Palo Alto's response has ballooned in the past year, involving scores of volunteers, neighborhood groups and city officials collaborating on how to add a sense of urgency to emergency preparation.
On Thursday, Oct. 21 — the 21st anniversary of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake — city leaders and the recently resurrected Citizen Corps Council will present achievement awards to individuals whose efforts have helped the city prepare for a major emergency. The council is a group of city officials, businesses, hospitals and residents' groups.
The award recipients, who will not be identified beforehand, will be honored at 7 p.m. in a ceremony at Palo Alto City Hall. The free public event will feature a public unveiling of the city's new mobile emergency-operations center at 5 p.m.
Annette Glanckopf, Citizen Corps Council member and awards organizer, said years of awareness-raising seems to be paying off.
"We will be so much better prepared. Our citizenry wouldn't go into some kind of psychic shock" because of several key programs, she said. Those include the Palo Alto Neighborhoods Block Preparedness Coordinator program, Palo Alto Neighborhoods Disaster Activities (PANDA) volunteers and Amateur Radio Emergency Services/Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services (ARES/RACES) program.
Kenneth Dueker, the city's coordinator of Homeland Security and public outreach, underlined the necessity of trained volunteers.
"If we fail to engage with the community neighborhoods we will fail in everything we do," he said at one city policy meeting.
Block-preparedness coordinators have spent thousands of dollars of their own money to buy equipment, such as fluorescent vests, radios, outreach and teaching materials. They produced their own disaster-preparedness manual and held three citywide drills that involved radio communications and search-and-rescue drills by PANDAs.
Block coordinators developed curriculum (including radio communications) and have taught a three-session class to hundreds of residents.
The three-part classes have been adapted to train organizations such as businesses in Stanford Research Park, said Dueker, who is working to coordinate and train all sectors within the city.
Awareness efforts have been diverse and creative.
On Sept. 11, nearly 60 people took part in "Quakeville," an overnight evacuation drill at Juana Briones Park, where residents lived under the stars and volunteers conducted an injured-missing-person search. Lydia Kou, the emergency-preparedness coordinator for Barron Park, organized the event.
Al Dorsky, co-chair of the block-preparedness program, and high-end radio volunteers had a real-life experience on Feb. 17, when Palo Alto was left powerless after a small plane hit a utility tower in the Baylands.
So many people called the city's public-information line the system jammed. But Dorsky and amateur radio operators worked out of the city's Emergency Operations Center beneath City Hall to get block-preparedness coordinators to check on the elderly and people with medical needs.
In the past couple of years, the PANDAs have built up a strong command structure to assemble resources and dispatch people to the field, PANDA district coordinators Doug Kalish said.
PANDA volunteer Annette Ross said the volunteer group provides "a predetermined and methodical way of avoiding chaos."
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