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During pandemic, new group takes lead in organizing Menlo Park's volunteer emergency response

Gabi Jubran, a volunteer with MPC Ready and area coordinator, tapes up a flyer to recruit more volunteers on Coleman Place. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

A pandemic is a unique kind of public emergency.

Unlike the emergencies communities are used to preparing for – fires, floods, earthquakes – the recent pandemic hasn't undermined physical structures but social ones.

It's forced people into their homes and separated them from the institutions that usually make up daily life – school, work, civic activities and religious activities, said San Mateo County Health Officer Scott Morrow in a recent discussion with the county's Board of Supervisors.

People used to preparing for emergencies are learning that the usual practices aren't working how they expected under pandemic circumstances. And for a group in Menlo Park, MPC Ready, the coronavirus is creating new obstacles and opportunities to protect and connect the community.

Emergency readiness alphabet soup

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For the uninitiated, there are a lot of acronyms that go into emergency readiness, said Sean Ballard, who serves as the chair of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District's volunteer Community Crisis Management board.

With the sponsorship of the fire district, the Community Crisis Management team is responsible for training, logistics and communication.

Each community in the fire protection district has its own volunteer emergency response organization, with Atherton's ADAPT program being the oldest and most established. Menlo Park's MPC Ready just started this year, and East Palo Alto has its own organization.

The "crown jewel" of the emergency readiness training the group offers is CERT, which stands for Community Emergency Response Team, according to Ballard. To be CERT-trained is to have a credential from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA). It's a lengthy training program and, once completed, those trained volunteers are ready to be called upon in case of disaster.

Traditionally, the disasters they prepare for are more along the lines of a major earthquake demolishing Highway 101 and Stanford University, and people couldn't get other emergency help. That's a more typical scenario when a CERT team would be activated, said co-chair Lynne Bramlett.

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CERT training doesn't dive much into how to handle a pandemic, Ballard said. The training focuses on things like how to evaluate a building's safety, perform medical triage, do a light search and understand the chain of command in an emergency situation, he said.

"We train for a very specific type of disaster, not the type of disaster we're in," he said.

Menlo Park Fire Protection District Chief Harold Schapelhouman agreed. "We've never trained for a disaster like this because I don't think anyone could have conceived of this," he said.

A growing organization

Because Menlo Park's emergency readiness organization, MPC Ready, is so new, it has had to develop a network of volunteers virtually, using tools like email, Nextdoor and social media, Ballard said.

Still, since January, the organization has expanded to about 300 volunteers across Menlo Park, according to Bramlett.

One of the first steps of the process has been to subdivide Menlo Park into geographic areas where there are leaders assigned to each neighborhood who can communicate with residents and coordinate aid if needed.

At the most hyperlocal level, there are block coordinators, who focus on the eight to 20 residences nearest them, Bramlett said. They reach out to their neighbors, introduce themselves, prepare a letter, develop a neighborhood roster and find out what kind of help their neighbors need. Bramlett said she's aiming to get a block coordinator in every block in Menlo Park – but recruiting is hard work.

An MPC Ready flyer calling for volunteers. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Above the block coordinator in the hierarchy is the neighborhood coordinator, to whom block captains report. And above the neighborhood coordinator is an area coordinator. All but one part of Menlo Park now has an area coordinator, Bramlett said.

MPC Ready hosts regular meetings for coordinators and puts out a newsletter. The organization also meets regularly with a representative of the city of Menlo Park – currently Mike Noce from the city's housing division.

In Menlo Park and Atherton, the responses have been different. Typically, the chain of command in emergency situations runs from the state governor down to police chiefs, who are authorized to decide how to use volunteers. Atherton's Police Chief, Steven McCulley, took formal action to "activate" the volunteers to check in on their neighbors, while Menlo Park's Chief Dave Bertini did not.

One concern, several sources said, is that many of the CERT-trained volunteers in the community are retirees or seniors, an age group that is more at-risk of developing complications from COVID-19.

Gabi Jubran, an area coordinator for MPC Ready, tapes up a flyer that calls for volunteers at an apartment complex. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

But despite all of the jargon around whether a group is activated or not, what Atherton's ADAPT team and Menlo Park's MPC Ready teams are doing is essentially the same – asking volunteers to check in on their neighbors.

Unlike other disasters that run their course through a community quickly, the COVID-19 pandemic is slow-burning and ongoing.

And without clear directives for how volunteers used to hands-on helping can step up to fix the problem, adapting to the new task at hand – just being a good neighbor – may require a mind-shift.

"Folks want to be useful. They want to be helpful," Ballard said. "Nobody signed up for these trainings and certifications for their own sake."

Bramlett, who is still recruiting volunteers, said she's already seeing the positive impact of the program in her own life. "When I walk around my neighborhood ... I have connections I never would have had had I not gotten involved with this."

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Ballard is a board member of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District. He is chair of the district's volunteer Community Crisis Management board.

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During pandemic, new group takes lead in organizing Menlo Park's volunteer emergency response

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Thu, Jun 4, 2020, 11:25 am

A pandemic is a unique kind of public emergency.

Unlike the emergencies communities are used to preparing for – fires, floods, earthquakes – the recent pandemic hasn't undermined physical structures but social ones.

It's forced people into their homes and separated them from the institutions that usually make up daily life – school, work, civic activities and religious activities, said San Mateo County Health Officer Scott Morrow in a recent discussion with the county's Board of Supervisors.

People used to preparing for emergencies are learning that the usual practices aren't working how they expected under pandemic circumstances. And for a group in Menlo Park, MPC Ready, the coronavirus is creating new obstacles and opportunities to protect and connect the community.

Emergency readiness alphabet soup

For the uninitiated, there are a lot of acronyms that go into emergency readiness, said Sean Ballard, who serves as the chair of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District's volunteer Community Crisis Management board.

With the sponsorship of the fire district, the Community Crisis Management team is responsible for training, logistics and communication.

Each community in the fire protection district has its own volunteer emergency response organization, with Atherton's ADAPT program being the oldest and most established. Menlo Park's MPC Ready just started this year, and East Palo Alto has its own organization.

The "crown jewel" of the emergency readiness training the group offers is CERT, which stands for Community Emergency Response Team, according to Ballard. To be CERT-trained is to have a credential from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA). It's a lengthy training program and, once completed, those trained volunteers are ready to be called upon in case of disaster.

Traditionally, the disasters they prepare for are more along the lines of a major earthquake demolishing Highway 101 and Stanford University, and people couldn't get other emergency help. That's a more typical scenario when a CERT team would be activated, said co-chair Lynne Bramlett.

CERT training doesn't dive much into how to handle a pandemic, Ballard said. The training focuses on things like how to evaluate a building's safety, perform medical triage, do a light search and understand the chain of command in an emergency situation, he said.

"We train for a very specific type of disaster, not the type of disaster we're in," he said.

Menlo Park Fire Protection District Chief Harold Schapelhouman agreed. "We've never trained for a disaster like this because I don't think anyone could have conceived of this," he said.

A growing organization

Because Menlo Park's emergency readiness organization, MPC Ready, is so new, it has had to develop a network of volunteers virtually, using tools like email, Nextdoor and social media, Ballard said.

Still, since January, the organization has expanded to about 300 volunteers across Menlo Park, according to Bramlett.

One of the first steps of the process has been to subdivide Menlo Park into geographic areas where there are leaders assigned to each neighborhood who can communicate with residents and coordinate aid if needed.

At the most hyperlocal level, there are block coordinators, who focus on the eight to 20 residences nearest them, Bramlett said. They reach out to their neighbors, introduce themselves, prepare a letter, develop a neighborhood roster and find out what kind of help their neighbors need. Bramlett said she's aiming to get a block coordinator in every block in Menlo Park – but recruiting is hard work.

Above the block coordinator in the hierarchy is the neighborhood coordinator, to whom block captains report. And above the neighborhood coordinator is an area coordinator. All but one part of Menlo Park now has an area coordinator, Bramlett said.

MPC Ready hosts regular meetings for coordinators and puts out a newsletter. The organization also meets regularly with a representative of the city of Menlo Park – currently Mike Noce from the city's housing division.

In Menlo Park and Atherton, the responses have been different. Typically, the chain of command in emergency situations runs from the state governor down to police chiefs, who are authorized to decide how to use volunteers. Atherton's Police Chief, Steven McCulley, took formal action to "activate" the volunteers to check in on their neighbors, while Menlo Park's Chief Dave Bertini did not.

One concern, several sources said, is that many of the CERT-trained volunteers in the community are retirees or seniors, an age group that is more at-risk of developing complications from COVID-19.

But despite all of the jargon around whether a group is activated or not, what Atherton's ADAPT team and Menlo Park's MPC Ready teams are doing is essentially the same – asking volunteers to check in on their neighbors.

Unlike other disasters that run their course through a community quickly, the COVID-19 pandemic is slow-burning and ongoing.

And without clear directives for how volunteers used to hands-on helping can step up to fix the problem, adapting to the new task at hand – just being a good neighbor – may require a mind-shift.

"Folks want to be useful. They want to be helpful," Ballard said. "Nobody signed up for these trainings and certifications for their own sake."

Bramlett, who is still recruiting volunteers, said she's already seeing the positive impact of the program in her own life. "When I walk around my neighborhood ... I have connections I never would have had had I not gotten involved with this."

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Ballard is a board member of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District. He is chair of the district's volunteer Community Crisis Management board.

Comments

Peter Carpenter
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jun 4, 2020 at 12:51 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jun 4, 2020 at 12:51 pm
17 people like this

It is great that MPC Ready is, neighborhood by neighborhood, developing a citizen-based emergency preparedness capability for the citizens of Menlo Park.

It is a disappointment that the City of Menlo Park has absolutely no idea how to use this important citizen preparedness capability while the City of Palo Alto and the Town of Atherton have activated their volunteers for the current Covid-19 Pandemic without in any way placing those volunteers at risk. I am a Federally qualified CERT, I was an ADAPT member when I lived in Atherton and I am a currently an activated Palo Alto CERT (because I have a professional place of business in Palo Alto.)

In my Park Forest neighborhood we have an Area Preparedness Coordinator, three Neighborhood Preparedness Coordinators and eight Block Preparedness Coordinators covering over 100 homes. We know exactly what is happening in our neighborhood. We check on each other on a regular basis. We are sharing supplies and services with those who need them.

I have not seen a MP police car in our neighborhood since the Shelter in Place began. The city has NO idea what is going on in our neighborhood because they refuse to establish a chain of command that connects self-activated neighborhoods such as ours to the City's Emergency Operation Center - as have Palo Alto and Atherton. The Police Chief believes that emergency response requires a badge and a gun and had told us that he will NOT active well-organized neighborhoods, so we are YOYO's - You are On Your Own.

As a well-organized self-activated neighborhood Park Forest is proud to be On Our Own because we know that citizens can take care of each other and that we don't need a badge and a gun to do that.

The City of Menlo Park will be deeply handicapped in the event of a large-scale disaster such as an earthquake because it has not accepted citizen volunteers as an essential part of our community's emergency preparedness. The city's very limited emergency staff will be totally incapable of responding to widespread power outages, fires, structural collapses and blocked roads. Well organized neighborhoods that are connected to the city's EOC would provide both eyes in the neighborhoods and vital local response capability.


Lynne Bramlett
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 4, 2020 at 3:20 pm
Lynne Bramlett , Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 4, 2020 at 3:20 pm
4 people like this

The foundation of the MPC Ready effort is the wonderful network of about 350 volunteers (and rising) that start with the Area Coordinators. They have worked tirelessly to map their overall Area and to recruit Block Coordinators for every street in the Area. The effort continues and it's being supported by other volunteers in the network! Neighborhood Coordinators are also actively helping to recruit and to support Block Coordinators. The Block Coordinators are going forth to meet neighbors, establish ties, provide support and to recruit more Block Coordinators! This grass-roots effort is growing thanks to the many volunteers who, unfortunately, were not named in the article. I'm just a small part of this overall effort.

The MPC Ready Board provides additional support as does the CCM/CERT Advisory Board. This is a team effort, working together, towards the goal of having every street across Menlo Park, and the adjacent unincorporated County, being supported by a Block Coordinator.

Following a disaster, the neighbors will be the first people that we see. The MPC Ready program is focused on helping neighbors to build social ties ahead of a major disaster, and to have the tools and resources needed to work together as a team following a major emergency or disaster. The time commitment can be as little as 3 hours per month, on average. We can also help you to organize your neighborhood!

We still need more Block Coordinators! Please consider becoming one. us.Web Link

The public is also cordially invited to our June 27 Community Meeting (9-10:15 a.m.) where Scott James, author of Prepared Neighborhoods: Creating Resilience One Street at a Time, will speak about how Menlo Park and the adjacent County can create more disaster ready and enjoyable neighborhoods. Web Link

The effort continues and it is very much a "we" effort.


Scott Barnum
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jun 4, 2020 at 11:13 pm
Scott Barnum, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jun 4, 2020 at 11:13 pm
3 people like this

It is indeed disappointing that the hard work of the MPC Ready Board resulting in a 300+ person organization it has assembled in less than 3 months is not being properly recognized, supported or integrated into the emergency operations of Menlo Park, especially when there are good examples of similar effective emergency volunteer organizations in place on Menlo Park's boarders (i.e., in Atherton and Palo Alto). These citizen volunteer groups have been embraced and are being utilized by their city governments and for some time. Why not Menlo Park?

This lack of interest in supporting a viable citizens' emergency response organization in Menlo Park by city officials is not new. Several attempts at organizing in the past have also gone unrecognized and have not been embraced and thus, have failed. The citizens' neighborhood emergency response organizing effort going on now is by far the most advanced and extensive ever. Yet, in the middle of an emergency pandemic and despite the aggressive volunteer efforts to build such an organization, essentially from the ground up, across all of Menlo Park's neighborhoods and San Mateo County unincorporated areas, the City barely recognizes the MPC Ready as an integral volunteer group, let alone even attempts to integrate the group into its emergency support operations and communication infrastructure. Why, especially when neighboring Palo and Atherton have good role models to learn from AND when there is now a sizable core of volunteers that has been created to build on and there is a clear need shown for such an organization as highlighted during the current real and on-going emergency (COVID-19)?

Having helped organized my neighborhood in Menlo Park and having been involved with the development of Atherton's citizens emergency response group ADAPT (Atherton Disaster And Preparedness Team), I have seen the benefits first hand of such organization. I would strongly encourage the City Council to embrace the MPC Ready organization - it developed and it is growing. It is free and it is ready to "be leveraged" for the benefit of all the residents and neighborhoods of Menlo Park. It is an asset that quite literally has "dropped into our collective laps!" MPC Ready can benefit Menlo Park in many ways and during many kinds of emergencies, not just pandemics. And the costs for integrating such an organization into the City's emergency preparedness efforts are minor in comparison to the upsides.


Rob Silano: Director
Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Jun 5, 2020 at 6:39 am
Rob Silano: Director, Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Jun 5, 2020 at 6:39 am
4 people like this

Nice article:
As Chair and Fire Director of the Emergency Preparation Committee join myself and Director Chuck Bernstein on our Zoom Call. We would like to hear from all volunteer groups within our district. Presently, the CCM Organization has not been used by any of the communities we serve:
Atherton
Menlo Park
East Palo Alto
Unincorporated SMC

We on our Emergency Preparation Committee want to hear from all of you. The fire district has set aside money for your organizations. CCM is only one part of the good people of our community wanting to help.

Director Bernstein and myself want to use this great resource of Volunteers and put them to work to benefit all communities.

Our Meeting Information:
Thank you

The following Committee meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday, June 9, 2020, and will be held via teleconference. Please click on the below Agenda and Agenda Packet link to access the agenda for instructions on how to view the meeting.

Emergency Preparedness Committee at 3:00 p.m.
Click on the following link to access the agenda and agenda packet: Agenda and Agenda Packet then choose the Current Agenda folder to view the agenda only. To view the Board Meeting Packet, which includes attachments, if any, choose the Current Meetings folder and click on the link for the meeting.

If you need any assistance accessing the agenda packet please contact Michelle Kneier, Clerk of the Board at 650-688-8400 or at mkneier@menlofire.org. 


Peter Carpenter
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jun 5, 2020 at 7:00 am
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jun 5, 2020 at 7:00 am
1 person likes this

The Fire District's Emergency Preparedness Committee meeting can be viewed in real time at:
Web Link Password: 060920.
Or
Listen to the meeting by dialing one of the following telephone numbers: 1-669-900-6833, 1-253-215-8782,
1-346-248-7799, 1-929-205-6099, 1-301-715-8592, 1-312-626-6799. Webinar ID: 972 3684 0808, Password: 060920
Note: If you access the meeting by telephone and would like to submit public comment your phone number will appear
on the screen unless you first dial *67 before dialing the telephone access numbers shown above.
Public Comment:
- If you would like to submit public comment during the public comment portion of the agenda and you accessed the
meeting using the URL you can use the “Raise Hand” feature.
- If you accessed the meeting by telephone you can press *9.
- You may also submit any public comments by email to mkneier@menlofire.org or call 650-688-1441 no later than
1:00 p.m. on June 9, 2020.


Jim Lewis
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 5, 2020 at 8:07 am
Jim Lewis, Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 5, 2020 at 8:07 am
1 person likes this

Thanks Peter. I plan to attend the Emergency Preparation Meeting scheduled for next Tuesday.


Rob Silano Director
Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Jun 5, 2020 at 8:15 am
Rob Silano Director, Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Jun 5, 2020 at 8:15 am
Like this comment

Thank you Peter, Scott, and Jim. You both know how supportive I am in volunteer programs within our communities. Please Zoom in on our meeting all interested!


Lynne Bramlett
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 5, 2020 at 9:35 am
Lynne Bramlett, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 5, 2020 at 9:35 am
2 people like this

Rob. I and the other leaders on the MPC Ready Board have routinely attended the CCM/CERT Advisory Board meetings, as also has Mike Noce from the City of Menlo Park. Noce was assigned by the City to be the liaison to the MPC Ready organization and the CCM/CERT Advisory Board. The CCM/CERT Advisory Board, to its credit, worked very hard to help pull the Atherton, EPA and Menlo Park/County Boards together during the COVID-19 pandemi -- to leverage ideas and resources. I hope this good work will continue.


Rob Silano Director
Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Jun 5, 2020 at 9:54 am
Rob Silano Director, Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Jun 5, 2020 at 9:54 am
Like this comment

Thank you Lynn for your comments:

QUESTION:
The only volunteer group that has been solicited for help is ADAPT.

What do all these other Volunteer Groups, including yours and the CCM, need to do to get the other cities: EPA- Menlo Park to recognize them and ask for your assistance?

Please attend our Zoom Meeting next week.

Thank you and other volunteers for their commitment to our community.


Peter Carpenter
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jun 5, 2020 at 10:05 am
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jun 5, 2020 at 10:05 am
5 people like this

What well organized neighborhoods need is an institutional sponsor to whom they can provide data re their neighborhood's status and from which they can be provided information for local dissemination.

Neither Menlo Park or East Palo Alto have the interest, skills , culture or resources to mobilize community volunteers BUT the Fire District has the interest, skills, culture and resources to do a great job with community volunteeers.

The FIre District could aggregate information provided by well organized neighborhoods and pass it on to the County EOC.

The Fire District could also perform a critical function in facilitating the training of well organized neighborhoods and helping individuals from other neighborhoods get the training they need to then organize additional neighborhoods.

Community volunteers can be a powerful force but without Fire District sponsorship much of their value will be wasted.


John Doe
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 5, 2020 at 2:20 pm
John Doe, Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 5, 2020 at 2:20 pm
4 people like this

Don't expect much cooperation from the Menlo Park Police. Bertini lives in his ivory tower and couldn't care less. He's just shining his buckle for his next 'promotion' like the last guy Jonsen .. another overpaid cop, now raking it in over in Palo Alto. How many of these cops are drawing multiple pensions and salaries for their efforts to 'serve and protect'. The reaction to the fake social media alert re looting was astonishing, can they not verify their sources. (Watch for few police service cuts in this city as they are so powerful its obscene. Look how they protected one of their own. Is this guy still on the job? -- Read this article).

Web Link

Time for reform in Menlo Park .. Sadly the gutless City Council have no will, ability, desire or interest in change.

PS. Lived here my whole life, zero tickets in 46 years .. so no axe to grind. Occasional request for 'service', never a proper follow up. Detective Unit is a joke, they couldn't detect an elephant in snow !


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