Palo Alto Weekly

News - June 25, 2010

Residents could get $20,000 for disaster prep

Palo Alto Neighborhoods to get a stronger role in city disaster planning

by Sue Dremann

A neighborhoods group is poised to assume a greater role in the City of Palo Alto's disaster planning and could receive a $20,000 city grant for the work.

Palo Alto Neighborhoods (PAN) representatives received broad support for their work Tuesday from members of Palo Alto City Council's Policy and Services Committee. Council members vowed to help the group obtain funding and set up a "Friends of Disaster Preparedness" group to support the neighborhood disaster-preparedness program.

The $20,000 grant would help fund communications radios, vests and PAN's block-preparedness coordinator program, which has trained hundreds of citizens to be on the front lines and relay information to first responders in a disaster, according to PAN.

Neighborhood leaders presented a list of goals they said are critical to the city's overall disaster preparedness.

* Naming a city staff member as director to oversee and consolidate all city emergency-readiness efforts.

* Incorporating businesses, the school district and Stanford University into the overall emergency plan.

* Increasing publicity and using social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

* Using the city website to promote PAN's preparedness programs.

* Designating September and October citywide emergency-preparedness months and hosting training sessions.

* Creating a neighborhood "tent city" at Juana Briones Park on Sept. 11 for training purposes.

Committee members expressed interest in several suggestions, including possible presence on the city website and support for the two-month emergency training program.

Ken Dueker of the Palo Alto Police Department said Tuesday night neighborhood support in a disaster is critical.

"If we fail to engage with the community's neighborhoods we will fail in everything we do," Dueker said, noting that no amount of city services alone will ever be enough to respond to a large-scale disaster.

The PAN group demonstrated its crucial role during the Feb. 17 East Palo Alto plane crash, Al Dorsky, co-chair of the group's block-coordinator program, told the committee.

PAN block coordinators set up a radio network with the city's Emergency Operations Center during the incident, which caused an all-day power outage in the city. Block-preparedness coordinators checked on the elderly and persons with disabilities and helped alleviate confusion and fear among residents who did not know what was happening, he said.

Block coordinators are in close contact with residents and generally know on whom they should check, Dueker said.

PAN members have spent thousands of dollars of their own money to buy equipment such as fluorescent vests, radios, outreach and teaching materials, PAN Chair Sheri Furman said.

They produced their own disaster-preparedness manual, held three citywide drills and developed curriculum (including radio communications) and taught the three-session class to hundreds of residents, she said.

The "tent city" proposal would be a drill "to give residents the feel, look and smell of what it is like to be in a tent city" during a disaster, when many persons might be displaced, according to Lydia Kou, co-chair of the PAN block-preparedness committee.

"It's all about practice — learning while doing," Kou said. "Caring is contagious. Help us to reach out."

Committee members said they would try to find funding or help to get grants to support the group's efforts.

"Something as basic as this we should look at critically," Councilwoman Nancy Shepherd said, echoing other committee members.

Furman suggested that council members have already discussed taking a 10-percent salary reduction. Perhaps the $20,000 could come from that, she said.

"A gift from nine people could be multiplied," she said.

Councilwoman Karen Holman said city facilities, such as its print shop, could be used to help the PAN group print its emergency-preparations manual and other literature.

Councilman Yiaway Yeh said a "challenge grant" could kick off funding for the Friends of Disaster Preparedness, which the PAN group hopes will generate sustained revenue for their programs.

Annette Glanckopf, a Midtown neighborhood leader and chair of the PAN's emergency-prep committee, said publicity is crucial to the success of neighborhoods disaster preparedness and to recruiting up to 550 block coordinators.

A public unveiling of the city's new mobile-command unit in late September or early October would also increase awareness, she said.

The Police Department contracted to have the mobile unit built about a year ago. The vehicle will be a crucial communications hub in a disaster and one of the most sophisticated in the Bay Area, Police Chief Dennis Burns said.

Emergency preparedness is one of the council's five top priorities this year, Glanckopf reminded committee members.

"Thanks for making (emergency preparedness) a council priority for 2010, although this priority has been invisible so far. This is the year to enhance our city's resiliency. Let's not lose our opportunity and have this be a failed priority," she said.

The next PAN Block Preparedness Coordinator training takes place July 29 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, 795 El Camino Real, Jamplis Building, 3rd Floor, Conference Room AF. For more information e-mail: epvolunteer@paneighborhoods.org.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be e-mailed at sdremann@paweekly.com.

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