The Santa Clara County Office of Emergency Services (OES) has the important responsibility of responding to natural and manmade disasters that have the potential of impacting the County’s nearly two-million residents.
“We’re making sure that we have the plans in place and that we’ve trained to those plans so that we can respond in the event of a disaster,” said James Williams, Santa Clara County Counsel.
When disaster hits, OES activates the Emergency Operations Center in Downtown San Jose, which brings together all critical government agencies to coordinate and deliver disaster response and recovery.
“As the operational area, the Emergency Operations Center has a duty officer on staff 24-7 who is able to communicate with our dispatchers at county communications,” said Cindy Stewart, OES Senior Planning Coordinator.
But what if the Emergency Operations Center itself is hit by a disaster, such as a major flood? It’s a scenario OES practiced recently, moving Emergency Operations to the County Communication Center located on a South San Jose hilltop.
“This is our first full-fledged exercise of the Alternate Emergency Operations Center,” Williams said. “If things get really bad we may have to come up here to Communications Hill, which is a more secure and hardened facility.”
While county employees lead the emergency response performed by an array of public agencies, they also rely on two volunteer groups to provide their expertise and support.
One is the large animal evacuation team – pressed into service during the Loma Fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
“Mostly horsemen and ranch owners around our community. They don’t just evacuate large animals; they evacuate any animals that need to be evacuated,” said Stewart.
Another group is volunteer amateur radio operators, providing backup emergency communications.
“Amateur radio is independent. It provides its own infrastructure. We don’t need the Internet. We are capable of running on emergency power for long periods of time. We don’t rely on cell phones or any other capability. Everything we have is self-contained,” said Logan Zintsmaster, a volunteer amateur radio operator.
Organizers said the OES exercise to test the Alternate Emergency Operations Center was a success. It’s all part of the great planning needed to address critical questions during a disaster.
“What is really happening? Is it isolated? Is it going to grow? Is it going to be one day? Is it going to be three weeks? The Emergency Operations Center puts that all together,” said Philip Hearin, Santa Clara County Parks Senior Park Ranger.
“It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when. There will be something that happens. There will eventually be a big earthquake,” Williams said. “And we also know that the County government is going to be measured by how we are able to respond in those times.”