In the latest Around Town column, answers to why an emergency notification for a Sept. 14 fire at a home owned by Larry Page disappeared and a community contest in support of the Great California Shakeout.
TECH ERROR ... When a two-alarm fire broke out Sept. 14 at a Palo Alto home owned by Google co-founder Larry Page, residents were alerted at about 8 p.m. by PulsePoint, a well-known emergency-notification app. But the notification disappeared by 8:45 p.m., despite the raging blaze.
The deletion stoked suspicions among some residents that Page was receiving preferential treatment through protected privacy. The reason behind the mysterious removal turns out to have been less sinister, however — at least according to city staff. Rather, it was a tech error.
PulsePoint grabs incident information from the police computer-aided dispatch system, which disseminates real-time information to fire and law enforcement. When a dispatcher receives a call, the staffer inputs a code that describes the type of incident. PulsePoint's software picks up the code and sends out information about the incident, said Shannon Smith, vice president of communications for PulsePoint.
Deputy Fire Chief Kevin McNally explained further in an email: "Unfortunately, PulsePoint did not have all of our call types built into their system. When the call began as a structure fire, it showed up, because that code was in their system. When it was upgraded to a FULL FIRST (more resources), the call dropped," he wrote, referring to the disappearance of the app listing. "Our technical services division is working with PulsePoint to correct the issue," he said.
Strangely, the incident was posted again on PulsePoint later — at 2:52 a.m. the next morning — after additional flames were seen at the Bryant Street home. Those flames were handled by a single apparatus, he added. Unlike the earlier notification, the later one remained on PulsePoint. The cause of the fire was still under investigation as of Wednesday, McNally said.
SHAKING THINGS UP ... We can all agree that earthquakes are a tangible risk and their impacts can turn our world upside down — that's why before the Great California Shakeout, a statewide earthquake drill on Oct. 21, a local contest aims to help residents get prepared for a temblor — and have some fun while they're at it.
Palo Alto's Office of Emergency Services and the city's Emergency Services Volunteers are teaming up for a ShakeOut contest for people of all ages to submit a photo or video entry in four categories. One challenges people to offer their best expression during an earthquake drill. The contest also is looking for the best hazard hunt video that identifies earthquake hazards. There's also an adults-only category that asks people for their best earthquake story.
At stake are prizes, including a $50 gift certificate for adults and a $25 gift certificate for youth. Entries can be emailed to [email protected] (they must include a name and contact information) by Oct. 20. Contestants are encouraged to share their submissions on social media.