The City of Palo Alto’s Ongoing Efforts to Address Public Safety and Resiliency
Learn about the City’s upgrades to critical infrastructure and planning of major projects and long-range plans to mitigate risks including sea level rise, earthquakes, and more
February 17 marks the 10th anniversary of a tragic plane crash that killed three people, caused damage to homes in East Palo Alto and an extended power outage in Palo Alto, and resulted in a major emergency response by several City departments and other public safety agencies.
Since that fateful day, several City efforts are completed or underway to address the top priorities of increasing public safety and emergency response, strengthening the City’s infrastructure with a focus on resiliency, and furthering long-range planning to mitigate risks and operational vulnerabilities to events like the 2010 airplane crash and related power outage. Efforts include upgrading systems within the City’s sewer, water, electrical, gas, flood control and storm water infrastructure, and emergency response; planning and completing several major infrastructure projects; and developing long-range plans to prepare for wildfires and power safety shut offs, sea level rise, flooding, earthquakes and other safety concerns.
This blog provides a look back at what infrastructure was upgraded and what investments are planned by the City to support resiliency and public safety.
Increasing Public Safety and Emergency Response
New resources are available through the County’s mutual aid system, a new first of its kind mobile emergency operations center, and systems to support backup power during a large-scale power outage.
Aircraft Rescue Mutual Aid
Through the Santa Clara County Mutual Aid System, Palo Alto Fire Department has access to NASA Ames’ Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF). This vehicle is specific to fighting aircraft fire and was added to the mutual aid plan after 2010.
Mobile Emergency Operations Center and Mobile Department Operations Center
The City’s Office of Emergency Services (OES) coordinates preparedness for the risk of electrical failure as a result of storms, cyber-attack, physical sabotage, and more through adding backup power and other measures. OES worked with the Public Works Department to design and build the first non-military all-solar Mobile Department Operations Center. The Mobile Department Operations Center project cost was $145K and functions as a Field Incident Command Post for Public Works and other departments, including public safety. OES also maintains a Mobile Emergency Operations Center, which supports interoperable communications, provides backup to Palo Alto’s 911 center, and is used as a Mutual Aid resource regionally.
Airport Operations and Response
The Air Traffic Control Tower has limited back-up battery power for traffic control and where there are unsafe flying conditions, the City’s Public Works Airport Operations staff would issue a Notice to Airmen regarding restrictions to nighttime flights due to a power outage at the Airport. During an aircraft incident or crash, Airport Operations staff are a part of the initial emergency response until the Palo Alto Fire Department arrives. Airport Operations staff are trained for aircraft incidents and accidents, including being CPR/First Aid certified.
Strengthening the City’s Infrastructure
The City continues to adopt annual capital plans and long-range five-year plans to strengthen the City’s infrastructure focused on electric, water, gas, storm water and flood control management, public safety, and airport operations.
Utilities Infrastructure Investments
The City of Palo Alto provides Gas, Electric and Water services to the Palo Alto community. Utilities capital infrastructure replacement supports the City’s resiliency by upgrading and replacing water mains, gas mains, and electrical lines. Last year, the City completed the University Avenue water and gas infrastructure upgrade supporting safety and resiliency for the next 100 years.
Other efforts include upgrades to the Colorado Avenue electrical substation including a new transformer and other equipment upgrades; upgrading substations around Stanford to support increased electrical demand; and confirming whether PG&E can increase capacity on the sole transmission line, which would not prevent a power outage, but could shorten restoration time by improving redundancy across the system.
Capital Improvements completed since 2010 include:
· Colorado Substation Upgrade — Transformer and high voltage circuit breaker replacement to improve redundancy, reliability and resiliency of the City’s electrical transmission system (Project Cost: $4.5M).
· Underground Districts #45, #46 and #47 — Replacement of existing overhead electrical distribution system with an underground system to improve reliability (Project Cost:$15M).
· Quarry Substation Upgrade — Reconfigure and upgrade distribution lines to enhance reliability and increase capacity for Stanford Hospital and neighboring community (Project Cost:$3.5M).
· Gas Main Replacements — Replacement of structurally deficient gas mains that are subject to corrosion or reaching the end of their expected life (Project Cost:$35M).
· Gas Receiving Station Rebuild — Replacement of piping, valves, and regulators at four gas receiving stations from PG&E transmission pipelines (Project Cost:$1M).
· Emergency Water Supply — Construction of a new 2.5 million gallon reservoir and pump station. Construction of three new wells and rehabilitation of five existing wells. The project provides additional emergency water supply to meet the minimum emergency water demand, as recommended by the California Department of Health Services (Project Cost:$31M).
· Water Main Replacements — Replacement of structurally deficient and inadequately-size water mains that are subject to corrosion and breaks; upsize mains to supply required flows and pressures for fire protection (Project Cost:$24M).
· Water Tank Seismic Improvements — Water tank rehabilitation, seismic upgrade, and/or tank replacement to improve earthquake resistance (Project Cost:$5M).
Airport Infrastructure and Electrical Upgrades
The Palo Alto Airport currently does not have a backup generator, but the ongoing Apron Reconstruction project will upgrade the Airport’s infrastructure to support airfield electrical upgrades including a back-up generator or connecting to the Public Works Storm Water airport pump station to support operations during an outage. Airport Operations has completed phase 1 and 2 of this project at a cost of $20M and anticipates the project to be completed late FY 2021 or early FY 2022 with a total project cost of approximately $40M. This schedule is dependent upon the Federal Aviation Administration funding and staff is working with the local FAA office to secure funding.
Public Safety Capital Investments
The City’s adopted Infrastructure Plan and recent increases in Transient Occupancy Tax (hotel tax) to fund the plan, seeks to address the City’s seismic resiliency specific to public safety services provided to the community, with a total of over $125M invested to support projects either recently completed, in the planning stages, or under construction. These projects include Fire Station 3, Fire Station 4, and the Public Safety Building. Critical buildings like fire stations, police stations, emergency operations centers, and 911 dispatch centers must be designed to meet the Essential Services Buildings Seismic Safety Act (ESBSSA). The former Fire Station 3 and the current Fire Station 4 and Police Station do not meet these standards.
Regional Water Quality Control Plant Back-up Power Generators
The outage caused by the 2010 plane crash impacted operations at the Regional Water Quality Control Plant. Owned and operated by the City of Palo Alto, the Plant treats wastewater for the communities of Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Stanford University and the East Palo Alto Sanitary District. After the incident, City Public Works initiated a design project to improve standby power. The City invested about $2.5 million for construction in new standby generators, load banks, and automatic transfer switches to replace four aging standby power generators.
Matadero Creek Pump Station Replacement
The $6.5M Matadero Creek Pump Station Replacement Project was completed in FY 2018–2019. The project includes three new large pumps with an increased water capacity, allowing the City to manage flooding concerns and drain an approximate 1,300 acre area. The station also includes a new electrical building raised to comply with FEMA standards, which houses a new 1,000 KW capacity generator with 1,000-gallon fuel tank and the 13,500 square feet site was paved with permeable asphalt, allowing the site to self-treat and infiltrate rain runoff that lands at the site.
Pump Station Fiber Line Installation
In FY 2017–2018 staff completed the installation of new fiber optics to the City’s seven pump stations, creek monitors and tide gate. This project involved new overhead and underground fiber line installation, new panels and instrumentation at each facility that ultimately provides dependable and timely rainfall, flows data and verifies that facilities are functioning properly.
San Francisquito Creek Flood Projects
Because of several significant size flood events, Palo Alto and adjacent agencies are involved in the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority with a goal to address regional flood issues. The group successfully managed the construction and completion of a creek widening project downstream of Highway 101. The project completed in FY 2018–2019 is approximately 1.5 miles in length and includes raised levees and floodwalls to allow for significantly larger rain flows to pass and addresses long-term sea-level rise objectives. As part of the project two main utilities lines were relocated and a new electrical tower was built. This portion of the creek can now carry flows larger than the 100-year storm event that would otherwise flood the properties in East Palo Alto. In addition, Caltrans had a separate project to replace the existing bridge over Highway 101, that crosses over the creek and to allow for these larger flows to pass. Two additional projects are now underway, upstream of Highway 101, that will also increase the capacity of the San Francisquito Creek. The City of Palo Alto is working on the Newell Road Bridge Replacement project, which is estimated to cost $8.5M, and anticipated to be completed in FY 2021-FY 2022; and the Joint Powers Authority is working to replace the Pope/Chaucer Bridge and widen the creek at five locations.
Municipal Services Center Fuel Station Upgrade and Debris Hauling During a Large-Scale Disaster
Staff is exploring a proposal to support debris management in the event of a large-scale disaster and the City’s street sweeping contract is being revised to have dedicated rates related to debris hauling. In addition, staff is requesting a $125K proposal as part of the City’s upcoming budget process to upgrade the City’s Municipal Services Center Fuel Station to provide backup power.
Long-Range Planning Efforts to Address Public Safety and Resiliency Underway
Planning for the long-term to address public safety and resiliency continues with notable focus on wildfire mitigation, electrical resiliency including exploring redundant electrical connections, and sea level rise.
Electrical Resiliency and Exploring Redundant Electrical Connections
The City’s electric distribution system is connected to Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s (PG&E) transmission grid through three transmission lines. Although three lines provides some redundancy and back-up power delivery, all three lines run in a common corridor on the bay side of the City, in close proximity to the Palo Alto Airport. The proximity to an airport means that the City’s power supply is susceptible to single events that can affect all three lines, which happened in the 2010 plane crash, the aircraft hit the power lines resulting in a city-wide power outage for over 14 hours. PG&E paid for the repair of the transmission line since it is owned by PG&E.
To increase the City’s electrical resiliency, the City continues to explore additional electrical connections and more work is needed to evaluate a full range of options.
Here is a look at some additional connection point options:
Option one is a connection from SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory to Palo Alto 60kV, which would include a new transformer at SLAC, new underground and overhead lines to Palo Alto. The approximate estimate cost is $50M. Stanford University recently informed the City that the University is no longer interested in this option. Option two includes a new PG&E 230kV Line to Palo Alto and requires a new transmission line from a PG&E substation to the Colorado Substation and would require Palo Alto to install new transformers at Colorado Substation with an estimated cost of $200M. Option three is to upgrade a 115 kV transmission line at PG&E (Ames) Substation, install City Utilities owned 230–115kV transformer at Ames Substation and install new circuits and lines on City Utilities substation and distribution sides. This is being explored with the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) and costs are not yet known.
Future Utilities Infrastructure Planning Underway
· Foothills Wildfire Mitigation — Mitigation of wildfire threat associated with overhead electric lines and equipment in high fire threat area and improve the resiliency of the electric grid (Estimated Project Cost: $5-$10M).
· Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) — The Smart Grid will enable the City to achieve its reliability and sustainability goals in energy conservation, carbon emission reduction, improved system reliability and integration of distributed energy resources (Estimated Project Cost:$16-20M).
· Fiber Network Expansion — Expansion of the fiber optic network to support Advanced Metering Infrastructure, Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), and wireless communication for City field staff and other City services (Estimated Project Cost:$2-5M).
· Water Tank Seismic Improvements — Water tank rehabilitation, seismic upgrade, and/or tank replacement to improve earthquake resistance of remaining three reservoirs (Estimated Project Cost:$15-20M).
· Rebuild Underground Districts — Rebuild and replacement of the underground electric system that have exceeded their expected life of 30 years (Estimated Project Cost:$10-$20M).
Sea Level Rise Policy
The City Council recently adopted sustainability as a 2020 priority; however, sustainability and environmental concerns have been a priority for the City for several years. Council adopted a Sea Level Rise Adaptation Policy in March 2019 and staff will be developing a vulnerability assessment and a Sea Level Rise Adaptation Plan to protect Palo Alto’s infrastructure, neighborhoods, economy, and Baylands habitat. Plan components will use predicted sea level rise scenarios to consider risk management needs for City infrastructure and ecosystem assets, zoning requirements, budget planning, roles and responsibilities of City departments, and public education. For the policy, go here.
In addition, in 2014 Palo Alto entered into a $500K contract with a consultant to study the Palo Alto Baylands to analyze the existing levee improvements along the Baylands. The report, identified as Strategy to Advance Flood Protection, Ecosystem and Recreation along the Bay (SAFER), was prepared in an effort to provide preliminary recommendations and alternatives for improvements along the Bay that would ultimately address future sea level rise. Since the release of the report, staff has been reviewing these alternatives and working in partnership with Valley Water, California Coastal Conservancy and United States Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) to analyze the options during the next two years and explore USACE contributions to the project.
Finally, over the longer term the need for redundant systems and emergency response can be significantly affected by the actions we take to reduce our energy consumption and reliance on “imported” energy.
The City’s Utilities Advisory Commission has recently held study sessions to exploration this issue, recognizing the potential for limited self-sufficiency through the use of aggregated solar electricity generation and battery storage within Palo Alto. Known as a micro-grid or islanding, this strategy becomes more viable as businesses and homes become more energy efficient and expand solar installations throughout the community. The City is also updating our Sustainability/Climate Action Plan (S/CAP) this year. The S/CAP will provide the next opportunity for an overall evaluation of Palo Alto’s sustainability priorities, which are increasingly convergent with community resilience strategies.
Save the date! The first 2020 S/CAP Community Workshop will be held on Tuesday, March 31, 2020, from 5:30PM — 7:00PM at the Mitchell Park Community Center, El Palo Alto Room.
Additional Online Resources
For more on the City Council 2020 Priorities, go here.
For more on the City’s Capital Budget for FY 2019–2020, go here.
For the City’s Infrastructure Plan, go here.
To learn more about how to prepare for an emergency, go here.
To sign up for the City’s emergency preparedness volunteer, go here.
For the City’s Public Works Department, go here.
For the City’s Utilities Department, go here.
For the City’s Fire Department, go here.
For the City’s Office of Emergency Services, go here.
For the City’s Police Department, go here.
For more about the City’s Sustainability Goals and the Climate Action Plan update, go here.