News

Palo Alto embarks on disaster preparations

City assesses its emergency readiness with series of events

Palo Alto is not prepared for a major disaster, but it's better prepared than most cities.

That, at least, is the opinion of Mayor Pat Burt, a view echoed by other city officials.

"By comparison to other cities, Palo Alto is an 8. To where we should be, we're probably a 3. It means all of us are under-prepared," Burt said recently.

Emergency preparation is one of the city's top five priorities for 2010, the City Council decided in January. September has been declared emergency-preparedness month.

In the coming months, community groups and city officials will explore just how prepared -- or unprepared -- Palo Alto really is for disaster.

The council has scheduled a study session on the topic Monday (Sept. 13).

A series of community events have been planned for September and October to raise public awareness and help focus neighborhoods and schools prepare for a disaster.

On Saturday (Sept. 11), Barron Park residents will participate in a tent-city drill, called "Quakeville," in Juana Briones Park. The 18-hour event will test people's abilities to cope in the aftermath of a disaster.

If a major earthquake were to strike, various city systems -- electrical power, water, communications and the emergency-operations center -- could be rendered either inoperable or minimally operable for days or weeks, according to police and city officials.

"People should plan to be on their own not for three days but for two weeks. In a real catastrophe, police and fire aren't going to be there," Police and interim Fire Chief Dennis Burns said.

A 2007 city emergency-preparedness overview found that fire fighters would only be able to take on two structural fires at any given time. Only eight to 10 patrol officers are on duty simultaneously and could have to manage a daytime population of more than 120,000.

The city's systems were most recently tested in February, when a twin-engine Cessna knocked out all three electrical conduits to Palo Alto, causing a crippling power outage.

The power failure affected about 27,000 homes and many of the city's 18,000 businesses, cutting off or limiting communications, cell-phone and Internet service, snarling traffic and threatening to shut down the city's water supply.

The event caused city and emergency-operations officials to scrutinize their disaster preparedness.

Some glaring problems remain. The city continues to be vulnerable to power outages. All electrical lines into the city feed in from the east; no such lines run from a power station to the west, a fact that became clear on Feb. 17, Burt said.

The city's emergency-operations center -- the nerve center in a disaster -- is housed in the basement of City Hall and doesn't meet state seismic-integrity standards for operational facilities, Burns said.

An underground water reservoir planned for El Camino Park won't be completed until 2013, according to Linda Clerkson, communications manager in the city manager's office.

Yet Palo Alto has some key infrastructure projects in the pipeline. Nearly all of the emergency water-pumping stations are completed. Most overpasses and bridges are retrofitted, according to utilities and public works officials.

A new multi-million-dollar mobile emergency-operations command vehicle -- a communications- and-strategy-center on wheels -- was recently delivered to the city and became operational.

The vehicle will be unveiled at Quakeville and on Oct. 21 at City Hall during an event to honor emergency-preparedness volunteers, according to Kenneth Dueker, the city's coordinator of homeland security and public outreach.

It will take many years of planning, coordination -- and money -- to reach all of the city's goals, Burt said. Even then, preparation will remain ongoing.

"Emergency prep is like a big spider web," said Kelly Morariu, assistant to the city manager.

Beginning Sept. 17, the Weekly will explore Palo Alto's disaster readiness with a series of articles on the city's infrastructure, neighborhood preparedness, hospitals and profiles of key players who are working to make -- and keep -- Palo Alto safe.

We can't do it without you.
Support local journalism.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Sep 10, 2010 at 12:50 pm

This is great -- everyone making a commitment to do the necessary work, spend the time and money to protect the town. I hope the programs will reach out to other Peninsula towns to work jointly on this issues.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Don't be the last to know

Get the latest headlines sent straight to your inbox every day.

Rose International Market reopens in Mountain View
By Elena Kadvany | 11 comments | 5,988 views

The HSR Decision
By Steve Levy | 8 comments | 1,362 views

We need a new garage downtown Palo Alto -- forget about being politically correct
By Diana Diamond | 10 comments | 1,278 views

The Other Greenhouse Gas
By Sherry Listgarten | 6 comments | 1,268 views

Know Before You Buy: Understanding Senior Living Facility Agreements
By Max Greenberg | 0 comments | 688 views

 

Short story writers wanted!

The 33rd Annual Palo Alto Weekly Short Story Contest is now accepting entries for Adult, Young Adult (15-17) and Teen (12-14) categories. Send us your short story (2,500 words or less) and entry form by March 29. First, Second and Third Place prizes awarded in each category.

Contest Details