Residents prepare for emergencies

Publication Date: Wednesday Jun 17, 1998

DISASTER PLANNING: Residents prepare for emergencies

City may fund citizen-training program

If there is an earthquake, flood or other disaster, Stone Lane resident Bonnie Packer is glad she lives where she does.

Each resident on her Palo Verde neighborhood street has a map with a list of names, ages, telephone numbers and other information about everyone who lives in the 16 homes on the block. That way, neighbors will be alerted to look for anyone who is missing or hurt.

"I see it as: If you know your neighbors, then you're going to have that peace of mind," Packer said.

The idea, she said, grew out of block parties in the area, and the example set by residents of neighboring Evergreen Drive, who have a similar map for their street.

The maps, Packer said, also diagram information such as where gas shut-off valves are for each home.

Across town, Barron Park--which has dealt with flooding from its two creeks over the years--also has a neighborhood emergency plan. The neighborhood also helped the city create a booklet sent to all Palo Alto residents with disaster preparedness information, called "Living with Your Faults," which is available from the city's fire department.

The neighborhood recently completed a survey asking residents to fill out a form with information about what resources or skills they would be able to contribute in the aftermath of a disaster.

The Barron Park Association already has a database with a list, given to all association board members, with pertinent resident information. "We have a core of people in the area," said Art Bayce, who is part of the association's emergency preparedness group. "What we do need," he said, "is training."

That may come next, if the City Council authorizes money for hiring full-time disaster preparedness professionals to train citizens in the basics of search and rescue, using a fire extinguisher, and other skills to help neighbors in the wake of an emergency.

The proposed citywide emergency response plan is scheduled to be discussed by the council's Policy and Services Committee and Finance Committee this summer.

Victims of February's floods are looking forward to such a plan, including the newly-created Duveneck/St. Francis Neighborhood Association. Most of the group's members suffered flood damage to their homes, and many say they received no warning before they had to evacuate.

Sierra Court resident Raymond Hebert, his wife and four children were evacuated by a neighbor with a boat.

"I really see disaster preparedness as a large effort that's going to take some time to get it all together," Hebert said. But coordination, he said, would be key, so that they would know ahead of time if a neighbor had a boat. "That all happened spontaneously," he said.

The idea of the disaster plan, said Palo Alto Fire Department Battalion Chief Mick McDonald, the department's disaster coordinator, is for residents to be self-sufficient for as long as 72 hours in the wake of a major emergency. If the City Council decides to spend money on a training program, the city would be divided into the existing five fire-response zones.

"The intent is we will start training people to be more self-sufficient," McDonald said. Trainees would learn first aid and search-and-rescue techniques and would compile a list of neighborhood resources.

Cities including Sunnyvale, Hillsborough, San Francisco and Los Angeles have developed similar plans, modeled after a national program called "CERT," which stands for Community Emergency Response Team.

Palo Alto's proposed version would be called PANDA, or Palo Alto Neighborhood Disaster Assistance.

About 100 people a year would be trained in a 20- to 25-hour program taught by the city. Monthly articles would be included in community newsletters, and neighborhoods would identify resources, create an evacuation plan, and receive storage bins for food, water, medical supplies and other emergency necessities.

A citywide emergency notification system would work with neighborhoods to alert them or warn them of an impending disaster.

"We can't prevent the earthquake, but we can reduce the impact on the community," McDonald said.

--Elizabeth Lorenz 

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