It’s All About Communication

Part 1
By Teri Simpson

We have home phones, cell phones, smart phones, sat phones and iPhones. We have email, instant messaging, text messaging and iPads. We don’t really think much about communicating with others because it is as integrated into our lives as is air, water and food.

But what happens if the system breaks down? What happens if you find yourself with no home phone, cell phone or computer service? Do you think you might feel a bit isolated? Disconnected? Alone? Maybe a bit panicked? How long before techno-communication withdrawal would set in?

What I’d like to look at in this and the next couple of articles is what we can do to mitigate having a complete lack of normal communication. While we still have phones and computers, we can set up an infrastructure of communication that will serve us now while the technology still functions and that can also serve us after the conventional communication network no longer works. This has been a passion of mine since 9/11.

Shortly after 9/11, many of us participated in a voluntary month long “lock-down”, sort of a practice run to see how prepared for such a scenario we really were. We had around a week to prepare, with a Start Date and End Date. (Of course in a real emergency/disaster we would not necessarily have the luxury of a week to prepare, shop, etc.). We were to stay home and not leave our property for 30 days. No grocery shopping, no visits with friends (unless they too had been in lock-down status), no movies, no restaurants, and God knows, no malls or stadiums.

So I spent a month in lock-down, only leaving my property once for an evening event at the Ranch. The thing that made it “not too bad” was that I had a phone, and a TV, and a computer with email and the internet. But what if I was in lock-down without those things? What if I wasn’t even in lock-down but there were no phone, no TV, no internet, no email? What then??

After that enlightening month in lock-down, a few of us that lived in close proximity got together to brainstorm. We knew we needed a communication network that would serve our immediate vicinity – a one to two mile radius – now, while we still had phones and computers, and in the future should all normal communication cease to function.

I want to share what we did over the next two years and what we are doing now. We have a blueprint, a template that is still evolving. And this template is reproducible in your neighborhood, your immediate vicinity. With this we can create a network that covers not just us here in western Washington, but all over the United States, and all over the world.

There were only three or four, maybe five people in the beginning. These reached out to neighbors and others they knew in their immediate vicinity. They called, or knocked on doors, or left a flyer in a mailbox. The group grew. We created a “Calling Circle” so that we could disseminate critical or vital information rapidly to the entire group. We created guidelines, came up with some procedures and policies to insure strict privacy of any shared information (hey, I didn’t want MY address being emailed all over the place).

We learned who had what skills in the group – who was a doctor or nurse, who could run heavy equipment or use a chain saw, who was a great gardener or canner. We created a list of sorts of the skill sets of our group. We learned who had a backhoe or a chainsaw or other thing that might come in handy. We took first aid classes. We had gun safety classes. We had some that were interested in radio communication (me for one). Different members were interested in different topics so we had presentations on personal safety, on using CB radios and ham radios for communicating (there will be a whole lot more on this topic in a future article).

We watch out for our property and for our neighbors' property. If there is a suspicious vehicle apparently casing a property or properties, everyone knows the same day. If a dog goes missing, everyone is watching for the dog. We became a cohesive group that is there for our neighbors, and we “have their backs”. If someone is in trouble, there will be a whole group of focused people coming to their rescue. Words cannot convey how impressed I am with this group of people.

And you are most likely surrounded by such a group also. It just takes one person in a neighborhood to say “I want this” and be willing to start.

So the first step is for someone in a neighborhood to pick up on the idea, the vision, and be willing to get the ball rolling, someone who reads this and says “I want this in my neighborhood.”

Then start finding out who, indeed, is in your neighborhood. Maybe you know one or two people, maybe not. I knew one, and they knew two different households. Here in Thurston County in Washington State (where Yelm is located) there is a great website: It is a database of all the properties located in Thurston County, and you can look up your land (by parcel number or by address), and everyone around you. You can see plat maps showing property boundaries, parcel numbers, rivers, roads, even aerial shots taken from satellite. With this tool, you can look up the owners of all the properties in your area. It can be quite the enlightening experience. (If you live outside of Thurston County, you’ll want to go to your county’s website. Most counties in the US now have all this data accessible online. In other countries, you may need to search.)

I went to and then clicked on Parcel Search (then you have to click on the “Click Here” link to launch the search page). Type your house number in the top space and the name of your street in the next one (you don’t need to say Grove Road – just type in Grove), and click Go! Up comes your property. Now click on your parcel number. And look what you get: Name, address, links to maps, to Assessor’s data, all right there.

Now click the “Zoom Map to Parcel” link. You will be looking at your immediate area with all the property boundaries showing, and your property colored in a lovely peach color. All the other parcels are blank. I made a printout of the area with all the blank spaces so I could later write in all the owners’ names.

If you click on the square button below the map with a four-way arrow you can then grab and reposition the map so it is centered better on your screen. Next click on the “i” button. This is the pointer that will give you the owners of record on all of the parcels. Just click on the parcel next to yours and a new window opens with all the info on that piece of property. It is a very cool tool. So now you can fill in the names of everyone within a mile or so of you.

You will see some owners live on their land and some is owned by people living in other cities. If you click on “View Assessor’s Data” it will tell if there are structures on the property, well, septic, all manner of info.

There may be one or two people you know – look them up in the phone book, or try Googling their name. You could leave a note in their mailbox if they have one. Put a short blurb in Bettye Johnson’s email: “I’m looking to set up a neighborhood group in the _____ area, please email me at _____.” If you know one or two people, they will know one or two people.

The very first step is to reach out to your neighbors. Have a meeting at someone’s house. You want to know as many of your neighbors as possible (that want to participate or at least find out more). Continue to expand the neighborhood group.

Someone has to take on the job of the coordinator. Collect names, phone numbers and email addresses to start so you can plan the next meeting and start to set up a Calling Circle, which is a way to get info to a fairly large group of people in a very short amount of time (if you’ve defined how it works and the group members know what to do).

Next you’ll want to start finding out who has what skills and abilities, and who has what kind of equipment or tools. This way, if a tree blows down blocking someone in, they can call or put out an email asking for help with the tree removal and then those who have and can use a chainsaw can come over and help get the drive cleared.

Just knowing that in your immediate neighborhood you have teachers, doctors, master gardeners, sewers, chainsaw users, heavy equipment operators, canning experts, computer experts, builders, people expert in animal husbandry or raising chickens and goats, people savvy in electronics or ham/shortwave radios will give you a sense of security and confidence that is truly amazing.

While you alone might be at a loss should all hell break loose and the communication infrastructure as you now know it crashes, you know that you PLUS this group of neighbors with such a wealth of skills and knowledge are a cohesive group that could tackle darn near anything.

It’s a satisfying feeling.

Next week: What is a calling circle and how does it work? Some guidelines on using the calling circle, plus doing a test run to see where it falls apart BEFORE any real emergency happens. I’ll also give an overview on using walkie talkies, CB and SSB (Single Side Band) radios, and ham/shortwave radios. We can create a communication network that will link not only the whole area around Yelm, but can link us in a web of communication world-wide. So “tune-in” next week for more.


0 #1 Chris 2013-07-06 08:53
Hi Teri,

Neighborhood watch is owned by homeland Secuurity according to Al Martin a Bush exposer. So you might be careful there. George Ure
said we could set up a BBS for our own Internet.

To great imaginations,


Please log in to post comments