The acronym COPE stands for "Citizens Organized to Prepare for Emergencies". The concept was developed in the Sonoma County community of Oakmont, but it's officially supported by the American Red Cross, the Santa Rosa Fire Department, Healdsburg Fire Department and other agencies within the county.
Although it's supported by these government agencies, these groups are formed and organized within each community, and the emphasis is on "neighbors helping neighbors". Fitch Mountain, with about 350 households, has a 30 to 40% participation rate, and Mill Valley has an 80% participation rate.
Each COPE group will consist of about 10 adjacent households, meeting occasionally in a member's home.
The groups have three main functions:
Each COPE group maintains a list of names and phone numbers for its members. This list is private, but it's available to the sheriff's department and other first responders who will use it in the event of an evacuation or other serious emergency.
If a wildfire threatens Camp Meeker, first responders will use the lists to spread the news to each COPE group. Group members will then warn everyone in the COPE group of the danger, using the phone numbers or going door-to-door.
If a member has special needs, such as requiring help to evacuate from an impending wildfire, then that is recorded on the COPE group list. Each group can decide how much information to keep, for instance whether to make a note of pets who might need to be evacuated if an emergency occurs when the owner is away from Camp Meeker.
Fire Safe Camp Meeker will use COPE group get-togethers to educate members about how to prepare for wildfires:
We can answer many of the questions people have on these subjects, and we have many good brochures on these topics by organizations like Cal Fire, Fire Safe Sonoma and the California Fire Safe Council. We are already doing community-wide education meetings with experts who speak on these topics, and answer people's questions.
To restore the forest and make Camp Meeker safe from wildfires, Fire Safe Camp Meeker is tapping into resources provided by government agencies and non-governmental organizations, and is also mobilizing community members. It would be wonderful if the government and NGOs could come into Camp Meeker and do all the work for us, but that simply isn't realistic. We need to do as much of the straight-forward work as we can, and bring in outside specialists to do the more difficult work.
Our goal is to restore the forest to a healthier state, closer to what it was like before it was first logged. A healthy redwood forest is very beautiful and also very safe, because there isn't enough fuel between the large trees to allow a wildfire to start or spread. Many people feel they can't help with restoration and fuel reduction, because they don't know how to use a chainsaw. However, it's the small vegetation which is the main problem, not the large trees. The truth is that 90% of the work can be done using loppers and handsaws, with hand-removal of plants like ivy and broom.
Fire Safe Camp Meeker is organizing and equipping work days where COPE group members can get together for a few hours to do defensible space work and home hardening projects.
The work days will focus either on an individual property, or a section of street. In both cases, this is about "neighbors helping neighbors", with community members volunteering to help. The goal is to make this an enjoyable time for everyone, so snacks and refreshments will be provided. Any trees removed on the work day will be cut up and split for firewood, which will be provided free for the volunteers who contributed to the work day.