Threats and Hazards

Be Prepared

From nature’s wrath to human error, hazards exist throughout the world and the City of Palo Alto is no exception. While we cannot prevent all hazards from occurring, we can be aware and prepare for them, to minimize their impacts on our lives.



The City of Palo Alto Office of Emergency Services (OES) has developed the City of Palo Alto 2017 Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) to evaluate the City’s capabilities for addressing all hazard events, compliant with the Department of Homeland Security Comprehensive Preparedness Guide 201.


This brochure is a summary of the primary threats and hazards of highest concern for the City, its residents, businesses, and neighboring communities. It identifies some of the steps the OES is taking to prepare, and how you can prepare to protect yourself and your loved ones in the event of an emergency.

     CalOES My Hazards page allows you to search for your home or place of work and to discover the hazards that exist in your area and learn how to reduce YOUR risk! Remember, the best way to recover from disasters is by reducing the risks before a disaster strikes.
Threats and hazards have been categorized as Natural, Technological, Human-Caused and Previously Identified Hazards. City of Palo Alto OES has identified the following as the primary threats and hazards of the highest concern for our citizens.


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Earthquakes can cause injuries and death from falling debris, broken glass.  They can trigger landslides, spark fires, and release toxic chemicals.

To mitigate potential damages from a major event, the City strictly enforces building codes and provides incentives for seismic retrofits. Palo Alto has also completed seismic improvements to facilities and critical infrastructure.

What you can do:
  Flood / Severe Winter Storm

Severe winter storms can cause flooding. Flooding can contaminate potable water, wastewater and irrigation systems, negatively affect quality of the water supply and result in water and food borne diseases.

Palo Alto works with the Santa Clara Valley Water District and other entities to improve and maintain storm drain systems to improve runoff capacity, and to plan for future flooding threats from rising sea levels, severe storms, etc.

What you can do:



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  Airplane Accident

The Palo Alto Airport and the City lies in the flight path of two international airports: San Jose and San Francisco.  Aviation accidents can originate from mechanical difficulties, pilot error or acts of terrorism, and can occur mid-air, on land or over water.

The City’s Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) outlines a response plan to airplane incidents.

What you can do:
Hazardous Waste / Materials Spill

Hazards can occur during production, storage, transportation, use or disposal of hazardous materials. Hazardous materials can cause death, serious injury, long-lasting health effects, and damage to the environment, homes and other property. Hazardous materials include explosives, gases, flammable liquids, poisons, and radioactive and corrosive materials.

Facilities that store hazardous materials are reported to local and federal governments. Security measures at these facilities can be heightened. Many of these facilities have their own emergency response plans. The City’s EOP indicates actions to respond to an incident, and the Fire Department administers the County’s hazardous materials emergency planning program. The City inspects and issues annual permits to businesses that necessitate monitoring and inspection.

What you can do:
  • Use the City’s Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) Station to safely dispose of HHW.
  • Reduce the use of toxic products in your home and yard, and always follow instructions for their use carefully.
  • Report hazardous conditions to the Palo Alto Communications non-emergency line 650-329-2413.
  • In the event of a major incident in the City, stay informed and follow instructions.
Urban Fire

Wildland within City limits as well as densely populated homes and business areas are at risk in the event of an uncontrolled major event.

In the event of a major urban fire, auto-aid and mutual-aid agreements with Cal Fire will be utilized. The City strives to reduce risk through rapid response, fire code enforcement, public education, and preparation.

What you can do:


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Major Crime

A major crime is described a major criminal incident (shooting, homicide, kidnapping) including multiple suspects or multiple victims with an ongoing threat to the community.

The Palo Alto Police Department added personnel in 2013, likely to have deterrent effects. The City participates in mutual aid and regional organizations to share information, capabilities and resources to prevent major crimes.

What you can do:
Cyber Attack

Cyber terrorists can infiltrate institutions such as banking, medical, educational, governmental, military, and communication and infrastructure systems. Trends in malicious cyber activity have been focused stealing personal information.

Palo Alto has antivirus protection for all desktop and laptop computers, malware protection systems for web and email systems, and a firewall for the IT network. Access to the City’s IT network is limited and controlled to prevent unauthorized access. An Energy Assurance Plan has been develop to minimize energy interruptions during emergencies.

What you can do:
  • Utilize firewalls, antivirus and malware protection.
  • Secure your systems with password protection and use challenging passwords.
  • Be aware. Review account statements for unauthorized activity. Do not click on links and files in emails unless you are sure they are safe from someone you trust.
  • Though it may be embarrassing, report problems immediately.
  • Report suspicious activity in your workplace, and threats from disgruntled coworkers.
Workplace Violence

Violence or the threat of violence in a workplace situation could include physical violence, harassment, intimidation or other threatening behavior. It can occur at or outside the workplace, including locations such as churches, malls, office buildings, etc. and may be one person acting alone.

Many companies have established workplace violence prevention programs and trainings to help identify and mitigate it.  Security, lighting, alarms and surveillance measures may help minimize access from outsiders.

What you can do:
  • Be aware. Report suspicious activity or threatening comments, including those you encounter in social media.
  • Park in well-lit areas and do not expose cash or other valuables.
  • In case of an emergency, stay informed and follow instructions.
  • Run Hide Fight Active Shooter Video


Civil Disorder

Civil disorder refers to unrest caused by a group of people and may include terrorist activities. Public demonstrations have the potential to lead to looting and rioting.  There are many potential causes for civil disorder including: animal rights, labor disputes, civil rights, campus related issues, abortion rights, neighboring jurisdictions, political issues, events (sports, music, etc.), and spontaneous miscellaneous events.  Potential consequences from acts of civil disorder include: disruptions of police and city services, closure of roads, rioting, property damage, and injuries to protesters, police officers, and uninvolved parties.

No long-term mitigation actions can attempt to reduce the occurrence or impacts from future civil disturbances. However, Palo Alto Public Safety Agencies proactively maintain situational awareness to identify planned events and attempt to have proactive and beneficial dialogue with event planners to minimize the impacts on the community.  PAPD trains on riot control procedures and can call on mutual aid to get additional support from neighboring jurisdictions. 

What you can do:
  • Be aware. Follow PAPD Social Media alerts for planned protests. /PAPDconnect
  • Stay Clear of active protests and the surrounding areas
  • Report suspicious activities and/or violent behaviors by calling 9-1-1 or our non-emergency number: 650-329-2413

Nuclear Blast

A nuclear blast is an explosion with intense light and heat, a damaging pressure wave, and widespread radioactive material that can contaminate the air, water, and ground surfaces for miles around. A nuclear device can range from a weapon carried by an intercontinental missile, to a small portable nuclear device transported by an individual. All nuclear devices cause deadly effects when exploded.

The risk of a nuclear blast to our community is possible, but extremely unlikely since only a few nations have the capability to deliver a massive strategic nuclear attack, and because of the extraordinary complexity of weaponizing a small portable nuclear device.

What you can do:

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Previously Identified Hazards

Hostage / Assassin
A hostage situation includes a person or group of people seized or held as security for the fulfillment of a condition. An assassin is a person who murders an important person for political or religious reasons. Targets are usually high-profile figures and dignitaries, but wealthy Silicon Valley executives could be potential targets.

The City’s SWAT Team and Crisis Negotiation Team are trained to contain these situations. Multijurisdictional intelligence sharing and enhanced coordination between jurisdictions occur during high-profile dignitary visits to the area, and monthly intelligence sharing meetings are hosted by OES to reinforce this on a regular basis.

What you can do:
  • Be aware during visits from high-profile dignitaries and public figures.
  • In case of an incident, stay out of the area, stay informed and follow instructions.
Sabotage / Theft

Sabotage is a deliberate action aimed at weakening another entity through destruction or obstruction.  The result of sabotage could be the destruction or damage of a vital facility.

The type of incident will dictate the City’s response to the act of sabotage. Anticipating the various types of sabotage, responses are addressed in City’s Terrorism Response Plan, the EOP, and various other coordinated efforts.

What you can do:
  • Be aware. Report suspicious activity or threatening comments, including those you encounter in social media.
  • In case of an emergency, stay informed and follow instructions.

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Last Updated: Sep 5, 2017