Preparing for the Rain and Potential Flooding
As the New Year brings a steady stream of welcome rain, it also provides a sober reminder of the dangers that winter storms pose to our community. Eleven months ago, we experienced the worst flooding in a generation, forcing thousands from their homes and wreaking tens of millions of dollars in damage to public and private property.
That day, I pledged to fix the problems that undermined our disaster preparedness, and to better protect our residents from flooding in the future. Although we still have much work ahead, thanks to the hard work of many dedicated City employees – including our outstanding new Emergency Management Director Ray Riordan, and Deputy City Manager Kip Harkness – I’m proud to report that we have become vastly more prepared for the threat of flooding and other natural disasters.
Among the significant improvements we’ve made to-date:
- We’ve greatly enhanced our capacity to notify and warn residents. To address the shortcomings in the AlertSCC mass alert system, we have activated a new wireless system which allows us to push text notifications to all cell phones in a geographic area – without the need for anyone to sign up. We’ve purchased several mobile loud speakers that we can rapidly deploy in the neighborhoods. Equally important, we’ve refocused on low-tech, high-touch solutions: organizing teams of multilingual employees, supplemented by volunteers who, if necessary, can rapidly knock on doors to provide crucial information. Updated crisis protocols will also ensure much earlier notifications. All of these changes will not only assist our flood preparedness, but boost our readiness for earthquakes, terrorism, and other potential disasters.
- We’ve expanded emergency preparedness training in the community. Our residents can become our greatest resource during an emergency. Over the past 6 months, we’ve re-invested in our City’s disaster preparedness workshops and trainings, including our Winter Storm Resource Fairs in high flood-risk areas last October. We have much more to do though, and have allocated funding to enable CERT workshops citywide beginning this spring.
- We’ve vastly improved communication and coordination with the Santa Clara Valley Water District. The Water District’s role as the agency responsible for flood protection and stream maintenance in our region makes coordination and communication with them imperative. In November, we adopted a joint Emergency Action plan (which you can read here) that clarifies responsibilities and actions that each agency will take at the various risk stages of potential flooding.
- The Water District has made critical improvements to reduce flooding risk. The flood protection agency has reinforced and increased levee heights at Rock Springs and Oakland Road, where we experienced serious flooding in 1997 and 2017. More importantly, the Water District lowered the water level in the Anderson Dam to a level lower than last year to allow more room to capture winter rains. More than any other preventative action, this change will dramatically reduce flooding risk during this upcoming rainy season. Why? Because substantial Coyote Creek flooding does not occur simply because we encounter heavy rains, but rather because those rains cause Anderson Dam to top its banks. If we keep the water in the dam, we’ll remain safe. For all of these efforts, I am very grateful to the staff and Board of the Water District.
- We’ve made progress clearing Coyote Creek of potential obstructions. The City allocated funding in this year’s budget to address downed trees, invasive species and woody debris that impacted creek flows last February. This won’t stop flooding if Anderson Dam over-spills, but it reduces the potential for inundation.
To be better prepared, we need your help. I urge everyone reading this message to take a few minutes to make sure you’re prepared for the upcoming winter storm season. Visit our Office of Emergency Management website – and more specifically, our Flood Preparedness webpage – to learn what you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones during an emergency.
In particular, I encourage you to review helpful Flood Safety Tips, as well as our matrix describing What to Do at the Different Flood Alert Stages.
While we’ve come a long way in a relatively short amount of time, there’s still much work to do. We won’t stop working until we’ve fully implemented every recommendation in our After Action Report, to ensure that we prepare ourselves for future emergencies and natural disasters.