Emergency Preparedness in Palo Alto – 2006

By Patrick Muffler, Chair, BPA Neighborhood Safety and Preparedness Committee


Two thousand six has been a very busy year for emergency-preparedness activities in Palo Alto, in great part stimulated by the 2005 hurricane Katrina disaster in the Gulf Coast and by the resultant City Council designation of Emergency and Disaster Preparedness and Response as one of its top three priorities. EP activities have been carried out in a wide spectrum of city and neighborhood venues, confusing even to people like myself that devote lots of time to EP activities. Hence, I think it would be useful to step back and give you my perception of what has happened this year in Palo Alto emergency preparedness.


City of Palo Alto

In January of 2006, the City Council designated Emergency and Disaster Preparedness and Response as one of its top three priorities. In response, on 07 August 2006, the City Staff presented to the Council an Emergency Preparedness Update (CMR 330:06) that listed actions taken to prepare City Staff for emergencies and disasters. Prominent among these actions was a plan to develop the City’s response to a possible influenza pandemic. These documents can be viewed as appendices to City Manager’s Report 330.06 at www.cityofpaloalto.org/cityagenda/publish/cmrs/city-manager-reports.html


Red Ribbon Task Force (RRTF)

On 26 September 2006, Mayor Judy Kleinberg established a Red Ribbon Task Force (RRTF) on Disaster Planning in the Palo Alto/ Stanford area. The RRTF goals are to devise and implement a strategy for broad-based community mobilization around critical incident preparedness and to help create a resilient community that can withstand and recover from a major disaster. The RRTF is to determine what are the best things public and private sector partners can do to prepare our community to respond to critical incidents and to recover from them in the most efficient way. The RRTF is an attempt to move beyond networking to proactive, comprehensive, collaborative, strategic planning.

The RRTF held three meetings in October and November 2006 and tentatively divided its task into 5 committees: (1) business continuity and recovery, (2) communications, (3) community preparedness, (4) medical issues and pandemic flu, (5) resources and asset mapping.


Citizens Corps Council

The Palo Alto Citizens Corps Council continues to meet quarterly under the chairmanship of Chris Mogensen (City Manager’s Office). These meetings have proved to be useful venues for coordination and sharing information among the various entities involved in emergency preparedness and response. There has been some discussion as to whether the Citizens Corps Council should become more of an action-oriented body, and presumably the RRTF will have some recommendations on this matter and the future of the Palo Alto Citizens Corps Council. Note that the Palo Alto Citizens Corps Council is part of a national network of such councils, sponsored by the US Department of Homeland Security (see www.citizencorps.gov/councils/ and click on “A Guide for Local Officials”).


Coordinator for Homeland Security and Public Outreach

The City of Palo Alto has appointed Ken Dueker as its Coordinator for Homeland Security and Public Outreach. This is a special assignment to work with PAN and other groups to build a resilient community by improving and forging partnerships in disaster education, planning, response and recovery. Ken brings to this position an impressive background in emergency planning and response, in both private industry and public service. He is a reserve officer in the Palo Alto Police Department, a leader in Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES/RACES) and a lawyer with background in intellectual property and business management. In the short time since his appointment, Ken has become an active leader in the RRTF, the PAN Emergency Preparedness Committee, and the City of Palo Alto. Ken will be a featured speaker at the Annual BPA Neighborhood meeting 2:00 PM Sunday 28 January 2007.


Community Notification

Community notification continues to be a subject of concern. The city has plans to replace its current “teleminder” system with a new community alerting and warning system that is intended to greatly speed up notification of hazards. A request for proposals for this new system was scheduled to be released the second week of December. A citizens committee including Doug Moran and me is to be involved with the city in reviewing request for proposals and the resultant proposals. The city’s target date for implementation is January 2007, although that seems to me to be optimistic.

Independently, the Palo Alto Police Department has developed a partnership with Backfence.com Palo Alto, a free community Web site that launched a few months ago. Beginning 26 November 2006, all communications from the police department including press releases, news items and emergency notices will be posted on Backfence.com. To become part of the Backfence.com e-mail distribution list, go to www.backfence.com, click on “Palo Alto” and then click on the “Join” button. For questions or additional information, contact Sandra Brown, the Community Relations Sergeant for the Palo Alto Police Department, at sandra.brown@cityofpaloalto.org



Palo Alto Neighborhood Disaster Activities (PANDA) is a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training activity offered by the Palo Alto Office of Emergency Services (OES). To date, over 500 Palo Alto residents have been trained in disaster preparedness, disaster medical response, light search and rescue, fire suppression, disaster psychology, and team organization. Training classes in 2007 will be offered on Wednesday mornings and evenings January 10 to February 8, April 11 to May 10, August 01 to August 30, and October 10 to November 8. An intensive, 3-day (24-hour) class will be offered June 26 to June 28. Details can be found at www.cityofpaloalto.org/oes/panda/pandaclass.html

Barron Park residents contribute significantly to PANDA District 5, a district that has become very active in continuing training and practice in communications, damage assessment, and medical response. Notable have been several practice sessions on the use of FRS radios for communication within the district, as well as training by the Red Cross in shelter operations. District 5 PANDAs meet nominally once a month at the Tan Plaza Apartments on Arastradero Road, near the District 5 Fire Station (where the District 5 PANDA trailer is located). Barron Park PANDAs please note that the next District 5 PANDA meetings will be at 7:00 PM 18 January and 15 February 2007.


Palo Alto Neighborhoods (PAN)

PAN (www.paneighborhoods.org) is an independent umbrella group whose purpose is to enhance communications and mutual support among Palo Alto neighborhoods.

In February 2006, PAN formed a committee to address Emergency and Disaster Preparation. The committee has active participation from over 29 stakeholder groups, including Lytton Gardens and Channing House. The stated committee objectives are:

The primary product of this PAN EP committee has been the preparation of a position description for a Block Preparedness Coordinator, a position designed to lead block residents in organizing themselves for emergency preparedness and public safety. For this purpose, a “block” is considered to be a restricted geographical area defined by street, apartment house or other logical feature. A Block Preparedness Coordinator is expected to (1) interact with residents of her/his Block, (2) serve as a communication node for her/his Block, and (3) interact with the Neighborhood on questions of emergency preparedness and public safety. The full position description can be found under Emergency Preparedness at www.bpaonline.org/eprep-articles/. On 06 October 2006, PAN transmitted this position description to the City of Palo Alto, where it has received positive response from the Fire Chief, the Police Chief and the Assistant City Manager. As yet, however, the City has not formally adopted it.

The PAN EP Committee currently is focusing on the training necessary for households, Block Preparedness Coordinators, and Neighborhood Preparedness Coordinators.

The PAN EP Committee also carried out a survey to determine the nature of emergency notification desired by citizens. 625 people responded to the survey, the results of which were transmitted to the City.


Potential Flu Pandemic

It is widely recognized that the world may be facing a flu pandemic similar to the 1918 influenza pandemic that killed 20-40 million people worldwide, including 675,000 in the United States (see my article in the summer 2006 issue of the BPA Newsletter, archived at www.bpaonline.org/eprep-articles/summer06.html). In response to this threat, there has been extensive activity at the county and city level. The Santa Clara County Public Health Department has prepared an excellent pamphlet entitled Pandemic Flu, which can be downloaded from www.sccphd.org. Palo Alto held three outreach meetings on this subject in October and November of 2006, and PAN has scheduled a community meeting for 7:00 PM on Thursday 01 February 2007 at the Mitchell Park Community Center. Individual and household response to a flu pandemic will be a major topic at the Annual Neighborhood meeting of the Barron Park Association, to be held at Barron Park School at 2:00 PM on Sunday 28 January 2007.


Toxic emissions and noise

A group of Barron Park residents in the vicinity of Chimalus Drive has been very active this year in addressing questions of toxic emissions and noise from the adjacent facility of Communication and Power Industries (CPI). Under the leadership of Art Liberman and Jeff Dean, these residents organized themselves and took decisive actions. Persistent research, analysis and initiative has led to effective communication with both CPI and the City of Palo Alto, and indeed some substantive response and remediation. For details, please see the following article.