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New York City: All Together Now Keeps Urban Residents Ready for Anything

What does it take to be ready for disaster—a terrorist attack, an outbreak of avian flu, a hurricane, or even simply a building on fire? According to the New York City project All Together Now, New Yorkers should have on hand a stock of fresh water, several days worth of food, alternative lighting sources, first-aid kits, and "go" bags with vital documents such as insurance cards and passports. But just as important as supplies is the community cohesion implied by the group's name. The program set out to create disaster--resilient communities in New York City's five boroughs by having participants meet regularly with neighbors to go over these precautionary methods and, along the way, get to know each other and each other's needs—so that if and when disaster strikes, neighbors can rely on neighbors.

Alan Leidner, an All Together Now group leader for his building in Manhattan's Upper West Side neighborhood, says, "My involvement in 9/11 is what triggered my interest in this program. Personally, I want to have plans ready for my family in case something happens again." But through the program, Leidner, 57, didn't just plan for his family. He rounded up 25 participants in his 55-unit building, ensuring that his family has 25 allies looking out for them in case of disaster.

"Our goal is to create a tight-knit community, whether that be within one's apartment building, one's block, or one's neighborhood," says David Gershon, CEO of the Empowerment Institute, who created the program. "By doing this, if and when a disaster strikes, the community can look out for one another. The stronger members can keep an eye out for the elderly or the disabled."

Launched roughly two years ago, All Together Now has been a pilot program jointly run by the Empowerment Institute and New York City's Office of Emergency Management, with funding from the federal government.During its first two years, All Together Now received data from 40 participating buildings (and 3,800 people) in the five boroughs—a number that fell short of the organization's goal of 170 buildings by 2005. Gershon says at least 50 more buildings were involved in the project, but that in its beginning stages All Together Now failed to collect data from them.

All Together Now recently received a $300,000 grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which will allow the project to scale the emergency preparedness tactics from the family and building level to the block level and eventually the entire city. Gershon says other major cities in the country are considering the adoption of All Together Now.


Courtney Thompson is a writer living in New York City.

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