On Nov. 14 Palo Alto will experience a simulated bioterrorism event that will test both the city and the County of Santa Clara's ability to respond to bioterrorism.
Called The Golden Guardians, the statewide event involves California's 58 counties. It has been conducted by the State of California Governor's Office of Homeland Security since 2004 and involves first responders, volunteer organizations, and the private sector in response to potential acts of terrorism and natural disasters.
The drill will begin at 9:30 a.m. and will run until approximately noon, with lunch and a debriefing afterward.
On Election Day, Barbara Cimino, Palo Alto's city disaster coordinator, awaited a group of citizen volunteers for an evening orientation meeting. A thick white binder was located near her fingertips.
"See this binder? Every secret about it is in there," she said.
Many elements of the simulated scenario will be kept under wraps until the actual event. Disaster teams aren't supposed to cram for the test. As far as their actions are concerned, this is intended to emulate the real thing.
What is known is that the scene will be a two-day concert at an undisclosed site. Volunteers will take on roles -- many will be exhibit symptoms of illness. Some will say they got sick on Caltrain after returning from the concert, others will have been exposed to the illness after sitting next to a carrier on a train. They will be old and young, or have medical conditions. First responders will have to assess the ill, transport them to a makeshift medical center and treat each patient with antibiotics. Some may be frantic or hostile. Conditions will be as close to real as possible, Cimino said.
The city will also activate emergency communications, but only to participants and neighborhood groups conducting drills, she added.
Cimino said many more volunteers are needed for Wednesday's event. Some will be given roles in advance, and others will be spontaneous volunteers who would show up during a disaster to lend a hand. Locally, more than 100 volunteers and representatives from every city department will be involved. More than 100 county officials will be also involved, she added.
Contractors, news reporters, City Council members, nurses, students and people from all walks of life are volunteering, she said. A rap singer has volunteered to entertain to calm people down and a van full of nuns is expected to offer spiritual solace, according to Cimino.
Bruce Camenzind, a Palo Alto Neighborhood Disaster Activities (PANDA) volunteer, will role-play as a concertgoer who is reporting aches and pains. Edith Yanklowitz, a resident of Channing House, is "coughing terribly," she said, rehearsing her role. Cheryl Hogan "took six kids from Ronald McDonald House" to the concert. Each person is part of a scenario that will play out all over town as the biological agent spreads, Cimino said.
A safe Palo Alto is not something that should be taken for granted, Cimino pointed out.
"On any given day there are 30 to 32 fire fighters. It takes 18 to fight one full-structure fire," she said. In an earthquake there can easily be two.
Crescent Park resident Julianne Frizzell, a landscape architect, is volunteering for Wednesday's event. She has not done any disaster training with the community before, she said.
"The fires in Southern California made me realize that I should have more of an understanding of what we should do as a community," she said.
Jamie Kobyluk has trained in the Citizen Police program and as an emergency first responder through Foothill College and has Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training, but she is using the Golden Guardians event as an opportunity to put practice into action, she said. Kobyluk lives in Mountain View, but her parents live in Palo Alto and she works in town, too. She considers both cities her home, she said.
Cimino hopes that Wednesday's training will also attract more volunteers to take emergency training. The recent Hayward fault earthquake was a not-so-subtle jolt that reminded some people of the need to prepare for any eventuality.
"We have windows of opportunity. The earthquake was a great window. People did remember their disaster kits. If I could just get more and more people to understand that preparing themselves and their families does free up emergency personnel," she said.
Volunteers for Palo Alto's Golden Guardians terrorism drill are still needed. For more information or to volunteer, call 650-617-3197.