Emergency Preparation — Truly Boring, but Essential
By Patrick Muffler, BPA Emergency Preparedness Chair

The Bay Area's Katrina
The devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina on southern Louisiana and Mississippi had long been forecast, and warnings of its potential impact on the areas of New Orleans below sea level had been sounded for decades. It's no secret that hurricanes occur each year in the Gulf of Mexico, that some of them can be Category 5, and that it was just a question of time before one of these monster storms clobbered southern Louisiana and Mississippi. It is truly a tragedy that these forecasts and concerns were almost universally ignored.

Similarly, it's no secret that significant earthquakes occur nearly every year in California, that some of them can be greater than magnitude 6.7, and that it is just a question of time before one of these monster earthquakes clobbers the San Francisco Bay area again. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that there is a 62% chance of a magnitude 6.7 or greater earthquake striking the San Francisco Bay region before 2032 (see http://quake.usgs.gov/research/seismology/wg02). Such an earthquake, regardless of whether it is on the San Andreas Fault, the Hayward Fault, or another Bay Area fault, will cause major damage throughout the region. We live in a bayside, urban environment similar to that of Kobe, Japan, which in 1995 experienced a magnitude 6.9 earthquake that killed 6,000 people and caused over $100 billion in damage.

But a probabilistic forecast is not a specific prediction. We don't know whether this devastating earthquake will occur tomorrow, 30 years from now, or even beyond that. But it will happen, and it behooves us to be prepared. The basic problem is that emergency preparation is truly boring and therefore requires discipline, diligence, and persistence. It's easy to get energized about emergency preparedness in the wake of a Katrina or Rita disaster, but human nature is such that this enthusiasm decays rapidly as attention gets diverted to more immediate concerns.

So what can we do to maintain our community's ability to respond to a major disaster? Three things come immediately to mind: (1) recognize that your household will be on its own after a major disaster, and be prepared to provide for your basic needs (particularly water) for several days to a week, (2) train yourself to respond effectively to a disaster by taking Red Cross or PANDA courses in emergency preparedness (see below), and (3) engage in the political process to insure that our elected City, State, and Federal representatives provide leadership and financial support for emergency preparedness programs. With regard to item 3, note that emergency preparedness involves not only planning and training before the event, but also response, recovery and rebuilding after the event. In Katrina there were acknowledged failures in all phases, but the failures in recovery and rebuilding will have the most long-lasting effects. We need to insure that similar failures do not occur in the Bay Area after our "Katrina" earthquake hits.

On Saturday 22 October, ARES/RACES (the amateur-radio organization that provides emergency communications during emergencies) held its quarterly Santa Clara County drill simulating a large earthquake in the region. A group of us opened the PANDA trailer at Fire Station #5 on Arastradero and Clemo and then walked nearby streets to simulate damage assessment and reporting by radio. We found great difficulties in finding the poorly marked addresses of residences — a severe impediment to formulating damage and injury reports to transmit to Palo Alto City Office of Emergency Services and then to the county Emergency Operations Center.

As follow-up to this drill, I modified my map of District 5 to include 31 overlays, each depicting a specific "mini-neighborhood." I then put five prints of each in 31 hanging folders in a file box that (along with my District 5 map) now resides in the PANDA trailer. This should make assessment of damages, injuries, etc. far easier in the event of a major disaster that activates District 5 PANDAs.

District 5 PANDAs
Last spring, a group of PANDAs in District 5 took the initiative to organize from the ground up (see my summer 2005 EP article archived at (www.bpaonline.org/eprep-articles). At the group's November 10 meeting, Barbara Cimino, Emergency Manager of the Palo Alto Office of Emergency Services, announced that the Palo Alto Police Department has begun cooperation with the PANDA program. Specifically, Officer Scott Savage will provide instruction in traffic control, evacuations and perimeter security to PANDA graduates.

Also at the 10 November meeting, Eli Bernzweig of the Green Acres 2 neighborhood was lauded for his efforts to contact managers of multi-story apartments and motels in District 5 and make them aware of the importance of emergency preparation. Specifically, a letter that Eli drafted for Barbara Cimino's signature has received positive and gratifying response from the apartment and motel managers. OES plans to send similar letters to apartment and motel managers in the other 5 fire districts in Palo Alto.

New Barron Park PANDAs
I am delighted to announce that 11 new PANDAs from Barron Park graduated from this fall's PANDA training courses. Congratulations to Markus Fromherz, Vicky Johnson, Lawrence Johnson, Edward Jones, Bern King, Pat Sanders, Tom Sanders, Bob Sikora, Alicia Watkins, Yvonne Wolters, and Susana Young for your commitment to emergency preparedness and response.

A glance at the map of Barron Park, however, shows that our geographic distribution of PANDAs is still very uneven. The five circles delineate major areas without PANDAs, and careful inspection will reveal some additional smaller areas. If you live within the dashed circles, or elsewhere in Barron Park, please consider taking advantage of the free PANDA training offered by the Office of Emergency Services of the City of Palo Alto. Upcoming courses in early 2006 are:

PANDA Basic 06-01: Wednesdays 18 and 25 Jan, plus 01, 08 and 15 Feb 9:00 am to 12:00 noon; Saturday 11 Feb 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM (field exercise)
PANDA Basic 06-02: Wednesdays 18 and 25 Jan, plus 01, 08 and 15 Feb 6:30 pm to 9:00 pm; Saturday 11 Feb 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM (field exercise)
PANDA Basic 06-03: Wednesdays 12, 19 and 26 Apr, plus 03 and 10 Feb 9:00 am to 12:00 noon; Saturday 06 May 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM (field exercise)
PANDA Basic 06-04: Wednesdays 12, 19 and 26 Apr, plus 03 and 10 Feb 6:30 pm to 9:00 pm; Saturday 06 May 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM (field exercise)

For a detailed description of PANDA training, please see my article in the Summer 2005 issue of the Barron Park Association Newsletter.

Web sites related to Emergency Preparedness
These all worked on 30 November 2005.
Palo Alto Office of Emergency Services www.cityofpaloalto.org/oes/index.html
Barbara Cimino (650) 617-3197 (email withheld on online newsletter)
Quarterly articles about Emergency Preparedness in Barron Park
USGS earthquake probabilities
Putting down roots in earthquake country
Living with our Faults
HAM radio
Disaster preparedness kits (Palo Alto Chapter of American Red Cross)
Hurricane Ivan