Town Square

Post a New Topic

Teleminder automatic-call system Fails -- OUTSOURCE

Original post made by Compromise, Community Center, on Apr 10, 2007

I am not sure why the City of Palo Alto needs to buy a NEW teleminder system. These systems are not in use 99.9% of the time. It is an ideal service that should be outsourced.

Should the city not get a service provider to do this ?

1. It will be in good maintenance state
2. Will have hugh capacity
3. Out-sourcer may also have redundant locations to call from

1. If the service provider is far away like in NY or India a break in trunk can be a problem (usually during a very big calamity)

I am not sure why the city should buy this kind of equipment when they do not even keep it in functional state.

In this situation is somebody going to be taken to task ?

Comments (15)

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2007 at 5:06 pm

I can't see why we can't go back to the old fashioned bomb warning claxons or something similar to the tsunami alarms in Hawaii. We could have drills on the 1st of the month and everyone should know that if they sound any other time to check cable channel 28 (or whatever), PA web page, PA online, or something else. The amount of time it takes to call every home in PA, particularly if the phone is answered by a child, makes any kind of phone warning too onerous. A central warning of some kind with the onus on residents to check out what is happening makes much more sense. All instructions on this should be put in with the utility bills occasionally as a reminder.

Any kind of systematic warning which costs too much and may never really be needed is just another PA waste of money.

Posted by No waste
a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 10, 2007 at 6:09 pm

Did I hear you say PA waste of money?? then it is right up the City Council's alley. they need to look into this, we need this like we need the Fiber to the Home network that they want. they can hire consultants and advisors and discuss it--it could be something they spend endless meetings on and therefore avoid other issues that are facing the city (infrastructure problems, storm drain tax, $3 mil over budget etc, etc)

Posted by Mark
a resident of Stanford
on Apr 11, 2007 at 11:14 am

I also wondered why a Community Alerting Siren could not be considered. As it turns out, some Palo Alto fire department buildings still have remnants (albeit probably not in working condition) of Civil Defense sirens. San Francisco has a tsunami siren system, but there are problems that plague it.
1) The system is for OUTDOOR notification, rather than indoor notification. Believe it or not, many people inside buildings will not hear the siren.
2) The San Francisco system was plagued with vendor problems, something Palo Alto I think would rather avoid. For the longest time the San Francisco system was meant to provide voice messages for additional instructions but sadly this was not the case: it only had the capability to say "This is a test".
3) Problems associated with noise pollution presents a problem with testing.
4) Also, there is the problem of people not knowing what to do if they hear the siren. In Palo Alto, people may think it's a tsunami warning -- when in fact we are too far inland to be affected by a pacific tsunami. A teleminder system provides much more specific instructions.

I am curious why the Emergency Alert System, which would have activated Weather Radios, was not utilized. When there was a chemical release up in Alameda two years ago, the EAS system was activated ordering a shelter-in-place. When is it appropriate to use EAS versus local community notification?

Posted by litebug
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 11, 2007 at 11:43 am

Despite some of the pitfalls mentioned by Mark, and despite it not being a perfect solution, I have long thought that the sirens would be very helpful. In most cases, one would at least know something serious was up and further information should be sought immediately.

I grew up in a midwest farming village of 1300 people. We had an all volunteer fire department. In the park in the center of town was a big siren/claxon which was used to inform both residents and volunteer firemen of a fire. The telephone operator would set off the siren as soon as she got the call that there was a fire. She would call the firemen individually after she'd rang the siren, in case they hadn't heard it. The town was divided into 4 wards. The siren was "rung?" 1-4 times to idenfity the ward where the fire was. Five "rings" meant the fire was in the country surrounding the town. (Five also usually meant there was no hope of the fire dept. getting there in time!) For reasons unknown to me the siren went off once each day at noon. Had there ever been a fire in ward one exactly at noon there could have been a problem but that never happened.

The point is that there could be a different numbers of siren "rings" to identify types of emergencies: fire, earthquake, flood, air quality problem, for example. That's only 4 and I think it covers most types of disasters. We could reserve #5 for "no hope, kiss your *** goodbye!"

Posted by Mark
a resident of Stanford
on Apr 11, 2007 at 12:08 pm

I agree that a siren system should be explored...I don't think we should rule out the use of a siren system. But apparently the issue has been previously discussed, albeit in 1998, by the Palo Alto City Council.

Web Link

Amusingly, the minutes note that people "either loved or hated" the siren idea.

Not sure how the current system (having emergency vehicles go out on the street and sound their sirens) differs from a community siren system though.

Posted by k
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 11, 2007 at 3:35 pm

This automatic call system is a mystery to me. I haven't experienced it in other cities where I have lived.

All I know is there was a wild animal (mountain lion or ?? - hard to remember now) a few years ago right by my neighborhood, and we didn't get the automatic call warning (stay inside, watch small children and pets, etc.) -- others did get the call, including my next door neighbor. We aren't residents who go way back here so I don't know how often they UPDATE the #s in the system. Plus we have an unlisted #. Maybe that's why we weren't included? Palo Alto isn't that large - can't police cars with sirens/speakers travel around announcing warnings (for some things)?

Posted by Taxed to the max
a resident of Atherton
on Apr 11, 2007 at 4:13 pm

What exactly is the "problem" with the Teleminder system?

If I remember correctly, the city bought the system after the last flood. And given the city probably went through the usual blue-ribbon-task-force-study-it-to-death process, I'm guessing they took delivery somewhere around 2000.

So maybe it's a 7- or 8-year-old computer and nobody in Palo Alto wants to use an old machine, but it uses the plain old telephone system to call people, and that hasn't really changed, so it should work.

In tiny Atherton the police department has used a Teleminder system for years and years, and they don't seem to have any trouble. In fact, it's not at all uncommon to get a call from the atherton system warning people of a nearby burglary.

So what exactly is the problem in Palo Alto?

Posted by Got Key
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 11, 2007 at 5:08 pm

It is locked :-)
It appears that our hard working City employees did not know how to hit the reset button.

Posted by Dave
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 11, 2007 at 7:12 pm

Just one more instance where residents are asking questions about the vaunted special services we're alleged to have in Palo Alto in return for our extra tax dollars.

There is something very wrong at city hall.

Posted by kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 12, 2007 at 12:52 pm

In regard to a siren-type warning system. When the original sirens were installed here during the 'cold war', the Cuban missile crisis, and atomic bomb scares, the sirens were meant to warn to 'duck and cover', stay inside, go to a basement, etc. (Some new homes in Palo Alto were built with 'bomb shelters'.) Children had drills in schools. In the Midwest thousands of cities big and small have sirens, and the warning means only one thing: tornado. Take shelter in a basemen, ditch, under an overpass, or interior room or storm celler. Here a siren could mean different things: toxic fumes or smoke (either shelter-in-place or get out to another area) OR it could mean a flood is imminent and to get out of the endangered area. It could indicate a 'mountain lion' or a shooting (Palo Alto Bowl) or other incidents. How would anyone know what to do? So sirens can mean different things to different people in different situations. Here a siren could be confusing. The old sirens were tested, and the one at Station #3 at Newell & Embarcadero could not be easily heard in some areas- acc. to the previous fire chief. I remember when the siren was regularly tested, but that was years ago. Contra Costa County has various methods to warn residents because of the refineries. Sirens are one method, but people in the area know exactly what it means. New technology will make the phone system preferable as long as cell phones can be contacted. If the power is out, only the 'old fashioned' cord-type phones work . But then every household should have one of those plugged in someplace. Just some thoughts on the reasoning for this technology. If it works, it's a 'lifesaver'.

Posted by tested
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 12, 2007 at 7:38 pm

I thought my previous comments would be posted, but they were not. I remember about 6 years ago I was involved in testing the old siren against a new siren. Bottom line was that neither one was heard beyond 1/4 mile. In fact I believe that the old civil defense siren was heard a little farther.

Was anyone else involved in this test? We were given radios (advanced walkie talkies) and positioned out at 1/8th mile positions?

It was interesting to learn that the trees, freeways, and other issues interferred with hearing the sirens.

Posted by Compromise
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 13, 2007 at 8:34 am

Let me re-iterate my point again:

The city of PA is in the process of buying new equipment to handle calling citizens during events like the "smoke cloud" that happened and are in the process of selecting from 8 vendors. I do not believe this is a good approach. Outsourcing this service makes much more sense.

This function of calling lots of clients at the same time is done quite well by certain service providers. They usually charge about 15 cents per call and use equipment they already have and maintain. An event will cost the city approximately $700 using outsourcing.

Compare this with a teleminder system installed by city of Milpitas which costs that city $6000 per year just to service the equipment after it has been bought.

That is equivalent to 9 events per year. Best of all the system will not become obsolete in 7-8 years as has been the case with the city of PA.

So why buy this equipent when it is much cheaper to simply outsource?

The siren system may be fine, but does not address the real issue I am trying to raise.

Posted by Pete Durst
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 13, 2007 at 12:06 pm

"So why buy this equipent when it is much cheaper to simply outsource?"


Clearly you've not been paying attention to the goings-on in your city government lately. If you had, you'd surely have seen that the primary purpose of city government in Palo Alto is not to save our tax dollars, or do things in the most efficient way. Rather it's to protect the interests of the city's employees, wages and benefits for whom constitute upwards of 85% of the city's budget.

If you'd been paying attention, you'd have noticed that last year the city negotiated a give-away labor contract with its employees that a former mayor, Dick Rosenbaum called the most irresponsible act he'd seen in the city. Maybe you'd also have seen purple shirted union members thuggishly staring down the council members at a City Council meeting for having the temerity to even discuss outsourcing a few park maintenance jobs. Perhaps you'd have noticed the caterwauling of Council Member La Doris Cordell that we not do anything that has the remotest negative effect on Union employment in the city.

You might also have noticed that the city likes to engage in big coverups at taxpayer expense whenever the "privacy" of miscreant employees might be violated by releasing their misdeeds - even when, as in the case of the Utilities Department scandal, those misdeeds involved criminal activity.

If you'd been paying attention, Compromise, you'd surely have figured out that an Outsourced warning system might mean that the City Employees who failed to maintain the current warning system in working order might have nothing to do with his time but play cards if we didn't buy them something else to neglect.

Once you watch how things work for a little while, you won't be asking silly questions like "why don't we do the cheapest and most sensible thing?"

Posted by Compromise
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 13, 2007 at 12:34 pm


Sent off an email to [email protected] and [email protected] regarding this.

See if this has an impact.

Posted by Compromise
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 16, 2007 at 9:30 am

I am happy to report that my email sent to the city council and city auditor had a very wonderful outcome.
I received an email from the Director of Police Tech. Services.
I would have included the text of the email in a posting here but the email has a "Confidential Communication" paragraph in it.

I will summerize in as few words as possible without breaching any confidentiality clause: The city is considering "hosted" outsourced solutions.

My thanks to the City of PA and PAPD.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.

New Palo Alto sushi spot highlights late-night hours and affordable prices
By The Peninsula Foodist | 0 comments | 5,883 views

Farm Bill and the Organic Movement (part 5) Plus: Global Plant Forward Summit, April 18 – 20
By Laura Stec | 23 comments | 4,589 views

Sharing That Just Works
By Sherry Listgarten | 5 comments | 1,648 views