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Avoiding a Paradise lost

Original post made by Peter Carpenter, Atherton: Lindenwood, on Dec 17, 2018

Good Morning Atherton Town Council, Atherton Town Manager, Atherton Police Department Chief, Menlo Park Fire Protection District Board and Menlo Park Fire Department Chief.

For the last 10+ years, the mission of ADAPT (Atherton Disaster and Preparedness Team) in partnership with the Atherton Police Department, is to educate, train and organize Atherton residents to be resilient, response capable and recovery able in the event of a community-wide emergency or disaster. ADAPT is one of two active community-specific civilian emergency response organizations within the Menlo Park Fire Protection District. We are dedicated to the health, safety and welfare of the Atherton community.

To accomplish its mission, ADAPT conducts regular community and periodic neighborhood educational sessions and specific trainings, presents family Get Ready and Neighborhood Ready classes, supports other live action community drills (e.g., in Atherton, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park) and assists in emergency drills at Sacred Heart Schools and Menlo Schools, among other activities.

ADAPT is committed to identifying those areas of vulnerability in the community, so we can help mitigate the highest risk elements that make sense, understanding the limitations organizational jurisdictions and funding. We’ve done this with an eye towards preventing the potential loss of life, reducing injuries and limiting the destruction of property that would directly affect the viability of Atherton.

The training and education that ADAPT provides its residents is predicated upon a realistic assessment of Atherton’s vulnerabilities in a large-scale emergency. From our perspective the following vulnerabilities in Atherton are a concern to ADAPT, which are further reinforced by the recent events in the northern part of our state.

· The various terrains in Atherton are similar to the various areas severely affected by the fires.
· There is limited North-South and East-West access-egress, within Atherton, which could create traffic bottlenecks and undermine evacuation in the event of a major emergency – exodus.
· Some neighborhoods and sections of Atherton are particularly isolated with very constricted access-egress and limited emergency evacuation options:
o Lindenwood neighborhood – Areas 1, 2 and 3
o The Walsh Road neighborhood – Areas 13, 14, above Alameda De Las Pulgas and northwest of Walsh Road
· PG&E gas and electrical utility line placement and maintenance have a number of potential fire and earthquake vulnerabilities in our community:
o The fuel load (defined as trees/foliage coverage and density) in Atherton is similar to those in the recent fire-impacted communities, making utility line and tree maintenance very important.
o Atherton has similar concerns as those northern fire-impacted communities with canopy encroachment into PG&E power-lines , which create material vulnerabilities for a canopy fire.
· Limited on duty police numbers at any one time and non-proximate distances from their homes to Atherton by APD members severely handicaps the ability for APD to respond to major emergencies. This situation is even more pronounced at night.
· The Town’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) has a potential susceptibility due to irregular simulations and practice, limited facilities and the EOC will soon be moved to Holbrook Palmer Park and away from current Atherton Police Department operations/offices for several years, (due to civic center construction).
· The community has a suboptimal resident emergency notification system, with limitations in reaching all Atherton residents.
· There is no publicized integrated community evacuation plan in response to a canopy fire or earthquake-related incident that is widely-known to Atherton’s residents in most of the community (with the possible exception of the Walsh Road neighborhood).

ADAPT sees the potential for a fire emergency with or without an earthquake as a material concern. As such, we wish to encourage Atherton’s Town management and our First Responders about the need for substantive emergency planning efforts to improve Atherton’s community response and resident evacuation in the event of a major wide-spread fire. Focused attention and action are required now to prevent or mitigate what could be a devasting community impact in the future. We should not assume that “it won’t happen here.” Rather, we should take the planning stance that the recent Northern California fires can happen in Atherton and determine what planning and preparations should be done, given that assumption.

Atherton has the potential to be a “perfect storm” of fire events, the risks of which we all wish to significantly reduce. ADAPT, is prepared to provide time and resources to collaborate with the Town and others in these important community-wide endeavors. ADAPT recommends the following important actions-measures be considered:

1. Promptly develop and distribute Fire Evacuation Plans (as the concerned citizens did in 2008 for the Walsh Road neighborhood) for all Atherton Areas.

2. Immediately begin a tree and foliage density and overgrowth education and reduction program using various and multiple media outlets like the Athertonian, NextDoor and the Town website
a. Use the Town Public Works Department as the “eyes” in the community to identify fuel load vulnerabilities
b. Insist with whatever inducement is necessary that PG&E clear the overgrowth of trees around Town power lines (or within reason, use a private contractor) and check underground gas lines for root incursion and general maintenance.

3. Under the direction of the Atherton Police Department, develop and train an Atherton Rapid Deployment Corps to be utilized by the Atherton Police Department when required in times of insufficient police or Town staff and made up of resident teams with following areas of focus:
a. Communications,
b. Logistics and DRC Trailer Deployment,
c. Medical Field Operations,
d. Traffic Crowd (and Evacuation) Control,
e. Search and Recovery,
f. EOC Operations.

4. Develop and publish emergency evacuation routes for residents to follow in the event of an evacuation order. Further, resist or restrict traffic calming (or other devices) that may slow or inhibit evacuation traffic in a major emergency. We need clear and direct evacuation routes – especially north south.

5. Add additional emergency exits to the Lindenwood neighborhood to provide this area more evacuation options. For example, construct emergency secure evacuation doors into the Bay Road Wall at the intersections of Greenoaks Drive and Lilac Drive, and Greenoaks Drive and Rosewood Drive, and the Marsh Road Wall, somewhere close to Bay Road to allow residents to effectively and more timely escape a fast-moving canopy fire.

6. Publish detailed street-by-street PG&E gas mains and lines by neighborhood on the town website, so residents know where their gas lines are located, what types of problems to look out for and how to report problems.

7. Develop and implement a multi-pronged community notification capability that incorporates SMC Alert, NextDoor, APD Flash Comm, reverse 911 and the Town Website for rapid community communication and emergency directions:
a. Undertake and invest in a sustained marketing effort to make Atherton residents
aware of the need to sign up for multipleemergency communication links, what communications options are available and why they need to sign up for multiple communications. This effort amounts to a conscription program to sign up as many residents as possible on as many emergency communication links as possible.

b. Establish a siren system that will effectively cover the three Atherton Town
zones and will be identifiable as to the nature of the emergency alert (flood
evacuation, fire evacuation, shelter in place (e.g. for toxic fumes,
electromagnetic pulse - EMP event) with community awareness and
education via media such as Almanac, Daily Post, Athertonian,
NextDoor, Town-wide and ADAPT community meetings and Town Website.

8. Ensure that Ham radio communications can be maintained throughout Atherton, pre, during and post an emergency, with the necessary equipment and antennae.

9. Continue to foster and expand the collaboration with ADAPT to facilitate:
a. Regular and periodic community and neighborhood emergency prep education meetings and trainings
b. Neighborhood/Area Teams development and Emergency Assembly Points deployment and usage
c. Fielding integrated community drills – to include a simulated canopy fire evacuation and response
d. Investing communication infrastructure and basic support gear/equipment

10. Continue all efforts possible to resolve the political and economic issues that divide the Town of Atherton and the Menlo Park Fire Protection District

11. Support the college/school campuses of Atherton in the outfitting and deployment of Disaster Response Cache (DRC) trailers and disaster training in conjunction with ADAPT and Menlo Fire

As mentioned, ADAPT has been working and continues to work diligently to train and organize Athertonians to be prepared, resilient, response capable and recovery able under the guidance of our police department and the Menlo Fire CERT program. We are expanding our numbers, so we can provide time, talent and personal resources to maintain and sustain our “piece of paradise” in Atherton. We want you to know that we see a number of emergency risks in our community that can be materially mitigated with advanced planning and preparation.

Our observations and concerns come from our training and from the application of practical solutions at the neighborhood level to disaster problem scenarios for ordinary residents.

We are offering recommendations and encouragement. We understand that the considerations proffered in this letter require a substantial undertaking and commitment. ADAPT is prepared to assist in all ways possible and appropriate. We will continue to be a key partner to support the Town’s efforts in keeping Atherton a “paradise preserved, not lost!”

We appreciate your service to our community.

Respectfully Submitted,

Tom Prussing – President ADAPT and CCM CERT Advisory Board Chair
Scott Barnum – Past ADAPT President and CCM CERT Advisory Board Member
Colleen Haight – Vice President ADAPT and Past CCM CERT Advisory Board
Norma Fogelberg – Treasurer ADAPT
Jeanne Jensen – Board Member ADAPT
Maria Amundson
Cynthia Beuttler
Peter Carpenter
Alan Douglass – Past CCM CERT Advisory Board
Earl Fogelberg
Bill Grove
Dan Gussin
Diana Hawkins
Joan Hodnett
Debbie Hudson – CCM CERT Advisory Board
Paul Jemelian – CCM CERT Advisory Board
Patricia Leugers
Jerry Leugers
Jim Lewis
Elizabeth Lewis (not the Councilwoman)
Jan MacKenzie
Robin McClish – CCM CERT Advisory Board
Markey Micheline
Stephen Nachtsheim
Mary Lou Schiavo
Matt Thomas
Richard Warren
Susan Warren
Zach Whitman
Gretchen Wyatt


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