by Patrick Muffler, BPA Emergency Chair

PANDA (Palo Alto Neighborhood Disaster Activity) is a program designed to assist the Palo Alto Fire and Police Departments in the event of a major disaster. PANDA is our City's name for a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), as such teams are usually designated throughout California.

At any given time, only about a quarter of the City of Palo Alto Fire and Police personnel are on duty. During a major emergency, these personnel inevitably will focus on the major facilities (e.g., Stanford Hospital). Many off-duty Fire and Police personnel live several hours' drive from Palo Alto, some in the Central Valley or even the Sierra Foothills. A major earthquake, particularly on the Hayward fault, may well make freeways and bridges impassable for many days, preventing these off-duty personnel from reaching Palo Alto. Consequently, in a major disaster, individuals and families in residential neighborhoods will have to be on their own, at least for 72 hours. In a catastrophic earthquake affecting the entire Bay Area, these 72 hours may lengthen into a week or more. PANDA is a focused effort of the City of Palo Alto to deal with such a situation. 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:

PANDAs 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 Palo Alto Emergency Operations Center and with other PANDA trailers, as well as FRS radios for intra-neighborhood communication. All of Barron Park is in Fire District 5, located at Arastradero Road and Clemo Avenue, adjacent to Juana Briones Park. District 5 covers not only Barron Park, but also the Ventura, Monroe Park, Charleston Meadows, Greenacres I, Greenacres II, and Greater Miranda neighborhoods. In emergencies, PANDAs from these neighborhoods are trained to organize an Incident Command Structure at the Station 5 PANDA trailer and to serve as leaders in helping our neighborhoods respond to the disaster.

In recent months, PANDAs in District 5 have taken the initiative to organize themselves from the ground up, under the leadership of Ruth Satterthwaite, a resident of Greenacres II. We have held several meetings of active personnel, in great part just to get to know each other and to provide a basis for constructive interaction during an emergency. We have held several drills to test how well we can communicate using our FRS/GMRS radios, we have set up a meeting with the Captain at Fire Station 5, and we have developed maps of District 5 that show each address and whether residents of that address are PANDAs, HAM radio operators, trained medical personnel, etc.

The map of Barron Park shown in the accompanying figure gives us great pause. I had expected the PANDAs in Barron Park to be evenly distributed geographically. Was I wrong! The map shows clearly that PANDAs are concentrated in two small areas: (1) the area along Los Robles Avenue near El Camino Real, and (2) southernmost Barron Park, near Laguna Avenue. I was amazed to see that in a broad swath of Barron Park extending from Arastradero all the way to Chemalus there are absolutely no PANDAs (see area within the dashed line on the figure). So what? What's the big deal? Certainly, on a normal day, no one would care. But in the event of a major disaster, this is a huge area without any trained workers to serve as leaders and coordinators. Certainly many people will pitch in and help their neighbors. But their well-meaning efforts would be far more effective if they had the basic training in disaster response provided by the PANDA program.

Hence the pitch of this article. If you live within the dashed line of the accompanying figure, please consider taking advantage of the free PANDA training offered by the Office of Emergency Services of the City of Palo Alto. Several of these courses will be offered in the fall of 2005:

Please consider taking one of these classes and thus acquiring the training necessary to be an effective supplement to the Palo Alto Fire and Police Departments in the event that a major disaster should strike our neighborhood. To enroll, call Barbara Cimino at the Palo Alto Office of Emergency Services at 617-3197 (Monday-Friday, 8 am to 5 pm). Or call me at 493-6439 and I shall be glad to help you.