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A Tale of Three Cities and their utilization of citizen volunteers in response to the Covid 19 Pandemic

Original post made by Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park, on Apr 28, 2020

Here is what the City of Palo Alto did over a month ago:

City of Palo Alto Emergency Services Volunteer Activation Order 20200317-1

The City of Palo Alto is activating the ESV program in response to the COVID-19 emergency. A state of emergency has been issued at the National, State, County, and City level and extraordinary measures have been enacted to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The intent of this activation is to promote public safety in our neighborhoods and to encourage a sense of normalcy in our community.

Actions all ESV Members should take:
1. Be visible in your neighborhoods. “Eyes and Ears”. Take periodic walks and wear your vest and hat and carry your City issued ESV ID Card. The current shelter in place order allows outside activity as long as you maintain a healthy distance from others – at least 6 feet.

2. Stay “in the loop”. Be aware of what is happening locally.
• Look for and read OES updates (via Veoci),
• Follow the City’s Coronavirus daily updates
• Point neighbors to the City’s Coronavirus website.
New features are being added weekly – Community Support, and Support Local Businesses
• Read and listen to trusted sources of information.

3. Check on your neighbors. On a routine basis communicate with your neighbors. Pass along information you receive from OES or help stop rumors.
• Send questions to the City’s Call-Center: 650-272-3181
• Provide electronic or hard copy public safety materials.
o The current Coronavirus flyer:
o Help / OK signs:
o Many others, ask us about them

4. Update/Create Contact Lists. If you already have contact lists via email, text, online – use those to make sure your neighbors are well. If you don’t, now is a good time to start. Remember that some members of our community may be at more risk with the imposed social isolation and lack of basic supplies.

5. Remember, solve problems at the lowest level. Some community resources are available:See:
• Your closest resource is your best resource.
• Ask for help when you don’t have a local solution. Reach out for assistance if you need it. Contact your fellow BPCs, NPC, or OES.
If you have questions, work through your NPCs - follow the chain of command please.

Throughout this situation – have positive intentions, be respectful, and do no harm. Thanks for all you are doing and will do to assist our community.
Nathan Rainey
Emergency Services Coordinator

The Town of Atherton also activated their Atherton Disaster Assistance and Preparedness Team with a similar mission at the same time.

The citizen volunteers who Palo Alto and Atherton have activated include both individuals who are CERT trained and many who are not because these jurisdiction realize that the Covid 19 Pandemic requires very different skill sets than do other types of disasters. These Emergency Service Volunteers (ESV) are not roaming the streets, knocking on doors or doing search and rescue but rather bringing their neighborhoods closer together. And they are an incredible force multiplier for their very resource constrained local governments. As Palo Alto states ""The City needs information from the neighborhoods to know the big picture and focus on getting resources to where the need is greatest.”

In contrast the City of Menlo Park has refused to use its citizen volunteers.
I will leave it to our elected City Council to explain why.

Since the City of Menlo Park has designated citizens volunteers as YOYOs (You are On Your Own) some of us have decided to follow these Palo Alto instructions:

• Self activate if the situation is known to you (you see, feel, hear, smell, etc.) without outside advice and affects your immediate area or neighborhood.

The Covid Pandemic is certainly known to us and it certainly affects our immediate neighborhoods.

Given this my Park Forest Plus neighborhood has Self Activated and we are in operation.

We are fully organized with an Area Preparedness Coordinator, three Neighborhood Preparedness Coordinators and 8 Block Preparedness Coordinators. Some are CERT trained but most are just very smart capable citizens. We have inventoried every residence in our neighborhood, have our own web site (Web Link), do continual check-ins, share scarce resources, help anyone who needs help and are bringing our neighborhood together as it has never been before. We haven’t seen a police cruiser in our neighborhood for over a month - but that is fine because we know that it does not take a badge and a gun to take care of our neighbors. And you do not need to be a CERT to be an impactful Emergency Service Volunteer in the age of Covid 19.

I am aware that other Menlo Park neighborhoods have also Self Activated.

Join us, you CAN make a difference. You do NOT need anybody’s permission.

Peter Carpenter
Founding member of Atherton’s ADAPT
A currently Activated Palo Alto CERT
Park Forest Plus Block Preparedness Coordinator

Ps. In an attempt to demonstrate his expert knowledge of the Incident Command System the Menlo Pak Police Chief has repeatedly stated that the ICS began as a result of the Oakland Fire. He was 20 years off - hopefully it won't take 20 years for Menlo Park to catch up with Palo Alto and Atherton in the wise use of volunteers.

The Incident Command System began LONG before the Oakland Fire - I know because when I was a US Forest Service Smokejumper 1958-1961 we were already utilizing the early versions of it in Region 5. Every fire had an Incident Commander and that Commander changed as a particular fire grew larger and more resources were assigned. We lived ICS every day.


ICS was developed in the 1970s by an interagency group in Southern California called FIRESCOPE. FIRESCOPE stood for Firefighting Resources of Southern California Organized for Potential Emergencies and they set out to develop two interrelated, yet independent, systems for managing wildland fire. Those two systems were the:

Multiagency Coordination System (MACS)
Incident Command System (ICS)
The impetus for the development of these systems was the disastrous and devastating 1970 fire season in Southern California. At the time, the sky was full of giant smoke columns and fire apparatus were passing each other on their way to incidents, with some going north as others headed south. Individual Command Posts and fire camps were established by multiple agencies for the same incident. Response resource availabilities reached critically low levels. The number of fires burning at the same time taxed the organizational capability to protect lives, property, and the environment, especially where wilderness bordered urban communities, creating a dangerous wildland-urban interface. These fires, over 13 days, resulted in 16 deaths, 700+ destroyed structures, more than 500,000 acres burned, and over $234 million in damage.

As part of the after-action review, the U.S. Forest Service, with their partner response agencies in Southern California, examined the incident management efforts. They discovered the following issues:

At the incident or field level, there was confusion derived from different terminology, organizational structure, and operating procedures between the various response agencies.
Above the incident or field level at the agency or coordination level, the mechanisms to coordinate and handle competing resource demands and to establish consistent resource priorities was inadequate.
Based on the devastating fire season of 1970 and these findings, Congress allocated $900,000 to the U.S. Forest Service to develop a system to improve the capabilities of wildland fire response agencies to effectively coordinate multiagency, multijurisdictional response. Specifically, they were to “make a quantum jump in the capabilities of Southern California wildland fire protection agencies to effectively coordinate interagency action and to allocate suppression resources in dynamic, multiple fire situations” (FIRESCOPE Program Charter, 1973). The Congressional funding was used to establish a Research, Development, and Application (RD&A) program at the Riverside Fire Laboratory in Riverside, CA which eventually became known as FIRESCOPE.

It should be noted that at the beginning of this work, despite the recognition that there were incident or field level shortfalls in organization and terminology, there was no mention of the need to develop an on the ground incident management system like ICS. Most of the efforts were focused on the multiagency coordination challenges above the incident or field level. It wasn’t until 1972 when FIRESCOPE was formed that this need was recognized and the concept of ICS was first discussed."


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