On-again, off-again training, a lack of resources and ongoing communication failures leave Coastside residents vulnerable in the event of a tsunami. Those same challenges put the area at risk for other emergencies as well.
Those are among the findings of a months-long study conducted by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation in the wake of a tsunami warning in March 2011. The 18-page report, sent to stakeholders last week, credits a host of government agencies and nonprofits for sophisticated work to prepare for disaster, but repeatedly notes that there are clear communication and coordination problems that thwart implementation on the coast.
The Mountain View-based foundation has $2 billion in assets and has made thousands of grants to community organizations over the years. The report was written by consultant Regina Neu, who interviewed dozens of government officials, nonprofit leaders and others, to provide a snapshot of existing preparedness efforts and delineate the problems with protocol on the coast.
Erica Wood is vice president of community leadership and grant-making for the foundation and a Half Moon Bay resident. She said the report is intended as a tool for community leaders and an outline for the foundation itself, which could help with funding improvements outlined in the report. Wood noted that the philanthropic foundation has helped after disasters both near and far — including the 2011 tsunami in Japan and the 2010 natural gas fire in San Bruno.
Wood plans to present the report, which cost the foundation $18,000 to produce, to the foundation board on Thursday. She said she envisioned a briefing later this summer that would include government and nonprofit service providers and address problems outlined in the report.
Among the findings:
t Leaders of some crucial Coastside social service agencies don’t have a clear understanding of their role during a disaster.
t Some coastal residents, particularly in the Hispanic community, distrust the American Red Cross and consider it an arm of the government.
t Many of those same residents were ill-informed by Spanish-language media during the March 2011 emergency.
t Critical supplies rot in Coastside emergency trailers, some of which hadn’t been opened in four years until the March 11 tsunami.
t And ongoing funding challenges, both in government and within nonprofit organizations, have only exacerbated the challenge of coordinating the next emergency response.
San Mateo County Sheriff’s Lt. Mark Robbins, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Services, said Tuesday that he hadn’t read the full report, but he welcomed the attention it brings to emergency planning generally.
“People tend to focus on it at the time of a disaster and right after, but then they fall into complacency,” he said. “Any time, with disaster planning, that we can bring things to the attention of the community, it serves us well.”
The foundation report is not the first such siren. In 2006, the San Mateo County civil grand jury issued a damning report following a 72-minute tsunami warning the previous winter. That report faulted a Half Moon Bay Police commander with failing to follow protocol. Among other problems, then-City Manager Debra Ryan admitted that she only heard of the warning from a citizen and not through official channels.
The city of Half Moon Bay subsequently took a number of steps to strengthen its disaster plan. It installed evacuation signs and sirens on the beach and completed requirements for the National Weather Service’s TsunamiReady program.
The city recently completed a million-dollar emergency center adjacent to the Sheriff’s substation near the intersection of Kelly Avenue and Highway 1. The foundation report suggests money spent on the center, which is in many ways redundant to the nearby fire station and Sheriff’s substation, might have been better spent.
The center “is putting strain on city resources because the grant from the federal government is only subsidizing a portion of the construction and furnishing costs,” according to report author Neu.
Robbins defended the expense. He said the Coastside needed redundant facilities because it was so far from other population centers on the Peninsula.
“I think that was money very well spent,” he said.