When Disaster Strikes –  Helping Ourselves…...

A community-wide emergency response exercise took place on Saturday, August 6, 2016 from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM in the parking area behind the Atherton Police Department and in the adjoining Atherton neighborhood. The 4-hour event, which simulated an 8.0 earthquake on the Hayward Fault, was designed to exercise the major emergency response capabilities of the Town of Atherton and provide a safe practice opportunity for the community emergency response teams.

The Atherton Disaster and Preparedness Team (ADAPT), part of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Program, along with the Town of Atherton, the Atherton Police Department and Menlo Fire Engine 5, collaborated to produce this first-of-its-kind community event.

ADAPT and the CERT volunteer First Responders are trained by the Menlo Park Fire Protection District (MPFPD) to safely engage a local disaster event until professional emergency response assistance arrives. The MPFPD CERT Program includes community members from Atherton, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and unincorporated portions of San Mateo County who combine their training and skills into ad hoc response teams in their neighborhoods, supporting the overall public safety disaster response. The challenge is keeping these skills well exercised.

Sixty-two (62) individuals participated in this event from the Town of Atherton, Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, Palo Alto, Stanford University, South San Francisco, Redwood City and the San Mateo County (SMC) Sheriff.


According to Tom Prussing (Drill Incident Commander), the design and planning for this emergency drill began in January of this year, with volunteers and various Atherton, Fire District and county agencies contributing coordination efforts, expertise and resources in advance of the drill. The exercise organizers met regularly over several months and participated in two tabletop drill walk-throughs prior to the event, to review and familiarize themselves with the operational aspects of the inaugural exercise.

The initial part of the drill included assembling the community first responders at the Incident Command Post (ICP) behind the Atherton Police Department, equipping them with the necessary emergency response gear and establishing a radio communications network. The Town of Atherton’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was activated to provide practice coordinating a town-wide disaster situation. In concert with this drill, an adjacent neighborhood, Lloyden Park, activated a local emergency response plan and coordinated a simulated neighborhood activation with the ADAPT ICP and Atherton EOC.
During the drill, reconnaissance teams were sent out over a four-acre operational area, looking for staged earthquake casualties and simulated damage to buildings, utilities and infrastructure.

Casualties and damage were reported to the incident Communications Unit, who forwarded the information on to the Atherton EOC for deployment of city and county emergency resources to the various emergency situations.

Medical triage, treatment and transport teams rolled out to retrieve and care for the simulated casualties. Dummies were used for the casualties, while live simulated casualties were brought in from the Lloyden Park neighborhood for treatment at the Medical Operations Unit.


Extrication of Simulated Victims

The drill concluded with a challenging extrication of two simulated victims: an unconscious driver whose car had crashed into a nearby tree, and a pedestrian, who had been struck was now trapped under the vehicle. Menlo Fire Engine 5 and the SMC Sheriff’s Department staff guided our civilian first responders in the methods for manually lifting the vehicle and safely removing of the victims from the accident site. This was an exciting demonstration of what a trained team of community volunteers can accomplish in a real disaster situation, with just the resources they have on hand.


Elected Officials

Local residents gathered as spectators throughout the drill. Atherton’s Mayor Elizabeth Lewis, Council Members Cary Wiest and Rick DeGolia and Menlo Park Fire District Board Director Virginia Chang Kiraly were also in attendance for a first-hand view of the Atherton community’s preparation and simulated response to a major disaster event. These are the capabilities the community will rely on until help arrives from the police and fire emergency professional responders, and this drill helped showcase both the strengths and opportunities for improvement.

During the drill, Mayor Lewis shared comments with Michael Ralston (MPFPD Community Exercise Coordinator for Atherton, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park). She noted that the drill was a fantastic event and that Atherton should repeat this activity more often. Lewis expressed pride for the Atherton residents, impressed by how "involved and concerned" they are with the dedication and effort needed to effectively respond to a major disaster.

Pictured Left to Right:
Rick DeGolia, Michael Ralston, Elizabeth Lewis, Virginia Chang Kiraly, Tom Prussing

Next Steps

The Menlo Park Community Emergency Response program planning has already begun for the next community exercise in East Palo Alto, followed by one in Menlo Park and the 2nd Annual Atherton Community Emergency Drill in 2017.

As was the case in the Atherton drill, all individuals interested in emergency response are encouraged to join the drill effort, whether or not they are CERTs. Citizen participation is the critical component of major disaster preparedness and response, and is the foundation for building a crisis resilient community.

Event Participants


MPFPD CERT has trained approximately 800 community members and maintains capabilities in disaster communications, incident rehabilitation, training, flood response and traffic control. For more information visit http://www.menlofirecert.com/

ADAPT, operating as part of the MPFPD CERT program, is comprised of 24 Atherton residents. For more information visit http://www.getreadyatherton.org/

The Town of Atherton (http://www.ci.atherton.ca.us/) is home to about 7,000 residents and is protected by Atherton Police Department and the Menlo Park Fire Protection District (http://www.menlofire.org/), which also serves approximately 90,000 residents in East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and unincorporated San Mateo County.



For more Info:
Michael Ralston, Community Resiliency & PIO for Menlo Park Fire, (650) 235-0514

Theresa Dellasanta, Asst. to the City Manager, Town of Atherton, (650) 752-0529

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