Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Grand jury says San Mateo County has failed to prepare for levee and dam failures

By Bonnie Eslinger

Posted: 07/09/2012 09:34:40 PM PDT
Five years after a grand jury warned that San Mateo County hasn't adequately planned for dam and levee failures, nothing much has changed, according to a report released Monday by this year's civil grand jury.

Levee failure still isn't specifically addressed in a countywide emergency plan, individual city emergency preparedness plans are inconsistent and two haven't even been done, the 2011-12 San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury found.

Such neglect is "unacceptable," the grand jury states in a news release. "Meeting these recommendations should not take another five years."

The 2006-2007 civil grand jury recommended that the county's Office of Emergency Services work with cities to develop emergency action plans by March 31, 2008. The plans should include a list of three or more officials or emergency responders to contact in the event of an emergency, a plan of actions that would be taken in the event of a dam or levee failure, and copies of recent inspection reports.

Those individual municipal plans were to have been incorporated into the countywide Emergency Operations Plan by July 31, 2008.

Plans were subsequently prepared by East Palo Alto, Foster City, San Mateo and Redwood City, although the county Office of Emergency Services didn't do enough to standardize the efforts. As a result, they are "inconsistent plans that vary in detail," the current civil grand jury found.

South San Francisco told the grand jury it did not have to do an emergency plan because the city does not have any levees. Yet, a levee is listed on a 2012 Federal Emergency Management Agency map.

"South San Francisco has not reconciled this discrepancy with FEMA," the grand jury report states.

San Carlos reported it didn't draft a plan because it was never provided with the 2006-2007 civil grand jury's recommendations. San Mateo County Superior Court has no records to prove those recommendations went to the city, the current grand jury concedes.

Brian Moura, assistant city manager of San Carlos, said now that the city knows the grand jury wants an emergency plan it shouldn't be a problem to create one.

He added that the city has worked with the county and Redwood City to raise levees near the San Carlos Airport by several feet. "So, even though this particular plan may not exist, we've been working on the levees and maintaining them," Moura said.

Since 2007, Foster City, Redwood City, San Mateo and the county have also worked to make levees comply with federal standards.

"While these actions reduced the risk of catastrophic failure, they did not address the procedures for emergency response in the event one should occur," the civil grand jury report states.

The 2006-2007 grand jury also had tasked the county's Emergency Services Council, comprised of representatives from the county and its 20 cities and towns, with approving funding to support the work of the Office of Emergency Services.

Emergency plans related to the county's dams was done by the Office of Emergency Services with funding secured in fiscal year 2007-2008, according to the report. But in 2008, the office's application for state funding that would have continued the emergency planning was denied. And no backup came from the Emergency Services Council, according to the grand jury.

"The risk of levee failure has not been a priority," the report states.

San Mateo County sheriff's Capt. Mark Wyss, who oversees the Office of Emergency Services, said that the grand jury report would be discussed by the county's Emergency Services Council at its Sept. 20 meeting with a renewed push for needed funding.

"When we denied the extra funding (from the state) to fold the levees in, the matter didn't rise to the priority level so it just fell apart and the request didn't go to the cities and the OES didn't follow up on it," Wyss acknowledged.

Email Bonnie Eslinger at beslinger@dailynewsgroup.com; follow her at twitter.com/bonnieeslinger.


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