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Baltimore city planner Kristin Baja holds up the "safe" window placard in the emergency kit being offered to residents at community meetings.
Baltimore city planner Kristin Baja holds up the "safe" window placard in the emergency kit being offered to residents at community meetings. (Timothy B. Wheeler)

Are you ready for another Snowmageddon? More flooding from the next big rainstorm? The next derecho-driven blackout?

Baltimore's Office of Sustainability is urging city dwellers to plan now for how they'll cope with the next natural or even man-made disaster.

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With flooding on the rise in Baltimore and elsewhere, and extreme weather events hitting over and over in the past decade, city officials say climate change means it's not a question of "if" a disaster is going to strike, but "when."

"We're attempting to get communities more prepared for the impacts," explained Kristin Baja, the city's climate and resilience planner. "Any preparation you do is going to help."

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Since last spring, city planners have met with hundreds of residents from about 25 different neighborhoods, and they're hoping to deliver that message at more community gatherings before the year is out.

"We're trying to bring [together] communities that are most vulnerable to heat and flooding and focus on them," said Alice Kennedy, the city's sustainability coordinator.

At the meetings, city officials tell residents how to prepare for disasters, how to make an emergency kit and why they need to start putting one together now.

To plan for a disaster, Baja said, residents should identify and list the information they'll need in an emergency. Among the essential tasks: Map out evacuation routes, make note of the nearest hospitals and cooling centers, and locate places where tools are stored that might be needed to clear and repair their homes and neighborhoods.

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City officials also have been handing out emergency kits. Inside black plastic mesh tote bags are an emergency radio, a hand-crank flashlight, a basic First Aid kit, water bladder, face masks, whistle and "sanitary bags" in case the plumbing's not working.

There's also a colored placard with the words "Safe" and "Help" printed on opposite sides, for posting in a street-facing window so neighbors and emergency responders will know the status of that household.

The kits and outreach are paid for under a grant from the Town Creek Foundation.

Households also are being advised to stockpile at least a few days' worth of water and nonperishable food, to tide them over if stores are closed or unreachable.

Besides urging individual preparedness, city planners are calling on residents to identify and make plans to help neighbors who might not be able to take care of themselves if the community is flooded, snowed in or blacked out.

"Building community cohesion in a way is going to prepare us for anything we face," said Kennedy.

The next meeting will be on Monday at 6:30 p.m. at Union Memorial United Methodist Church, 2500 Harlem Ave.  Another session is planned Dec. 8 at Highway Christian Church, 1100 Homewood Ave., also starting at 6:30 p.m.

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