On a chilly Sunday evening this fall, a few dozen people gather in a home in Portland’s Alameda neighborhood. As they chat about the hosts’ landscaping and what they’ve been up to at work over wine and beer, the scene looks like a typical neighborhood cocktail gathering. Then a bell sounds from the living room, and everyone leaves their conversations and heads into the living room to sit on couches and fold-up chairs.
“One of the main elements of disaster preparedness is knowing your neighbors,” Michael Hall says as the meeting begins. He’s the bell-ringer and leader of Alameda’s self-titled “Council of Blockheads,” which represents a two-block, 25-household area. For the last four years, the residents of this leafy neighborhood have convened twice annually over a lofty goal: ensuring the survival of everyone on the block in case of a disaster.