Palo Alto urged to hire emergency director | April 15, 2011 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 15, 2011

Palo Alto urged to hire emergency director

Citizen volunteers call on City Council to immediately appoint a leader for city's emergency-preparedness efforts

by Gennady Sheyner

Palo Alto's neighborhood leaders and emergency-preparedness volunteers are urging the city to immediately hire a new director to lead the city's emergency operations and to prepare residents for a major disaster.

Members of the volunteer groups Palo Alto Neighborhoods (PAN), Palo Alto Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and Citizen Corps Council, which form the backbone of the city's disaster-preparedness efforts, called on the City Council Monday night to support the recommendations of a new study, which called for major structural changes in the city's Office of Emergency Services (OES). The study by Arrietta Chakos of the firm Urban Resilience Policy recommended hiring an Office of Emergency Services director; finding a new, seismically safe emergency headquarters; and streamlining the city's myriad studies of emergency preparation.

Chakos said Palo Alto has a "very experienced, very professional approach to emergency response, without a doubt." But when it comes to planning for disasters, the city's structure is deeply fragmented, she said, with volunteer groups doing much of the work and getting insufficient support from city leaders.

She told the council that restructuring the Office of Emergency Services is "crucial" and said it's important that the new director report directly to the city manager's office. The new position is needed to give the department a "more powerful role within the city" and facilitate better cooperation between departments.

"Under current staffing, folks working in OES are woefully overworked and there's not enough resources devoted to the disaster-readiness work they're doing," Chakos said. "There is a very great need for interdepartmental coordination on planning, training and responding as well."

Emergency preparedness is one of the council's five priorities for 2011, but several community members accused the council Monday of only paying "lip service" to this priority and doing nothing to address it. Even Mayor Sid Espinosa acknowledged the council has done little to address this priority, other than provide some support for grassroots initiatives.

The most critical thing the city can do in the short term is to follow the report's recommendations and hire a new director for the Office of Emergency Services, numerous volunteers told the council.

Lenore Cymes, a Palo Alto CERT volunteer, said the past year has been a difficult one for her group and other community organizations tasked with preparing residents for disasters. The groups currently have no one to direct them or to provide feedback about what they're doing right or wrong, she said.

"The 'Palo Alto Process' will definitely not work in this situation," Cymes said, using a phrase that often connotes bureaucratic delays. "This is one of the very, very few situations where volunteers devote time and energy and hope we're never, ever tested.

"There's no room for a learning curve in this position," she added. "We need one manager who can pull all the groups together."

Sheri Furman, who chairs Palo Alto Neighborhoods, also urged the council to move quickly on hiring a new emergency director.

"We need to start at the top and get something going," Furman said. "I don't want to be talking about the same thing a year from now."

Doug Kalish, a CERT volunteer who sits on the steering committee of the Citizen Corps Council, asked the council, on behalf of 700 CERT volunteers, to move quickly on the report's recommendations. He said the city's recent changes to its emergency-preparedness operation (including four management changes in two years) call into question the council's commitment to disaster preparation.

"Our independent organization will accomplish more if we have a leader to organize, define and communicate our mutual responsibilities," Kalish said.

Chakos' report recommends that the city not only appoint a new director but also provide this director with two professional staff members — one coordinating the city's planning efforts and the other one serving as the city's liaison with the community.

The recommendation, she wrote in the report, "could be implemented by re-casting current positions to the elevated, organization-wide platform needed to ensure the city's commitment to emergency/disaster readiness."

Chakos said many cities rely on county service for emergency preparedness as a cost-cutting measure. Some, however, have their own local coordinators. Mountain View, for example, has a half-time emergency-services coordinator, while Sunnyvale employs one full-time. Milpitas has a full-time emergency manager who shares the responsibility for emergency preparedness with the city's fire administrator.

The leading example is the City and County of San Francisco, she said, which has received federal funds for emergency preparedness and emerged as a regional leader in the field with an adequately staffed Office of Emergency Services.

City Manager James Keene said he agreed with the report's assessment of the city's emergency-preparedness operation and offered to come back to the council in the coming weeks with specific recommendations about staffing the Office of Emergency Services.

"One of the real issues that's been out there, and it's been highlighted in the study, and I'm sure all the neighborhood and community leaders echo it, there's really been very little structure," Keene said. "There's been no real continuity.

"There's been lots of gaps, even in the present moment, a lot of uncertainty, and it's pretty tough to support community efforts with this kind of discontinuity."

Most council members agreed with the report's recommendations, with Vice Mayor Yiaway Yeh calling them "achievable."

Some voiced concerns about the costs of the proposed changes. Councilwoman Karen Holman said she's "looking forward to seeing how the funding is going to go for this." Councilman Greg Scharff shared her concerns and argued that hiring two professional staff members for the department would be a significant long-term cost.

Scharff also said he would be concerned about the new director having too much power over other department heads.

"I'm a little concerned about someone who could say to our planning director or our utility director, 'You need to do this,'" Scharff said. "That's the job of the city manager."

Keene said it would not be effective if he's "called in to referee between departments," which he said often engage in "territorial issues" during times of transition. He said it's "important that we once and for all establish formally the role of the OES and its staffing."

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at


Posted by apbinfo, a resident of another community
on Apr 12, 2011 at 5:14 am

Palo Alto leaders urged to hire emergency director
Palo Alto Online - Content
When it comes to your property, can you see what to expect in case of loss, e.g., hurricane, tornado, earthquake, flood, fire? If you are like most of the insuring public you draw a blank on that question. "Control the element of surprise with the rule book by your side!" The greatest ignorance is to reject substantive matter out of hand, yet insurance policyholders do it as a matter of course, unaware of their vulnerability till too late. Be that as it may, you're no fool.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 12, 2011 at 8:01 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Palo Alto already has a chief of police, a fire chief and a mayor. If they are incapable of handling an emergency, replace them with those who can. What next? A night emergency coordinator and a day emergency coordinator? Then a disaster coordinator? Then an Armageddon coordinator?

Posted by Mark, a resident of University South
on Apr 12, 2011 at 9:57 am

Walter, I think the question here is, "Who in City Government is responsible for disaster preparedness". As it turns out, disaster emergency response (which will be a Public Safety responsibility - fire, police, public works) is taken care of already with Chief Burns. I think most people would agree that we already have a very capable police, fire and public works department.

What the report, I think, is saying is that there isn't anyone directly responsible for city government preparedness or community involved preparedness programs. For one thing, all city employees are typically made into disaster service workers during a major disaster - whether or not they have been trained ahead of time in their possible disaster responsibilities in another question. The OES chief would have to ensure that city government is in compliance with State and Federal requirements to ensure our ability to get mutual aid or disaster funding. Further, there needs to be coordination between all the disaster community partners, so that Palo Alto CERT, PAN, ARES, Red Cross and others don't duplicate efforts and know who is responsible for what. Ideally, we would also have the Chief outreach to groups that are particularly vulnerable to a disaster - such as skilled nursing facilities, senior homes, hi-tech industry and the like.

Having said that, I do not envy the job of an incoming OES chief. Preparedness is exceptionally hard to train and instill (there is a reason why FEMA has some of the worst morale of any government agency). The ideal candidate for the OES chief will have experience as a manager, psychologist, networker, peacemaker and saint.

Posted by PANDA CERT, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 12, 2011 at 10:51 am

Isn't Rich Mallonee (sp?) the "Emergency Manager?"
How many managers and directors do we need?
Maybe more effective support staff might be in order?

Posted by Peter K. Mueller, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 12, 2011 at 11:47 am

It seems to me setting up yet another office with assistants will not be effective. I support the comments is just read by Mark and Walter Wallis. We already have the Fire and Police Chiefs and other public services personnel and Chiefs for utilities, streets, etc. Then we have all the volunteer groups listed by Mark. When I joined the PANDA group we had a lady fire person overseeing the training. In addition we have the listed community non-government organizations involved with preparedness and response. So I suggest forming three councils: one for communication and establishing points of cooperations among all of the NGOs. One for planning coordinated emergency service functioning within the government organizations. And one for establishing ongoing communications across the NGO and government organizations. The latter would consist of leaders selected by each of the other groups. Reappointments of leaders would be the business of each group. The details of main responsibilities can surely be worked out without establishing yet another bureaucracy. Thanks.

Posted by Jane, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 12, 2011 at 12:26 pm

FYI: there is NO Emergency Manager position at this time. Rich Mallonee was brought in as an Interim OES Coordinator, yes, that WAS his official title. His contract is over now.

Interestingly, it seems Mr. Mallonee has been signing off on all his correspondence as Emergency Manager. Rather presumptuous giving oneself a promotion.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 12, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

One of the reasons for wanting OES specialist(s) rather than spreading the duties to existing staff is the propensity of most managers to have their disaster response plans be roughly a subset of what they normally do. In the 2007 Disaster Plan, the Library Director designated having library staff available to accept returns of books and other materials as a critical activity. This sort of "retreating into silos" is not just a Palo Alto phenomenon, but has been observed universally. A _good_ OES specialist bring a very different approach and experience in how to break various organizations out of their silos to do what is most important (rather than what is most comfortable).

For normal operations, plans and procedures are debugged and refined during day-to-day operations and there is typically time for analysis, consultation, ... Disaster activities don't have this luxury. A _good_ OES specialist tries to align some of the needed disaster activities with day-to-day ones and then arranges exercises to train and test on the others. This task is larger and harder than many might suppose.

Posted by Just-Vote-NO, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 12, 2011 at 2:05 pm

> In the 2007 Disaster Plan, the Library Director designated
> having library staff available to accept returns of books
> and other materials as a critical activity.

Hmmm .. interesting that of the two totally unessential, and non-critical, activity to highlight to justify this new, nebulously defined, position that of "the library" is offered as evidence for the need of this position. One might wonder if a "good OES" specialist might suggest that the library was totally unessential as a "library", and suggest that most people keep the books that might be due until the "all clear" and that only "important" people, like the management team should report to work (after a couple of days, or when appropriate).

If the library were to be seen as a "critical resource" to house "refugees", then how are most of the normal library personnel going to be helpful? Well, common sense suggests that they could help "caring for people", but what does their employment agreements/contracts say about activities not in the contract? Is the City going to train those who seem to have basic skills needed for library work, like book pages, to become medics? Doubtful.

Of course, as e-books displace the old Guttenberg technology, people with Kindles are not likely to be making a trip to the library when the town has just been "blown away". In all likelihood, people in the future will not be using brick-and-mortar libraries for much.

Clearly, the people involved in putting the last Emergency Plan together needed a reviewer.

> Good OES specialist(s)

This begs the question as to where such people can be found. Claiming to have attended some classes at a "name-brand" university doesn't do much to provide confidence that such a person knows what he/she is doing, or what should be done at every possible problem that might come down the road.

Posted by Herb Borock, a resident of Professorville
on Apr 12, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Palo Alto already has an Office of Emergency Services Coordinator who reports to a Deputy Fire Chief. Here is the OES Coordinator job description: Web Link

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 12, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

> Herb Borock: Palo Alto already has an Office of Emergency Services Coordinator who reports to a Deputy Fire Chief. Here is the OES Coordinator job description: ...

The study was how to _reorganize_ OES. I am surprised that someone with Herb's substantial experience with the City would confuse what is in a job description with what is actually being done and the qualifications of the person filling the job. The City Manager had the study done because of persistent problems in this area, some of which were related to the location of OES in the City's org chart.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 12, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Serious Participants:
Be aware that "Just-Vote-NO" is a troll that has been attacking my comments for years under a wide range of aliases (IDed based on his writing style). He is not attempting to make a serious comment.

His modus operandi is take what I said out of context--often feigning poor reading comprehension--mixed with outright fabrications of my position, often in direct conflict to what my positions are. In this case, I have _never_ even remotely suggested the libraries being used as a refuge shelter. What I _did_ point out was that the librarians did have skills and resources that would be very useful.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 12, 2011 at 6:33 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Douglas, I still am reluctant to place our emergencies under the control of someone whose day to day duties do not in fact involve those he/she will direct in emergencies. If our mayor and our City Manager are just fair weather folk, time to replace them with folk with all around capability.

Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Apr 12, 2011 at 8:04 pm

FYI : The Emergency Planner will NOT direct an emergency event. Here is how it law.

The "Incident Command System-ICS" is used by all California governments, and it mandates that the lines of authority during a disaster match-up with normal roles....i.e., the people in charge of city functions (mayor, council, departments) all still in charge and maintain ALL of their normal roles during an emergency.

Every public entity in California uses ICS.Also, "Community Emergency Response Teams-CERTs" have adapted ICS so that they function efficiently and can communicate with their cities during the disaster.

The Emergency Planner's role is
(1) To ensure that there is an workable and up-to-date City Emergency Plan with practical response procedures ahead of time -- so that all departments can coordinate as well as possible during an emergency or disaster. All departments must have plans that are consistent with the overall City Plan.

(2) To organize drills so that everyone can practice responding to different disaster scenarios, priorities, and resource needs before they have to do it for real.

Snide comments will probably follow this email....but having been through several disasters, I can tell you that emergency planning and emergency personnel are not good places to cut. Perhaps, delaying the installation of fountains, statues, street trees for awhile would be better.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 13, 2011 at 5:37 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Emergency planning is an excellent idea. The existing leadership should acknowledge that and do it. A separate hierarchy is just a money dump.

Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Apr 13, 2011 at 8:10 am

So often it seems that some people in Palo Alto want their municipal government to be run by 2-3 people -- paid minimum wage, with no benefits of course -- to do all functions in City government.

They also want minimum wage labor -- optimally the same individuals as above -- to run the schools and teach their children. And, of course they must guarantee their kids' entrance to the best universities (starting with the one across the street, which better not attempt any modernization of their campus facilities)

On these pages, Palo Alto appears to be a wealthy community of selfish curmudgeons who don't want to let any facts in the way of their complaints. Local press encourages this by not reporting much actual news (news DO happen on the Peninsula), instead focussing on "stories" created to rile up the faithful.

I won't participate again by trying to inject a tiny bit of fact into these discussions on these pages -- after all, the writers are having too good of a time remaining ignorant of facts.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 13, 2011 at 8:39 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Some of us would be happy just to see competitive wages. Some of us also believe that it is not the goal of government to lead, it is the goal of government to serve.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 13, 2011 at 3:28 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: neighbor, a resident of another community: "I won't participate again by trying to inject a tiny bit of fact into these discussions on these pages"

I hope that you will see this. Please don't be discouraged--your contributions were very welcome. When I came to the page expecting to have to deal with multiple statements from trolls like Wallis, I was very happy to see that you had already handled several of them. I hope you will reconsider--the reality-based community needs to be better represented here.

And although your comments may seem to have drawn only the trolls, my experience with putting up reality checks is that there are many people who appreciate them--they tell me so in f2f encounters. Unfortunately, these people are "invisible" on these threads because they are reading for info, or are so put off by the trolls that they are unwilling to post.

Re your sentiments about the lousy newspapers: PAGE (Palo Altans for Effective Government) hosted a series of meetings about improving civility in local discourse and the participants identified the local newspapers as _the_ biggest destructive influence, and by a humongous margin.

Usually a newspaper wants to bolster its influence by having its content read not just by the many, but by the influential. I have yet to encounter a Council member or City official who bothers to look at TSF (I sometimes send heads-up's), and they cite TSF as being so ridden with trolls and other miscreants as to not be worth the effort.

I have attempted to have discussions with PAOnline managers over the years about this and their viewpoint is that the trolls and miscreants are desirable contributors. Their policy has been that outright, egregious lies are simply "different interpretations" of events (for example, asserting that someone said something at a meeting that person did not even attend) and that it is "uncivil"--and likely to be censored--to point out these deceptions.

The rule for much of the Palo Alto political elite is "Lies are bad, so don't you dare point them out". Or in the now famous words of US Senator Kyl characterizing his statement of a fact: It was "not intended to be a factual statement"
Aside: I was twice publicly admonished by the then-mayor for testimony to the Council that supplying numbers that showed that numbers provided by a previous (unnamed) speaker were egregious fabrications.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 13, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Doug, I defend my statements. I usually do not descend to calumny until I have been severely bashed. I would appreciate it if you would explain why I was trolling when I asked for competitive wages for government workers and for governments being limited to serving the needs of the people rather than dictating lifestyles.
I understand why you want to see more civility in this column. Yassa boss, Nosaa boss.

Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Apr 13, 2011 at 4:26 pm

Mr. Moran -- Wasn't ever going to post on this site again, but I will once more just to say THANKS for injecting some rationality. It's wonderful to hear that the "PAGE" group exists and I wish them success.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 13, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: Walter_E_Wallis being a troll

In his initial posting, Wallis got the fundamental facts of the issue dead wrong. When corrected by "neighbor", he simply reasserted his position, demonstrating that his beliefs are impervious to facts and logic (a pattern which he displays in multiple discussions in TSF). His "contributions" show no indication of any interest in alleviating his ignorance of the topic.

A troll is someone who has no interest in meaningful contribution to a discussion, but merely throws in comments to provoke others. Wallis is a classic troll.

And here I am falling into this trap :-)

Posted by Carlito Waysman, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 13, 2011 at 8:27 pm

Looks like the folks running City Hall are way too busy, or are a bunch of lazy bums, or just plain incompetent. Remember when the City Manager hired a high priced "Assistant Manager" because the workload was just too much to be handled by one person, like in the past.

No surprise to me that now they want to hire a year-round Emergency Prep Director, when we have a Fire and Police Dept that would do a fine job as in the past when the need arises, without creating another layer of leeches( er, bureucracy) on the public payroll.

Starts with an Emergency Director, then an Assistant Emergency Director, Secretaries for each one, then Supervisors, in a blink of an eye you have a full blown Emergency Preparedness Department, doing squat most of the year, getting paid decent salaries and benefits.

What is the upside? hardly any for Palo Altan citizens.

How about the downside? tons of money thrown down the toilet, without any real benefits in return, creates a false sense of security, inflates even more the number of City Public employees with salaries and benefits that the taxpayer has to provide.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 14, 2011 at 7:01 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

"Palo Alto already has a chief of police, a fire chief and a mayor. If they are incapable of handling an emergency, replace them with those who can. What next? A night emergency coordinator and a day emergency coordinator? Then a disaster coordinator? Then an Armageddon coordinator?"
What, in that statement is in error, Douglas?

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 14, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Re the troll Walter_E_Wallis' comment of 7 hours ago:

Sigh. Since this troll seems intent on spreading ignorance by sheer repetition, I guess I need to reiterate the info in "neighbor"'s comment of Apr 12, 2011 at 8:04 pm: The staffing in question is NOT for management during an emergency, but primarily for the many preparations for that tasks.

By analogy, troll Wallis would insist that since a CFO (Chief Financial Officer) of a corporation makes use of a spreadsheet, s/he should personally write the spreadsheet program, personally train staff throughout the corporation on how to use it, personally install it on their computers, and be the help-line for any questions they have. Additionally, he would hold that CFO should not have any staff to help collect and organize the information.

Note that troll Wallis falsely claims that Palo Alto has a Fire Chief. The fact is that the last Fire Chief retired in June 2010 and Palo Alto has been operating under the Public Safety Director model (police and fire report to the same chief) which is almost certain to become permanent. Given how prominently this has been covered and how widely troll Wallis comments, it is not credible that he missed this. Further evidence that the boundless ignorance displayed in his comments is not incidental, but carefully cultured.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 14, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Palo Alto already has the leadership post covered, however they may name it. The position in question is not emergency planner or coordinator, it is Emergency Director. Director implies control. It is this taking away control from the day to day management to which I object.

Posted by Deep Throat, a resident of another community
on Apr 14, 2011 at 5:26 pm

To Douglas Moran: Don't feed the troll.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 15, 2011 at 2:36 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Yes indeed, as your arguments get more frenzied and outlandish, time to take refuge in injured silence. You believe there should be a director of emergency services, I believe this implies a takeover of responsibility. I believe that the current lines of responsibility must remain.

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