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By Henrietta J. Burroughs                             Follow East Palo Alto Today on
East Palo Alto Today                                   Facebook    Twitter       Blog    
Posted on Thursday, April 7, 2011  
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Dais and Schapelhouman  Emergency preparedness team
                                           Photos courtesy of the Media Center

                                  These two photos show some of the presenters supporting the
                                  adoption of the Emergency Operations Plan at the East Palo Alto
                                  City Council's study session on April 5, 2011
                                  Click images to enlarge.


East Palo Alto now has an emergency preparedness plan in place for the city and its residents. The East Palo Alto City Council adopted the plan by a 3 to 1 vote at its regular council meeting on Tuesday, April 5.

The plan, officially known as the Emergency Operations Plan, was presented in a council study session by the city’s Police Chief Ron Davis, who was accompanied by three people he jokingly described as his emergency team: the East Palo Alto Police’s Community Service Officer Elizabeth Lam; Ryan Zollicoffer, the Menlo Park Fire Protection District's emergency services coordinator and Jeff Norris, the Office of Emergency Services' district coordinator for the San Mateo County Sheriff. Menlo Park’s Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman arrived during the meeting and added to the presentation. 

In outlining the Emergency Operations Plan, Davis cited the important steps that had already been taken by the city and its residents and the steps the city still needed to take.

In mentioning the steps that had already been taken, Davis listed: a city-wide notification system; 10 certified emergency centers in East Palo Alto, a city evacuation plan; 50 residents with  Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) training and more than 500 residents who have Personal Emergency Preparedness (PEP) training, which is a shortened version of the CERT training.  

Davis also cited the development and distribution of emergency preparedness brochures, flipcharts and informational magnets that community members could use to personally access critical information in the event of a local or widespread emergency.

The council was told that as part of the Emergency Operations Plan, the city had a memorandum of understanding with the school district and the East Palo Alto Sanitary District for shared responsibilities during a crisis, and it was involved in a multi-jurisdictional collaboration with the Menlo Park Fire Department and with the cities of Atherton and Menlo Park.

In 2003, the U. S. Federal Government mandated that all states, cities, municipalities and Tribal Areas adopt the National Incident Management System (NIMS), which established new emergency guidelines required under Homeland Security regulations. So, Davis, Norris and Schapelhouman all argued that the city’s emergency plan met the requirements and needed to be adopted as soon as possible. 

As to future improvements, Davis said East Palo Alto still needed to increase the number of participants in the city who were involved in emergency preparedness training. It also needed to increase its collaboration with city agencies like the Ravenswood Family Health Clinic and it needed to do a “block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood push” to get more residents prepared.

In the background material the council received, it was stated that by adopting the plan, “the City of East Palo Alto will not only provide a more comprehensive and coordinated approach to emergency incident management, but will maintain the City of East Palo Alto’s eligibility for future disaster reimbursement and federal preparedness grant opportunities.”

When it came time to take a vote on the plan, Council member Peter Evans and several audience members objected. Evans said, “Adopting a document from the study session is inappropriate and sends the wrong message.”

Evans noted that several residents, such as Dennis Parker, told the council during the meeting that they had not seen the plan in the library, where Davis said it could be found. “If you’re going to adopt something, you need to see it. We have an obligation to have something the public can see,” Evans said.

But Council member Abrica countered that a lot of good work has been done already. He said, “We get criticized because things are not in place…. We may have our defects… East Palo Alto was ahead of other cities [with it’s emergency plans]. If we don’t adopt it, we’re going backwards. If there were an emergency, we don’t have anything in place. We can’t even get reimbursed,” he said.

The motion made to adopt the plan passed with Evans casting the no vote. Mayor Carlos Romero, who was traveling on city business, was absent from the meeting. As Vice Mayor Laura Martinez ended the meeting, Evans said, “It’s an invisible plan.”

“Our meeting is now over,” Martinez said.

“Your problem is not over,” Evans said, getting the last word.


To contact Henrietta J. Burroughs, the author of the above article, email epatoday@epatoday.org.


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