Another earthquake strikes Palo Alto!

On Nov 11, 2017, a major earthquake struck Ross Ct in Palo Alto CA. Here’s the full report.

21 residents, 3 dogs, and 4 cats smelled gas leaks, watched a transformer fizzle and spark, and were without water and power for several days. Afterward, they were joined by 2 of their neighbors and 6 volunteers for lunch.

This was, of course, not an actual earthquake, but our second pilot event. We are happy to report that it was, if anything, even more successful than our first.

Here’s the summary:

  1. Kudos to Carrie, the local organizer! A stunning 75% of the households that were invited participated:

    (And, sadly, thanks to the many recent disasters around the country.)
  2. Except for one participant who had to leave because of childcare commitments, everyone stayed active throughout the event.
  3. Participants were very enthusiastic about what they learned about preparedness in general, their own state of preparedness, and (re-)connecting with their neighbors.
  4. We saw many instances of neighbors talking to each other. We even delayed beginning the debrief session because one group of six neighbors were having an animated and productive discussion about who had what resources.
  5. The game controllers were fully engaged, and all reported having had fun. We should have them running events on their own soon!

On the less successful side,

  1. Communications with participants during the game did not work well. As in, at all. This was a combination of some participants’ lack of familiarity with group texting, vagaries of text message delivery, and tribulations of typing on tiny telephone keyboards.
  2. There’s good confusion and there’s bad confusion. We still need to eliminate the latter from game materials and instructions.

Of course, there’s room for improvement in other areas, but we are ready to work on routinizing event organization, and developing game controller orientation and training.

The good news is that we are in conversations with different people about four possible events in the spring. We hope to turn them into two separate event series.

Getting rid of your nightlight could save your life!

Bedtime reading


Flashlights. They’re on every list of Things You Should Have in Case of Emergency. Keep one in your car, in your briefcase, next to your bed. That’s good advice.

But let’s talk about the one next to your bed. Are the batteries still good? Is it buried in that clutter in the drawer? Could you find in in the dark? And remember how to turn it on? Even if you are more than half asleep, and the room is half filled with smoke? Or a big jolt to the bed woke you up, and things are falling all over you, the bed, and the floor?

A problem with many emergency preparations is that people make them, and then forget them. Drawing up a detailed evacuation plan, and putting a flashlight by the bed is good. But it won’t help if you can’t find the flashlight, and don’t remember the plan.

So, get rid of your nightlight!

Instead, when you have to get up at night, use that flashlight. It’ll be bit cumbersome at first, but you’ll get used to it quickly. And, guess what? Should there be a fire or an earthquake in the middle of the night, you won’t be stumbling around in total darkness. You’ll automatically reach for your trusty flashlight. And it will be in good working order. If you’re somewhere unfamiliar, such as in a hotel room, you’ll be even happier when you find it in your hand.

The key to unpreparedness is to turn quotidian needs into opportunities for practicing habits that will save you in crisis. In other words, find ways to do what you do every day that will continue to work when things go wrong.

By the way, while you are putting that flashlight by your bed, mount it securely. It won’t help you if it’s gotten tossed across the room.

Oh, and slip on a pair of shoes when you stumble to the bathroom at night, too. There might be glass and other pokey things on the floor one night. Or you might have to run through the yard.

And the flashlight in your car? If your phone has a camera, it probably has a flashlight feature. Practice using it whenever you can.

The key to unpreparedness is to turn quotidian needs into opportunities for practicing habits that will save you in crisis.

Question: What suggestions do you have for developing habits that will serve you in an emergency?

Were you at the Live Oak School shelter in Rockport before, during or after the storm?

If you were, I want to hear your story, and get your perspective on what happened at the school before, during and after the storm.

I am a researcher in the field of community disaster response. I’m investigating how groups of strangers take care of themselves and others when there’s no one else to do it. I’m particularly interested in how people rise to leadership in crisis situations. Understanding how Rockport made things work will help others get ready to do the same!

I’ll be in the Rockport area until Sep 25, and can meet in person or by phone. After that, we can talk by phone.

Leave a comment, email sjul “at”, or call me at 650–455–8228.


— Susanne

PS Read about the study (and help fund it) here.

Block party organizer FAQ

How long does the event last?
Half a day: 3 hours for the simulation, and then however long the party afterwards goes. Usually, we do the simulation from 2-5, and then hang out for a BBQ or potluck dinner.

Who should I invite?
Everyone on your block, in your building, or in your complex. The goal is for everyone around you to get to know each other. So you don’t want to limit it to people who already know one another.

Can kids take part? What about visitors?
Yes, kids, visitors, pets, everyone can take part. In a disaster, you will have to look after everyone and everything who happens to be nearby. This is a chance to think about what that would really be like.

Can you tell me more about the effort involved in organizing?
There are three areas of work for you: promoting the event, coordinating food, and setting up on the day:

Promoting the event involves going around to invite everyone personally. This usually takes two rounds of 30 minutes or so.

  • Coordinating food can be as simple as asking everyone to bring something for a potluck. Or you could recruit someone to help cook up a BBQ.
  • Setting up on the day is pretty easy. It involves setting out barricades (if you are closing the street), and a table for sign in (later used for food). We usually ask people to bring their own chairs. There’s always people willing to help with cleanup.

There are a few other planning and coordination tasks, but we make them as simple for you as we can.

One household can manage it all. But we strongly recommend that you recruit one or two neighbors to help. That not only makes it easier and more fun, it gets neighbors working together from the outset.

What do you provide?

  • Everything need for the simulation, including the people to run it.
  • Examples of and help, as needed, with
    • A checklist and timeline for what you need to do.
    • Design for flyers and other promotional materials, and talking points for introducing them.
    • Help with applying for street closure permit, and a Know Your Neighbors grant.
    • A link where people can sign up for the event. This will include questions about food as needed.
    • Draft text and email addresses of participants for any messages you might need to send out.

What do you need from me?

  • A place where we can set up headquarters for the simulation. You’ll need to provide us with a table big enough for two laptops, an internet connection, and access to a toilet.
  • Water and snacks for participants during the break in the simulation.

What about money?
Your expenses are for food and copying flyers. Our expenses are for simulation materials and event insurance. We’ll work with you to set a budget. We’ll also work with you to apply for a Know Your Neighbors grant from the City of Palo Alto, if there are funds available.

What’s the simulation like?
The simulation is a combined disaster simulation and interactive game. We ask participants to imagine that a catastrophic earthquake has occurred, then go through the motions of dealing with concerns that have come up in their own homes, and around the neighborhood. The goals are to practice using the materials and people at hand, and to learn from each other.

What’s the timeframe for this?
We’d like to have all events completed by Thanksgiving. If you want to be outdoors, you’ll want to hold your event by mid-October.

You’ll need to start promoting your event at least 4 weeks in advance to get on people’s calendars.

Why are you doing this?
We believe that events such as this build community, and increase local resilience to disaster. So we are working to develop a package that makes it easy to organize an event, and simple to run the simulation. By organizing an event now, you’ll be helping to create something that many others can use in the future.

Have a block party with a twist!

We’re looking for a few Palo Alto residents to help organize a block party with a twist.

What’s the twist? It’s a live-action simulation designed to help families and neighbors practice their response to a catastrophic earthquake. Participants face the prospect of being without everyday services such as water, electricity, cell phones, and internet. With stores closed and emergency services busy elsewhere, they quickly discover what resources they can rely on. Most importantly, the people around them.

We’re Creative Crisis Leadership. Our goal is to increase community resilience to disaster. We provide the learning experience. You provide the neighbors and the party. Together we make it happen. In the words of a participant, “It is a great way to meet neighbors and gain comfort in working together.”

Lead the way in helping your neighbors get to know one another, have fun, and be ready to depend on each other in a major disaster. Check our organizer FAQ, and get in touch with our local team lead, Susanne Jul, for more information.

Susanne Jul
sjul at

Pictures from our May 20 pilot event:

Practicing “duck, cover, and hold.”


Getting to someone trapped in a room.


Helping each other.

Baby steps: Event-in-a-box

It’s all about clarity of vision, minimum goals, and baby steps!

Now that we have successfully completed our pilot event, our next project is to conduct a series of pilot events to refine the event model and materials, and create a package for use by others.


Conduct a series of four Neighborhood Disaster Popup events in the Palo Alto area by the end of 2018. Members of target neighborhoods will market the event to their neighbors, and organize the social component (with our support). We will manage the learning simulation, including providing materials and recruiting volunteers.


Refine the Neighborhood Disaster Popup event model and catastrophic earthquake learning simulation materials into something that is proven to further certain critical crisis preparedness goals, and which can readily be implemented by others with minimal guidance from us.


  1. Event-in-a-box containing
    1. A guide for organizing a neighborhood event
    2. Instructions and materials for the catastrophic earthquake learning simulation
    3. Event evaluation instructions and materials
  2. A tested strategy for training people to run the learning experience
  3. Data validating effectiveness/disproving ineffectiveness of the learning experience


  1. We have a reproducible event package
  2. We data to prove the effectiveness of the learning experience to take to potential funders and event organizers in early 2018
  3. We have one or more people, local to the Bay Area, who are able to run learning simulations in 2018
  4. We have two or more community-based partners who are potentially interested in and willing to work with us to sponsor events and support grant applications in 2018



  • Refine the catastrophic earthquake simulation to be tighter, improve learning outcomes, and minimize the number of people needed to run.
  • Develop a strategy for training people to run the learning simulation independently in the course of 1-2 events


  • Develop reliable instruments to measure event success and learning simulation outcomes
  • Explore strategies for using events for theory refinement, focusing on methodological concerns, operationalization and instrumentation.


  • Train one or more individuals to run the catastrophic earthquake learning simulation
  • Develop a relationship with two or more potential community partners to sponsor events and support grant applications in 2018
  • Gather insights on adaptations needed to adapt the catastrophic earthquake learning simulation for use in the communities served by the potential community partners

“U” and “I” make a micro-community

The word “community” keeps coming up as we talk about our plans and thoughts. It struck me this morning that “micro-community” is much more appropriate.

We are all part of many communities at different levels. At the highest level, we are mere motes in some cosmic community. At a simpler level, we are giants in a micro-community. A micro-community that consists of whatever little corner of the world we happen to be in. As we move through the world, and the world moves around us, this micro-community changes. But we are constant. We are each always at the center of our micro-community.

Creative Crisis Leadership is about recognizing and engaging micro-communities. Helping people learn to anchor their own micro-community, whenever or wherever they need it (or it needs them). In other words, to be micro-community leaders.

“U” may be at the center of community, but “U” and “I” make a micro-community.

Pilot event report OR 7 Reasons to be Pleased, Delighted and Grateful

The official report for the Pepper/Olive Neighborhood Disaster Popup is out!

I was going to summarize it for you. But decided that you could get an impression of what happened from this writeup and this post, and reflections might be more interesting than regurgitating dry facts.

So here are 7 reasons that I am pleased, delighted and grateful:

  1. I am pleased that we made it happen! The Creative Crisis Leadership collaboration is making the move from Skype conversations to tangible outcomes.
  2. I am very pleased that we made a bunch of mistakes, had some differences of opinion, and discovered a few fundamental variations in working styles. We are learning to work together.
  3. I am delighted that everyone had a good time, and that neighbors mixed, mingled, and got to know each other.  (OK, give people a great summer day, free food, something to talk about, and nature will take its course. Still, it’s a relief to see the party succeed.)
  4. I am thoroughly delighted that participants got the conventional preparedness insights we were hoping they would. Even more that they picked up on some of our spontaneous leadership lessons. (I want to believe that this was because our embryonic theoretical framework came through, and not because it’s all deeply obvious. Time will tell.)
  5. I am totally delighted that participants got into the spirit of the participatory learning experience. They clearly explored their own realities and capabilities, and walked away with deep insights.
  6. I am grateful to the City of Palo Alto for having the courage and wisdom to establish the Know Your Neighbors grant program. It made the event possible, and helped us focus on neighborhood relationships.
  7. I am deeply grateful to the people who made it work:
    • The residents, who showed enthusiasm and interest, whether or not they could make it,
    • The Palo Alto Office of Emergency Services, who offered handouts and expertise,
    • The participants, who gave freely of their time, attention and selfies,
    • Yugen, who spontaneously brought out a canopy, traffic cones, and wickedly fun go-karts,
    • Michael and his students, who provided live music,
    • Rohini and Anil, who took some great pictures,
    • Annette and Leanne, who knocked on doors and introduced “media” color,
    • Esther, Al, and Hamilton, who provided radios and ground coordination,
    • Archer and Bo, who managed text and photos in 18 messaging conversations at once,
    • Ford, who produced lunch, snacks, and dinner for 40 people, then quietly cleaned up and vanished, and Jason, who slaved over a hot grill,
    • Scott, Raminder, Eshan, Simona and Adeline, who designed and distributed flyers, and managed the street closure,
    • Anupa, who brought festive ribbons, talked to half the neighborhood, and magicked the zero-waste party-pack up (and away), and
    • Aaron and Zeno, who made the learning experience a reality.

In short, I am pleased, delighted and grateful that the event affirmed an early piece of feedback:

“You’re onto something here!”