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Am I Ready for a Natural Disaster?

Post Date:09/19/2014 2:04 PM

EmergencyDid you feel it? California had ANOTHER big earthquake. And yet, only 10% of the population ever takes steps to prepare. The Portola Valley community can rise above that statistic.

With superior fire, law and medical services available to us, it’s easy to forget that there are circumstances that can cause our professional first responders to be overwhelmed and unavailable to answer our calls for help.

Everyone – the town, schools, businesses and individuals – is responsible for knowing what to do during an emergency. Town staff and volunteers, first responders, your local CERPP division, and others are working diligently to be better prepared in the event of a disaster. Without regard to what the Town and others are doing, the single factor that has the greatest impact on emergency response is your personal preparedness and the preparedness of your neighbors.

As an individual, it’s important to walk through an earthquake scenario and imagine what will happen to better assess your preparedness. Imagine the worst case scenario, perhaps using the recent images from the Napa earthquake as prompts, and ask yourself questions like:

  • Do I know my neighbors and neighborhood? A common refrain in the news coverage out of Napa is that the key to surviving and recovering from a disaster is neighbor helping neighbor. You should plan for police, fire, and Town services to be overwhelmed for five business days following a major disaster. Prepare for the worst to help minimize surprises. 
    • Do I have contact information for all of my adjacent neighbors? 
    • Do I know of any neighbors who might need assistance in the event of a disaster?
    • Do I know at least two routes in and out of my neighborhood? 
    • Do I participate in my Community Emergency Response and Preparedness Program (CERPP) division? Click here to find your CERPP division and division leader.
  • Do I know how to assess the safety of my home after a major earthquake? If you don't know, reach out to your local CERPP division leader for advice and recommendations. 
    • Do I know how to check for natural gas leaks and turn off the gas, if needed? 
    • Do I know how to check for structural damage to ensure it’s safe to stay inside? 
  • How will I communicate with family and loved ones? 
    • Does everyone know how to text message information to me to let me know they are okay? 
    • Do I have a car and/or solar charger(s) for my mobile phone, tablet, or other important communication devices? 
    • What will I do if my phone breaks during the shaking? 
    • Do I have a paper list of important phone numbers? 
    • If I am not home, who will check on my loved ones, pets and other animals? 
    • If my family is separated due to an event and telecommunications are down, how will I regain contact with everyone? 
  • Do I have an adequate disaster supplies kit for myself, my family, pets and other animals? Click here for help on building a disaster supplies kit.
    • Does my kit include prescription medications and corrective lenses? Do I have a copy of the prescriptions? 
    • Does my kit have a thumb drive or backup hard drive that contains copies of essential records? 
    • If my phone is lost or damaged, do I have a paper list of important phone numbers including loved ones, co-workers, physicians, insurers, etc.? 
  • What will I do if essential services like water, sewer, garbage, grocery and fuel outlets are not available or accessible for five days? 
    • Do I have enough water? The general rule is one gallon per person per day and you should plan for five days without water service.
    • Do I have enough food? 
    • Do I have a non-potable water supply that can be used to flush toilets or can I create a portable toilet? 
  • Am I signed up to receive phone, text and email alerts from authorities like the Fire District, Sheriff’s Office or the Town? No system is failsafe and in a disaster, redundancy is key as power losses and other failures can occur in telecommunications systems. 
    • SMC Alert is a text and email notification system administered by the County of San Mateo and is most frequently used by the Fire District and Sheriff’s Office. Click here to register for SMC Alert.
    • Rapid Notify is an emergency notification phone system that the Town and Fire District can use to push recorded messages to all registered phones (both landline and mobile phones). We encourage you to register at least one landline phone number and one cell phone number. This will notify you if there is an event that affects your neighborhood. Click here to register for Rapid Notify.
    • provides real-time notification of fire department activities throughout the county and provides streaming audio of communications between the fire resources on the scene of an event and the County Communications Center. Click here for Fire Dispatch.
    • Am I on my neighborhood email distribution list, calling trees and/or the PV Forum
    • Do I have AM1680 preset on my car and portable radios? The Town will activate AM1680 in the event of a disaster where resources like first responders are overwhelmed or there is an imminent threat to life, property or environment. 
  • What do I do if I have an emergency and can't get through to 911? Phone lines and 911 will likely be overwhelmed in a region-wide disaster and you are encouraged to limit calls to 911 to true emergencies only.
    • Do I know basic first aid and CPR? 
    • Do I have a first aid kit? 
    • Do I have a fire extinguisher and know how to use it? 
    • Is there anyone in my neighborhood with medical training?
    • Is anyone in my neighborhood a Ham radio operator who could contact the Town to report my emergency? 

The questions above are by no means exhaustive, but are intended to spur thought and encourage action to prepare for the next disaster. The CERPP website ( offers a wealth of information that has been compiled by volunteers from Portola Valley and throughout the Woodside Fire Protection District. Residents are encouraged to identify their CERPP Division and participate in or help organize division activities. Additional information about all of these resources, as well as links to other emergency preparedness information, is available on the Town's emergency preparedness webpages (click here). 

If you have any questions or are interested in learning more about the Town’s emergency response plan or the Town’s Emergency Preparedness Committee, please contact Town Manager Nick Pegueros at 650/851-1700 x215. For additional information re CERPP, please contact Selena Brown at 650/423-1406 or via email at

NOTE: If you experience difficulties with any of this article's embedded links, please note that the Town's website ( and the CERPP website ( are the best places to go for more information on emergency preparedness.

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