As Hurricanes Harvey and Irma ripped through the South, many Santa Clarans likely found themselves wondering about local disaster response and emergency preparedness. Because of the frigid Pacific Ocean temperatures, the possibility of a hurricane hitting Santa Clara—or anywhere in California—is near nil, but Santa Clarans have their own set of natural disasters to worry about. Earlier this year, parts of San Jose were partially under water after excessive stormy weather hit the South Bay. Additionally, raging fires, although rare, have the ability to threaten the community and, at any time, seismic activity can erupt along local fault lines causing widespread devastation to the area.
Santa Clara has measures in place for catastrophic situations and while the details of the plans are not made public for security reasons, Santa Clara’s Emergency Services Coordinator Lisa Schoenthal said the standardized emergency management system in Santa Clara and throughout the state is what the United States Department of Homeland Security used to develop the national system of incident management after Sept. 11, 2001.
“The United Stated Department of Homeland Security looked to California at that time and liked our standardized emergency management system that has been well-tested out here in our state,” she said. “That formed the basis for the national emergency management system … The national system is very, very similar to our state system. We’re fortunate [to have] our mutual aid system here in California. Our system of neighbor-helping-neighbor forms the foundation of emergency management.”
Schoenthal said the City’s emergency operations plan is an all-risk, multi-hazard plan accounting for all possible threats. Working closely with the County Office of Emergency Services, the City would first communicate with the county in the event of a catastrophic event. The county would then assist by being the liaison between Santa Clara and the governor’s emergency services office, which would then reach out to FEMA, if needed.
Santa Clara, which reviews and updates its emergency operations plan on an annual basis, has two emergency operations centers—locations undisclosed to the public for security reasons—it can activate in response to a disaster. According to Schoenthal, an emergency operations center may be activated if there was “an anticipation that resources could be needed from outside the City,” in situations that “would require heightened vigilance,” and when the City holds drills and exercises—which happen several times a year and one large, full-scale exercise happens annually—to practice and prepare for possible emergency response situations. Schoenthal’s position is also always on-call and available to activate the operations centers when needed—regardless of the time or day—as is Santa Clara Fire Chief Bill Kelly.
“I carry our emergency operations resource directory around with me,” said Schoenthal. “It’s with me all the time so we’re always managing public information.” She added that every City department is prepared to assist with catastrophic events and all are represented when the emergency operations centers are activated.
“We are planning,” Schoenthal said. “We are preparing,” and she wants Santa Clarans to be as prepared as possible in incidents, noting that the City’s website has emergency preparedness guidelines (santaclaraca.gov/home/showdocument?id=394) and regular outreach is done within the community to help residents prepare, including Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) classes which are held multiple times a year. She also encourages residents to get to know their neighbors and join neighborhood watch groups. Finally, Schoenthal urges every resident to sign up for Nixle, Alert Santa Clara County, and—even if they’re against it—opening a Facebook and Twitter account, which is where the City will push out much of its messaging during an emergency.
Santa Clarans interested in taking a CERT class can find more information at santaclaraca.gov/government/departments/fire/community-resources/cert-community-emergency-response-team. The final class of 2017 begins Oct. 25.