This is the second installment of three articles that take a closer look at the Local Hazard Mitigation Plan for Santa Clara County and all its cities, including Campbell.
Campbell is participating for the second time in a countywide disaster-preparedness plan, called the Local Hazard Mitigation Plan. The intent is to help agencies identify how to prevent safety hazards before and after major disasters.
There's a reason for doing it now: grant money. The plan was created in response to the federal Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000. Under the act, any municipality with a plan approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can be eligible for grant monies to fix hazards both before and after a disaster, said the county's consultant, Corinne Bartshire.
Campbell officials are looking for public feedback on their plan through the end of May. Comments should be sent to Bartshire.
The benefit to being a part of the plan is being able to apply for federal and state grant monies to spend on the top-identified priorities, said county Office of Emergency Services Director Kirsten Hofmann. Any city or county with a plan approved by FEMA and the California Emergency Management Agency (CalEMA) can apply for funds when they become available.
There are also federal grant monies that become immediately available after disasters to reduce hazards for the next potential crisis, Bartshire said.
Campbell police Capt. Dave Carmichael said the city is interested in grant monies available both before and after a major disaster.
He said the city is seeking grants to help pay for emergency planning and management.
Other benefits include a better-prepared and resilient community, and eligibility for waiver of a 6.25 percent local match for public assistance after a disaster, according to the Association of Bay Area Governments, which oversees the hazard plan for the entire region.
With today’s tight budgets, there aren’t a lot of grant monies to go around, said Kirsten Hofmann, director of the Office of Emergency Services. But as they do become available, Hofmann said, the county plans to focus on the top five priorities over the next five years.
Those five are:
- Mitigating unreinforced masonry or "soft-story" buildings (buildings where the bottom floor is either a parking garage or retail spaces with large windows)
- Lack of information sharing between agencies
- Dam failures
Of those, Campbell officials have said their top concerns are soft-story buildings collapsing during an earthquake, and dam failures. Carmichael said because of the city’s location, Campbell is not considered in danger of disasters such as wildfires.
Retrofitting—or in some cases replacing—unreinforced masonry or soft-story buildings is No. 1 on everyone’s list. The county’s report points to the collapse of apartment buildings in the 1994 Northridge Earthquake as evidence of how dangerous multi-story buildings over ground-level parking or retail stores can be.
Damage in that earthquake led the state to amend its building code to prevent future collapses, according to the report. Buildings are required to be retrofitted by 2016.
Carmichael said Campbell is addressing those concerns.
“There’s some work under way to develop soft story mitigation programs and retrofit anything that is not up to code,” he said.
Dam failure was another top concern of Campbell officials. One map in the city report shows most of the city affected by flooding, should Lexington Dam fail for any reason.
The report says evacuation planning is critical.
The report also points out that the city does participate in the National Flood Insurance Program through FEMA, making all residents eligible to purchase national flood insurance. However, in a recent survey, most of the residents who participated placed flooding as a very low concern and said they thought they didn’t need the insurance.
Another priority in the county report, information-sharing between agencies, revealed that there is no current system for agencies and companies that build and maintain infrastructure to report to the county or other governmental agencies when there is major failure.
The most glaring example listed was the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. San Bruno natural gas explosion in September 2010. The current way to handle major infrastructure failures is to react to them after the fact, the report says, and glean lessons from the experience. Officials said they wanted to be proactive, by sharing information among agencies in advance of any major events.
Most of these priorities sound big and bureaucratic, but there is something everyone can do: Personally prepare.
“It’s really important to draw everyone’s attention to personal preparedness,” Hofmann said. A major disaster, like a massive earthquake, could cause failures of infrastructure and communications. Being ready to take care of oneself and family for up to three days on one's own, she said, “is huge.”
Hofmann encouraged citizens to visit the county’s website to learn more about how to be prepared.