Report: Palo Alto needs new emergency director

Study also urges safer location for emergency headquarters, stronger community involvement

Palo Alto should hire a director to oversee its emergency services, relocate its emergency-services headquarters and forge stronger relationships between city staff and the greater community, a consultant is recommending in a study released this week.

The city commissioned the report in October to get an independent review of the city's disaster-preparedness effort -- one of the City Council's top five priorities for 2011. The report, which the council is scheduled to discuss Monday, lauds Palo Alto for paying close attention to community safety but identifies a series of shortcomings in the city's emergency-preparedness efforts.

These include a lack of coordination between departments, insufficient disaster training for staff in "non-operational" departments (all departments other than Police, Fire, Utilities and Public Works), a seismically shaky Emergency Operations Center, and inadequate public outreach from City Hall.

The report by consultant Arrietta Chakos of the firm Urban Resilience Policy offers three main recommendations: a new director with cross-departmental authority to oversee the Office of Emergency Services; a plan to find a structurally safer location for the Emergency Operations Center; and consolidation of information from various studies and commissions into an "internal clearinghouse."

Chakos estimated the recommendations could be accomplished within two years.

The largely fragmented and disorganized structure of Palo Alto's emergency-preparedness staff is a reoccurring theme throughout the report. The city's public-safety departments have professionals trained in emergency response, but their coordination with other departments in City Hall is largely nonexistent. The current Office of Emergency Services, the study found, "does not have the authority to overcome planning and preparedness deficiencies."

"Departments do not fully consider beforehand their responsibility in crisis situations that cut across boundaries, sectors and jurisdictions," the report states. "No single group has demonstrated crisis management or leadership on a comprehensive level, resulting in a fragmented and ineffective approach to response and readiness."

A new director of emergency services would seek to remedy that problem. The position would be responsible for the city's "overall emergency/disaster readiness" and have "organization-wide authority." The report also recommends two professional staff positions for the office -- one to coordinate the city's planning efforts and another one to serve as a liaison with the community.

The city could staff this office by recasting some of its existing positions, the report states.

Among the director's tasks would be making sure City Hall staff is trained in disaster response. The report notes that staff in non-operational departments "would benefit from more in-depth briefing on their disaster roles and duties."

The report's recommendation of a director follows similar advice from community volunteers. Annette Glankopf, co-chair of Palo Alto Neighborhoods and a leading proponent of emergency preparedness, urged the council during its annual retreat in January to formalize the city's emergency-preparedness efforts with a new director and possibly even a new commission. She described the city's existing efforts as an "orchestra" in need of conductor.

City Manager James Keene said at the retreat that the city currently has an "ad hoc structure and staffing" in emergency services and that a director would make it easier to consider improvements to this structure.

The new report also confirms some the findings of a recent fire-service study by TriData and International City/County Management Association (ICMA). The two groups analyzed the city's Fire Department and uncovered what they called a "leadership malaise" in emergency planning. The Urban Resilience Policy study states that "authority and responsibility for disaster readiness is indeterminate" and that "staff is caught in a confusing leadership gap."

Staff in the Office of Emergency Services would be charged with closing the gap and also with strengthening the city's partnerships with Stanford University, neighborhood groups and other organizations involved in emergency preparedness.

"Staff is perceived, for the most part, to shy away from community involvement," the report states. "There are exceptions to this, but in general, it is time to change the organizational culture and enliven the interactions between the community and City staff."

Police and Fire Chief Dennis Burns told the Weekly that it has not yet been determined whether staffing for the new Office of Emergency Services should come from within the city's existing organization or from the outside. The key attribute of staff members would be a "capability and know-how to coordinate cross-departmentally," Burns said.

He also said he generally agrees with the report's recommendations.

"I think it's important to try to leverage the resources of the entire city and of all the city departments to the extent we can," Burns said. "We've gone through transitions with regard to the Office of Emergency Services over the years and the recommendations are sound -- they would give us a better emergency-response profile."

The study also calls on local community groups such as Palo Alto Neighborhoods and Palo Alto Community Emergency Response Training (CERT) to "align" their efforts, promote more diversity in their membership and bring more young people, including students and young families, into their organization. It also calls on the city to provide "ongoing support for growing and maintaining engaged community networks and activities."

"Palo Alto's community is a strong partner in disaster preparedness -- people are engaged and clamoring to work with City leaders," the report states. "This opportunity can be used to good purpose; it is too rare a situation to squander by eroding the goodwill and trust of community leaders with indecision and inaction."

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Like this comment
Posted by Walter Underwood
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Apr 8, 2011 at 11:07 am

Walter Underwood is a registered user.

Where can we see the original report? Link please.

Like this comment
Posted by Annette
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 8, 2011 at 11:24 am

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Ronna Devincenzi
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 8, 2011 at 11:28 am

Annette Glankopf, co-chair of Palo Alto Neighborhoods, is an unsung hero in Palo Alto. She, Sheri Furman and a handful of other residents deserve kudos for the City's being equipped to participate in the statewide Golden Guardian excercise, and the Silver Sentinel excercise, several years ago. Each was a valuable experience for all Palo Alto neighborhoods, including California Avenue, the only business district that participated.

Before Golden Guardian, another unsung hero, Officer Ken Dueker of the Dept. of Emergency Services, prepared me and several other California Avenue business owners, to successfully survey the entire CAADA district in only 35 minutes, equipping us to get information back to city authorities in a timely fashion. Had that been a real emergency, what was done would have been a great contribution for the community.

If Annette urged the council during its annual retreat in January to formalize the city's emergency-preparedness efforts with a new director and possibly even a new commission, city council would be wise to listen to her. She has been in the trenches regarding E-Prep for years, and she and Sheri know what's what.

Since this is California, it's not a matter of "if" there will be a real emergency, rather it is a matter of "when". Annette and Sheri have done their homework; they have the answers. Heed their advice.

Like this comment
Posted by Carlito waysman
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 8, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Is this another layer of bureaucrats on the taxpayers dime?

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Posted by Charlie
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 8, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Well, A director soon comes with mgrs & workers. Doubt anyone needs help to get onto 101 or 280.

Like this comment
Posted by NO-PAN-Involvement
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 8, 2011 at 1:37 pm

> Palo Alto Neighborhoods (PAN)

This report suggests that PAN be involved in the emergency preparedness. PAN is a group of self-promoting individuals, none of which has been elected to this particular group's membership.

The idea that a bunch of politically-minded individuals be integrated into the emergency preparedness of the city is nuts. This author of this report should be grilled as to why she made this recommendation, and all references to PAN should be taken with a grain of salt.

Like this comment
Posted by Yes PAN
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 8, 2011 at 1:52 pm

Good grief. Mr. No-Pan objects to people who volunteer and do great work for the community!
I'll bet he prefers people who make big bucks off of us, like developers and architects. Let Them decide everything.
i note he refers to these people as politically-minded, not politically seeking. Free floating hate!

Like this comment
Posted by who cares
a resident of Triple El
on Apr 8, 2011 at 2:55 pm

Yea, another management position for taxpayers. Keene forgets his position as city manager is to act as Emergency Director and be responsible for coordinating fire, police, building, public works, etc.... Remember we hired him as a manager? Good grief! It's as he thinks his job is to hire consultants to tell us he's not qualified to perform any of his duties. I don't mind incompetency, but I don't need a high priced outside consultant to tell me that we hired the wrong person.

Like this comment
Posted by Rogue Trader
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 9, 2011 at 9:50 pm

What does an emergency director do on the 99.99% of days when there is no emergency? Sounds like more bloated government to me.

Like this comment
Posted by george brownin
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 9, 2011 at 10:48 pm

For those who criticize the idea of a coordinated response to the forthcoming earthquake, I ask them how they plan to cope. Heading to 101 or 280 would probably be impossible - roads buckled, power lines down, thousands of cars trying to move out of town, possible night time event, bad weather, etc.

Compare the responses to recent earthquakes in Chile, Japan, New Zealand, and Haiti. Haiti had no plans and is still a disaster area. New Zealand and Chile are recovering rapidly; Japan's earthquakes and tsunamis are too recent to evaluate how successful and how soon recovery will take. The wild card of leaky nuclear reactors has impeded their plans to cope with the earthquake, but they did exist and were put into action which has lessened the tragedy.

We don't have such plans. An intelligent community should make plans to cope with possible disasters. A free for all by people in panic is too horrible to consider.

Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 10, 2011 at 9:37 am

Apparently the city needs high-priced consultants to provide common sense. First it was the re-org of the planning department, now this. Both reports recommend the obvious.

Like this comment
Posted by No-PAN-Involvement
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2011 at 9:46 am

> Good grief. Mr. No-Pan objects to people who volunteer and
> do great work for the community!

Really? Who says that they do "great work"? When have any of these "volunteers" actually done anything that save lives, or property? When have any of these volunteers actually turned out to help rebuild after a catastrophe? Thinking back to the flood of '98, weren't there some boy scouts (or sea scouts) that actually "waded in" and helped to do some evacuations in the flooded area? Interesting that this "study" does not recognize their work, or identify them as a possible emergency resource. Wonder why?

It's difficult to find people in PAN who were former military (particularly at the rank of Captain and Major), or have been involved in any real disaster relief efforts. How many PAN people dropped what they were doing, and went down to help manage the Katrina disaster relief effort? or the Haiti earthquake response? Or the Christchurch response?

On the other hand, the US Navy was on-station, off the coast of Louisiana about four days after the flooding was declared the basis of a disaster area. In Japan, the US Navy (and Marines) were these within a similar time, and are (presumably) still helping the Japanese government, and people, to deal with the emergency response to the quake/tsunami. And the US military also helped out in the early stages of the Haiti relief effort. Wonder what role the US military is expected to play here in Palo Alto disaster relief?

> i note he refers to these people as politically-minded,
> not politically seeking. Free floating hate!

Astounding .. a critical analysis and the comments are labeled as "hate speech" by (presumably) a PAN member. Another reason why these people have no place in the disaster planning/response for a town this size.

> Heading to 101 or 280 would probably be impossible -
> roads buckled, power lines down, thousands of cars trying
> to move out of town, possible night time event, bad weather, etc.

And this prediction is based on what scientific research? While roads have buckled in other quake locations, every road in every earthquake zone has NOT buckled. The claim by this poster that every egress out of Palo Alto would be blocked is closer to hysteria, than not. Keep in mind that if one in-out road (San Antonio, Page Mill, etc) were closed, that Middlefield, or El Camino would offer access to Mountain View, or Menlo Park, and access to the highways.

We lived through the Loma Prieta Quake. How many roads were "buckled"? Power was down throughout town--in large part because the City had failed to underground the utilities, which it promised to do back in 1976. So, how is a "coordinated response" going to get the Utility in gear, and get that work done before the next earthquake? Good grief--the Utility can't even get the high tension feeds into Palo Alto underground. So, the town is subject to power outages every time a plane his the incoming electrical feeds. However, without a Manager of Emergency Services, the Utility/City Managers office seemed to be able to get the power back on.

> We don't have such plans.

Palo Alto has an emergency plan. People who claim otherwise should take the time to locate a copy, read it, and then make comments based on the deficiencies of that plan. For instance, what does the emergency plan say about all of the arterials being "buckled"? Will those government agencies with heavy equipment be tasked to start "fixing the roads", or is this scenario unlikely, so it's not been considered? What is the estimated time-line for "fixing the roads" in such scenarios?

People pushing this idea ought to "get a grip".

Like this comment
Posted by Gennady Sheyner
Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on Apr 10, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Gennady Sheyner is a registered user.


The report can be seen here:

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Herb Borock
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 12, 2011 at 2:50 pm

Palo Alto already has an Office of Emergency Services Coordinator who reports to a Deputy Fire Chief. Here is the OES Coordinator job description: Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 12, 2011 at 2:54 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

"A women gets stuck in the mud, the local Emergency services are so inept that the Coast Guard has to send a heli out to get her?"
Perhaps, since so few people get stranded in the mud, it is more cost effective to defer to the Coast Guard. The helicopter run probably cost $1000 or so, but a standby mud scooter would cost thousands a year upkeep and storage.
As for heading for 101, most experts recommend sheltering in place as long as place is habitable. That is why the suggestion to store food for a few days, drinking water and batteries is good.
I do not want our emergency service folk suddenly under a new and unproved direction. And if our City Manager feels lacking in that department, I suggest he retire and make room for someone capable.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Woodside

on Sep 26, 2017 at 1:15 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

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

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