funded by FEMA a few years ago to pay for multilingual signage in a handful of the gardens in southeast Seattle. Now there are 150 hubs on the city's map.
Community Garden P-Patch Coordinator Julie Bryan agrees the gardens are a good fit.
“A lot of our gardens, they’re seen as community gardens, but not necessarily for you and me if we don’t garden. And also gardeners have some issues that are around petty theft and vandalism. And the more we all have a sense of ownership and of belonging and of participation in a place, the better off and the safer we are,” Bryan said.
When more of the community feels involved, she says it’s less common to see a row of tomatoes or flowers at a P-Patch torn out.
Although the P-Patches are supposed to be informal gathering spaces, the Department of Neighborhoods is encouraging people to apply for project grants. The department can award up to $5,000 to pay for things like emergency supply sheds, whiteboards and ham radios once community leadership is in place.