Emergency Preparedness and Response in Palo Alto
By Patrick Muffler

In this article, I shall identify and give an overview of some of the entities in Palo Alto that deal with emergency preparedness and emergency response. This overview is not encyclopedic and the treatment is inevitably uneven. It draws primarily on my personal experience and interactions this past year as the BPA Board member focusing on emergency preparedness.

I shall also define and explain some of the many acronyms that float through this business.

Office of Emergency Services
The Palo Alto Office of Emergency Services (OES) is organizationally under the Palo Alto Fire Department but works in close coordination with other city departments, in particular the Police Department, Public Utilities, and Public Works. Day-to-day OES activities are directed by the Disaster Coordinator, Barbara Cimino.

Emergency activities of the OES will follow the Palo Alto Emergency Management Plan, a huge and detailed document available at www.pafd.org/emp/index.html. The Emergency Operations Center (EOC), located in a dedicated facility in the basement of the Palo Alto City Hall, will be activated in an emergency under the Incident Command System (ICS). The City Manager (Frank Benest) has the authority to declare a Local Emergency and to make a Disaster Designation. He (or his designate, if he is not available) appoints the Director of the EOC; depending on the incident, this person could come from the Fire Department, the Police Department, or Public Works. Activities of the EOC during the emergency are divided into Operations (Law Enforcement, Fire and Rescue, Public Works, Utilities, and Care and Shelter), Planning and Intelligence (Situation Status, and Resource Status) Logistics (Supply, Communications, Transportation and Personnel), and Finances and Administration (Cost, Time and Claims).

Palo Alto OES also maintains a flood-information page (www.CityOfPaloAlto.org/cgi-bin/floods.cgi) and a page giving real-time creek levels for sites on San Francisquito, Matadero and Adobe Creeks (www.CityOfPaloAlto.org/earlywarning/index.html).

City-Wide Training Exercises
The City of Palo Alto recognizes that an Emergency Plan is an essential, but not sufficient, part of emergency response. City personnel must be trained in their possible roles in an emergency, and City departments must practice working together in emergency situations. Accordingly, Palo Alto carries out realistic training exercises in which the Fire Department, Police Department, Public Works, and Public Utilities respond to simulated disasters. The most recent of these, held in October 2003, simulated response to a terrorist attack on a business.

An important activity of the Palo Alto OES is the Palo Alto Neighborhood Disaster Activity (PANDA), a program designed to assist the OES and the Fire Department in a major disaster. In such an event, City personnel on duty inevitably must focus on the major facilities (e.g., Stanford Hospital). Realistically, individual dwellings in residential neighborhoods will have to be on their own, at least for 72 hours. A major earthquake, particularly on the Hayward fault, may well make freeways and bridges impassable for many days, preventing Fire and Police personnel who are off-duty to even reach Palo Alto (many live far away). In such a scenario, this 72 hours may lengthen into a week or more.

PANDA consists of Palo Alto citizen volunteers who have undergone a training program in emergency disaster assistance and are prepared to supplement the activities of City personnel during an emergency. This training includes:

PANDA's can draw on dedicated caches of emergency equipment in trailers at each of the six city fire stations. Each trailer is also equipped with an amateur (HAM) radio for emergency communications with the EOC and with other PANDA trailers.

PANDA training involves six evening sessions and an all-day Saturday session. If you would like to become a PANDA, contact Barbara Cimino at Palo Alto OES (650-617-3197). Community Disaster Preparedness Meetings.

In a major emergency, Palo Alto must coordinate with other entities, both governmental (neighboring cities, Santa Clara County, the State of California, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency) and non-governmental (e.g., the Red Cross, Stanford Hospital, Stanford University, Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto Unified School District, Avenidas, Palo Alto Community Child Care, the VA hospitals, and major employers). To enhance this coordination, the City Manager's Office hosts quarterly Community Disaster Preparedness Meetings to coordinate the emergency plans of these entities and to address specific topics such as communications, evacuation and prioritizing resources. Two neighborhood associations (Barron Park and Midtown) participate in this group. The meetings are chaired by Chris Mogensen.

The Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES) handles communications during emergencies that are not yet declared as a formal disaster. Once a flood, earthquake, fire, etc., is declared a formal disaster, this communication role shifts to the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services (RACES), the communication branch of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In Santa Clara County, these two amateur radio functions have been joined since 1978 (www.scc-ares-races.org/aresraces.htm), and most amateur radio operators are members of both ARES and RACES. The distinction between ARES and RACES in most cases is legal, primarily having to do with what entity insures the operators.

Forgetting about the bureaucratic alphabet soup, the salient fact is that the amateur radio operators under either ARES or RACES provide critical communication services during emergencies, when telephones, cell phones and other normal means of communication are inoperative. ARES radio operators also provide important community service at planned events such as air shows, parades, fairs and bike rides.

Red Cross
In any disaster, the American Red Cross is a major contributor, providing shelter, food, medical care and mental health services, as well as assistance to help victims resume independent living. The Red Cross also provides education in first aid, disaster preparedness, disaster service functions, and training for Red Cross Disaster Volunteers. In addition, the Red Cross has an outreach program for personal and family preparation, sponsoring emergency-preparedness fairs, selling emergency-preparedness kits, and developing family disaster plans. The Palo Alto Chapter of the American Red Cross has a superb web site at www.paarc.org/ that presents an enormous amount of information. Notable is the on-line store for purchase of emergency-preparedness and first-aid kits (www.paarc.org/supplies/index.htm).