As we’ve all seen with Hurricane Harvey, neighbors will be your first responders in the case of a natural disaster. Story after story coming out of Houston focus on average people who were nearby, helped save lives before, during, and after the historic storm hit.

Scott James, an international “emergency preparedness” expert and author of “Prepared Neighborhoods,” puts it this way: “Facebook friends are not useful in a natural disaster. They are on the other side of the country, or out of the region, or just on the other side of town. And when a big disaster hits, life gets local, really quickly. So your neighbors are what you have to work with.“

James, a Bainbridge Island resident, uses the term “mutual aid” in part because it helps lessen anxiety. Not only is the idea of being “MacGyver” - hunkering down on your own, with weeks of supplies - unrealistic, James says it’s actually damaging. For one, it is unnecessarily intimidating. It inhibits people from actually taking common-sense steps to start preparing. And secondly, you’d probably become a target for people who have nothing – after all, where else would they turn if their three children need shoes, or food, or just drinking water?

Instead, James stresses the importance of simply getting to know your neighbors.

He advises throwing a party, inviting your neighbors, and in a jovial and relaxed environment, finding out “what skills people have, and what stuff they’ve got. If one guy has a chainsaw, that’s plenty. The whole neighborhood doesn’t need a chainsaw.”

Amber Richards, the Emergency Planner for the City of Bainbridge Island, concurs, saying, “Neighborhood preparedness is the cornerstone of community preparedness… They’ll be the first responders.”

Mentality, James says, is more important than gear. After studying relief efforts internationally, he made an eye-opening discovery about the people who survive.

“They don’t have a well-stocked closet full of gear. What they do have is a calm demeanor and very strong relationships and friendships with their neighbors.”

Many of us in America don’t even know our neighbors. Changing that will help save lives in the event of a disaster, but it also enriches your life, even if Mother Nature doesn’t strike.

That is also part of James’ mantra – to foster deeper and more meaningful connections with the people around us. Yes, knowing that one neighbor used to be in the Army and another was a lifeguard can help if you’re searching for help. But it’s also just neat to know.