Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - November 26, 2010

At last, meaningful planning for emergencies

After years of sporadic talk and neighborhood push, multiple agencies are collaborating to prepare for a major disaster, epidemic or emergency

As detailed in this issue of the Weekly, after years of talk officials at various levels of government are finally getting serious about planning for future emergencies, natural or man-made.

The multiple levels of entities involved is a bit mind-boggling, particularly with the plethora of names for each level and assigned task. We question whether even those intimately involved could draw a meaningful organizational chart, much less outline the interrelationships on a wallet-sized card.

But the overall message is clear: The combination of 9/11 in 2001 and the New Orleans catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 has mobilized Americans at both national and local levels. The gripping tragedies made us all realize the glaring inadequacies in our ability to respond to major emergencies.

In Palo Alto, leaders of neighborhood organizations have pushed for better preparedness and communications for years, particularly through the Palo Alto Neighborhoods organization and in the Midtown area. Former Mayor Judy Kleinberg made preparedness a city priority in her 2006 term, helping lay local groundwork that is now incorporated into the regional effort.

The Weekly also has pushed for better and faster public communications in emergencies, after several incidents in which manhunts or potentially dangerous situations went unreported by officials for many hours.

We have some concerns about the new initiatives. One is that the sheer number of entities could become so top-heavy and confusing that it becomes impossible to sustain as an effective collaboration. Streamlining might help.

Another concern is that we have not yet seen a priority commitment to informing the public quickly in terms of creating an integrated system that works. There have been heroic efforts by some individuals to get the word out about specific situations, but we have yet to see a system that supports such efforts.

Consider the current effort a substantive start to a vitally important work in progress.

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