It’s safe to say that magic, camping, s’mores, emergency preparedness skills, homemade first aid kits, campfire songs and relay races don’t frequently come together in one place.
They did just that – and then some – at the City of Mill Valley’s first-ever Backyard Campout last weekend at the Community Center, with dozens of residents turning out for an event that had tents scattered across Friends Field surrounded by a slew of activities and games, all with the goals of taking a fun, family-friendly approach to spreading the word about the importance of being prepared for an emergency.
The event, an iteration on the City’s annual emergency drill, sought to give every attendee a greater sense of resiliency in the face of a disaster – without feeling like homework. The Backyard Campout was created and organized by the Mill Valley Fire Department and the Recreation Department and the City’s Emergency Preparedness Commission.
"Getting people to think about emergency preparedness is never easy,” Mayor Stephanie Moulton-Peters said. “The Mill Valley Backyard Campout made it easier by combining the fun of a family backyard campout with the reality check that this may be how we live for a while if a major disaster occurs. This was such a creative exercise that struck the right balance between fun and the seriousness of being prepared!”
A glance across Friends Field outside the Community Center on Saturday evening revealed a sea of more than 50 tents for 125 people, many of whom hadn’t dusted of their tents in quite some time.
“It was a really powerful event – people had a blast,” Recreation Director Jenny Rogers said. “People really appreciated the opportunity to try out their preparedness skills, and people also really enjoyed that sense of community of coming together and getting to know your neighbor.”
Dabney Ingram, who moved to Mill Valley from San Francisco with her husband Christian Hackett and their three young children last December, said she couldn’t agree more. Her children see the experience as a playdate, sometimes darting into the wrong tent by mistake and coming back out with a newfound young playmate.
“It was a really lovely opportunity to build a sense of community,” she said. “It was a really special night. It gave you that warm, fuzzy feeling about Mill Valley.”
Attendees had plenty of help once they arrived. Scott Harrington, one of the parents with Boy Scout Troop 1 in Mill Valley, said a dozen of his scouts greeted attendees and walked around offering assistance in setting up their tents.
“It was an awesome experience,” Harrington said, noting that his son was “ecstatic” to receive a free flashlight as part of the event. “There was not one person there who didn’t have a great time.”
With a number of residents also participating in the Backyard Campout at their own homes, nearly 40 City staffers and volunteers turned out to assist attendees at the Community Center in getting set up, cook and serve up a barbecue dinner and continental breakfast and lead them through a variety of games, activities and fun. That included a performance from Magic Mike, campfire songs from Jill & Steve Pierce with Music for Children, s’mores around a trio of campfires, arts and crafts activities like creating and decorating homemade first aid kits out of mint tins.
Mike Jacobs, the CERT training officer and vice chair of the City’s Emergency Preparedness Commission, led attendees on a Ride Along Relay, where participants deployed through an earthquake-ravaged Mill Valley, assessing building damage, communicating via radio to command and locate and assisting an injured neighbor.
“This was an excellent opportunity for members of the community to come together and practice skills they already have (camping) and learn new skills (how to shut off gas, CPR, first aid) and enhance their skills and confidence to be able to survive a disaster,” Mill Valley Fire Chief Jeff Davidson said.
Click here to check out a ton of great photos from the Backyard Campout, and watch the video below from Mill Valley Fire Captain Darrin Allen. And if you’re interested in participating in a future event like this, contact the Recreation Department at email@example.com.
Check out these great videos!