January 9, 2019

Neighborhood Buddy Program Would Back Up First Responders

By Anne Levin

As the climate has become increasingly volatile, Princeton residents have grown familiar with power outages, flooding, downed trees, and other potential disasters. The town has tried to keep an eye on those who are especially vulnerable, due to medical conditions or age, by establishing a database, and offering Community Emergency Response Training (CERT) to anyone who is interested.

Princeton Councilman David Cohen wants to take that preparedness a step further with a program called the
Neighborhood Buddy Initiative. Residents who participate would be a backup system, in their individual neighborhoods, to first responders who might be overwhelmed with calls for assistance during an emergency.

At more than one public meeting including Council’s January 3 Reorganization Meeting,  Cohen has asked that residents invite him to neighborhood gatherings so that he can make them aware of the program. “A lot of neighborhoods in town are already sort of
organized, mostly around the issues of opposing development and just having a social network,” he said. “So I thought that the fact that they already exist offers a great opportunity to do outreach. If they are willing to give me ten minutes to talk about this at one of their gatherings, it would be a good way to get the word out.”

The idea is to encourage residents to look out for a neighbor who might be physically infirm, elderly, or otherwise vulnerable, ensuring they are safe during an emergency. The Princeton Senior Resource Center and Sustainable Princeton are also involved in the effort. “Sustainable Princeton, as part of its Climate Action Plan, hopes to organize neighborhoods around changing behavior and increasing sustainability, partly by improving resiliency in the face of extreme climate events,” reads a brochure promoting the plan.

Cohen first became interested in the idea shortly before taking office on Council last year. An architect, he had attended a green building conference in Boston, and learned of a climate action plan in another community. “I was trying to put together my portfolio of different responsibilities for Council. I had been working on local emergency planning, aging issues, and sustainability issues, and this seemed like a great way to combine all three. I liked the idea that it doesn’t really cost the town anything, and could take a little bit of the burden off of responders,” he said.

It is especially important that “buddies” live in the same neighborhood. “If roads are closed, or trees are down, that’s when this is most needed. It has to be neighborhood-based so that there can be quick response,” Cohen said.

A meeting on the subject was held at Princeton Public Library last October, and Cohen met with residents of the Grover Avenue neighborhood last month. He hopes to get feedback from additional neighborhoods before coming up with a concrete plan.

“We are still in the development stages,” he said. “There doesn’t have to be anything formal about this. But on the other hand, it would be a benefit to have at least a spreadsheet sort of thing. Especially if there are people who want a buddy but don’t have one, or people who want to help out, we want to keep track of both so that we can do some matchmaking.”

To reach Cohen and set up a neighborhood visit, email him at dcohen@princetonnj.gov.