Neighborhood notification system planned

Publication Date: Wednesday Jun 10, 1998

CITY COUNCIL: Neighborhood notification system planned

City's need for emergency system apparent in wake of February flood

City staff are proposing an emergency notification system that could alert residents to an impending disaster in a matter of seconds.

The system would allow emergency personnel to indicate on a computer screen any areas of town that should be notified. The computer would be attached to a phone bank that would automatically call residents in the designated area and leave a pre-recorded message alerting them to dangerous situations and recommending how to respond.

Sixteen phone lines would be dedicated to the system, which would cost $57,100 to acquire and an additional $18,000 per year to operate.

In order to compensate for the system's drawbacks--it would be unable to reach the hearing impaired and those with unlisted numbers, for example--a second system, using satellite technology, is proposed.

The second system, which would cost $87,500 to acquire and operate, would send a text message to a stationary unit inside a resident's home. Because the individual units cost up to $250 each, city staff propose that the city buy 200 of them and install them in homes of neighborhood block captains and of city officials, the disabled and the hearing impaired.

The proposals for notification systems, which were expected to be approved by the council Monday night, are in response to the city's own self-critical examinination of its reaction to the Feb. 2-3 flood.

"The city recognizes that the lack of a comprehensive disaster notification system was a major shortcoming in its emergency response," the staff report states.

The city itself incurred $2 million in expenses from the flood. It is estimated that 400 homes were damaged and that residents incurred a total of $6 million in structural damage and an additional $40 million in damage to the contents of their homes.

Also on Monday, the council was expected to discuss the city's revised Emergency Management Plan, a hefty compilation of priorities, goals, staff assignments and checklists to help response personnel in the event of an emergency. A draft of the plan was completed in December, but the flood struck Palo Alto before the plan made it to the council.

"The flood not only delayed the process for adopting the plan but also provided some insight regarding the ways the city might be most effective in implementing the plan," the report states.

City Manager June Fleming will appoint a committee of residents who will provide advice and suggestions on many aspects of the city's emergency response plan, including public education. The input will be included in an addendum to the plan.

Also in response to its own critique of its flood response, staff have proposed $228,000 in upgrades to the Emergency Operations Center, which they say suffers from antiquated telephone and computer equipment.

The Emergency Management Plan was expected to be referred to the council's Policy and Services Committee on Monday night. The upgrades to the emergency center would be added to the proposed 1998-99 budget, and the notification system would be approved by the council in the form of an amendment to the 1997-98 budget.

--Elisabeth Traugott 

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