Palo Alto Threats and Hazards


 hazard graphics for human caused, technological, and natural hazards

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

No matter what happens, we want everyone to be prepared: stay informed / make a plan / build a kit and get involved. Visit these pages to make sure you know how to prepare. 

We also recommend visiting Palo Alto's Neighborhoods' Palo Alto Ready, a website with emergency preparedness information for young and old (see their Families section), rich and poor (see Small Spaces, Tight Budgets or Too Busy in their Are You Ready? section), and everyone in between. They also have links to emergency preparedness information for Businesses, Faith-Based and Community-Based Organizations, Schools, and Libraries in their Community Partners page.

Threats and hazards have been categorized as Natural, Technological, and Human-Caused

1. Natural hazards are naturally occurring physical phenomena caused either by rapid or slow onset incidents which can be geophysical (earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis and volcanic activity), hydrological (avalanches and floods), climatological (extreme temperatures, drought and wildfires), meteorological (cyclones and storms/wave surges) or biological (disease epidemics and insect/animal plagues).

2. Technological hazards (complex emergencies/conflicts, infrastructure failures, industrial accidents and transportation accidents) are the negative consequences of human innovation that can result in the harm or destruction of life, property, or the environment. 

3. Human-Caused, also called Intentional, hazards exist not due to accident or nature, but as a result of the conscious decision of man to act in an antisocial or anti-establishment manner.

We have identified the following as the primary threats and hazards of most concern to our city and our citizens.

2017 Palo Alto Threat and Hazards Identification and Risk Assessment(PDF, 914KB)

Threats and Hazards Brochure(PDF, 9MB)    

CAL OES MyHazards Tool


Natural Hazards


earthquake graphic image

An earthquake is a phenomenon resulting from the sudden release of stored energy in the crust of the Earth in the form of seismic waves. They can destroy nearly any type of asset, trigger landslides and flooding, spark fires, release toxic chemicals, and cause injuries or death from falling debris and glass.

 What You Can Do

1. Secure your space by identifying hazards and securing movable itemsEarthquake Country Step 1
2. Plan to be safe: Create a disaster plan and how to best communicate in an emergency.  Earthquake Country Step 2
3. Build a kit and prepare disaster supplies as an individual, family, business, and more.  Earthquake Country Step 3
4. Minimize financial hardship by organizing documents, strengthening your property, and considering insurance.  Earthquake Country Step 4
5. Drop, Cover, and Hold On when the earth shakes.  Earthquake Country Step 5
6. Improve safety after an earthquake by evacuating, helping others, and preventing further injuries or damage.  Earthquake Country Step 6
7. Read about the USGS earthquake outlook in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Earthquake Country Step 7
8. Read Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese

Floods & Severe Storms

flood graphic image

 A flood is any high flow, overflow, or water inundation of normally dry land areas. Most floods fall into three categories: riverine flooding, coastal flooding, or shallow flooding. Palo Alto's flood risk ranking is high and is most commonly caused by severe winter storms.

What You Can Do
1. Know if you are in a Palo Alto flood zone by typing in your address to get a digital parcel report. Double-check by typing your address into FEMA's flood hazard map.
2. Mitigate storm damage by elevating your foundation and considering flood insurance.
3. View our flood and winter storm preparedness resources.
4. Clear rain gutters, storm drains, elevate or move furniture, and store important documents.  
5. Been in a flood? Learn how to document damage, start clean up, and more.


Technological Hazards

Airplane Accident

airplane accident graphic image

The Palo Alto Airport and the City are 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.  They can occur mid-air, on land, or over water.
What You Can Do
In the event of an accident, stay informed and follow instructions from public safety officials.  

Hazardous Waste/Materials Spill


Hazardous incidents can occur during use, production, storage, transportation, or disposal. These materials can cause death, serious injury, long-lasting health effects, and damage to both the environment and property. Hazardous materials include explosives, gases, flammable liquids, poisons, and radioactive and corrosive materials.
 What You Can Do
1. Limit the quantities of hazardous materials/toxic products in your home and yard. Always follow instructions to use them safely.
2. Isolate these products to areas of your home where they are away from flames and out of reach of children.
3. Eliminate unnecessary or unused material safely via Palo Alto's Household Hazardous Waste Program.
4. Separate products so they can not accidentally mix with one another - use separate bins for each product.
5. Report hazardous conditions by calling our non-emergency line: (650) 329-2413.

Urban & Wildland Fire

 fire graphic image

Fires in densely populated residential, business, and Wildland Urban Interface areas are at risk of an uncontrolled fire event.In a major urban or wildland fire, auto-aid and mutual-aid agreements with CAL FIRE will be utilized. Palo Alto strives to reduce risk through rapid response, fire code enforcement, public education, and preparation.

What You Can Do
1. Prepare for wildfire with our READY, SET, GO resources.
2. Report hazardous and high-risk conditions to our non-emergency line: (650) 329-2413.
3. Read our Foothills Fire Management Plan.
4. Be aware of and be ready for possible utility disruption.
5. Stay Informed of local details at our regional fire status page.   


pandemic graphic image

A pandemic is a worldwide outbreak of disease that occurs when a new virus appears in the human population, causes serious illness, and then spreads easily from person to person worldwide. Pandemics could continue for up to 24 months, infecting millions of people, cause high death rates and major disruptions in supply chains for essential goods and services, and have significant financial impacts.
What You Can Do
1. Get the annual flu vaccine.
2. Prevent getting sick by following these practices from the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
3. During a pandemic, use the social distancing guidelines from the County Public Health Department.
4. Stay informed of the local situation. Go to:


Human-Caused Hazards

Major Crime

crime graphic image

A major crime is criminal incident (shooting, homicide, kidnapping) that can include multiple suspects or multiple victims with an ongoing threat to the community. Palo Alto participates in mutual-aid and regional organizations to share information, capabilities, and resources to prevent major crimes.
What You Can Do
1. Reduce temptation for theft or burglary by putting valuables out of sight and keeping doors and windows locked.
2. Be aware of your surroundings. Report suspicious activity.
3. Be aware ofreported crime in Palo Alto.
4. Read the Palo Alto Policepersonal safety brochure.
5. Read theCrime Prevention Basics Brochure.
6. Read the comprehensiveGuide to Securing Your Home.


Cyber Attack

cyber attack graphic image

Cyber terrorists/criminals can infiltrate institutions such as banking, medical, educational, governmental, military, communication, and infrastructure systems. Recently, trends in malicious cyber activity have been focused on stealing personal information.
What You Can Do
1. Keep your firewall turned on, or install a firewall on your computer.  A firewall helps protect your computer from hackers accessing your computer to crash it, delete information, or steal passwords or sensitive information.
2. Install and regularly update antivirus software: This software is designed to prevent malicious programs from embedding on your computer that can run without your knowledge.
3. Keep your operating system up to date to fix security holes and get the latest protections.
4. Use strong passwords, and consider a password manager to generate and store unique passwords.  Implement Multi-Factor authentication on your accounts. 
5.Think before your click.  Don't carelessly download email attachments from people you don't know, download files from untrusted sources, or click on questionable links.
6. Stay Cyber Safe - visit the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) for step by step instructions.   Fact Sheets with translations in Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean are also available here.


Workplace Violence

workplace violence graphic image

Violence or the threat of violence in a workplace situation can 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, and may be one person acting alone.
What You Can Do
1. Be aware. Report suspicious activity or threatening comments, including those you encounter in social media.  Call the Palo Alto Police at 650-329-2413.  
2. Park in well-lit areas and do not expose cash or other valuables.
3. Prepare by watching the Run, Hide, Fight: Surviving an Active Shooter Event video.

Civil Disorder

civil disturbance graphic image

Civil disorder is unrest caused by a group of people and sometimes start from legal peaceful protests.  There are many causes including animal rights, labor disputes, civil rights, campus issues, political issues, or special events. Civil disorder can disrupt city services, close roads, cause property damage, or result in injuries to citizens, police officers, or bystanders.
What You Can Do
1. Be aware. Follow and subscribe to Palo Alto Police to be alerted to planned events.
2. Exercise your first amendment rights, but before supporting a protest, understand who is organizing it, what is their agenda, and what is the likelihood of disorder? If unsure, avoid active protests including the areas surrounding event activity.
3. If a protest turns into a civil disturbance, leave the areas surrounding the event activity.
4. Report suspicious activity and disruptive behaviors by calling 9-1-1 or our non-emergency number at (650) 329-2413.

Nuclear Blast


A nuclear blast can cause significant damage and casualties from the explosion, heat, and radiation. A nuclear device can range from a small portable device carried by an individual to a weapon on a missile.
What You Can Do
1. Learn how to build a kit and make a plan.
2. Read more about Nuclear Explosion Preparation at

Note: No public buildings in Palo Alto have been designated as fallout shelters. However, there are other means to protect yourself: time, distance, shielding.


Palo Alto Local Hazard Mitigation and Adaptation Plan

The Palo Alto Local Hazard Mitigation and Adaptation Plan identifies and prioritizes potential and existing hazards across jurisdictional borders, including hazards that may be further amplified by climate change. In an effort to guide the ongoing hazard mitigation efforts, mitigation objectives are identified with prioritized actions for each objective. Through mitigation projects, hazards will have smaller impacts on Palo Alto in the future.   

Why does Palo Alto need one? 
The Federal Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 (DMA) requires all cities, counties, and special districts to adopt a Local Hazard Mitigation Plan to receive disaster mitigation funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). This plan must be adopted by local government every five years. 

Download the 2017 Palo Alto Local Hazard Mitigation and Adaptation Plan (PDF)

Download the Santa Clara County LHMP Volume 1 (PDF) and Volume 2 (PDF) to see the complete version of this plan.

Download Palo Alto's Hazard Analysis Exposure Maps (2016):

1. FEMA Flood Zone Hazard Map (PDF)
2. Fire Severity Hazard Map (PDF)
3. Landslide Risk Map (PDF)
4. Liquefaction Hazard Zone Map (PDF)
5. Probabilistic Seismic Hazard Map (PDF)
6. Sea Level Rise Hazard Map (PDF)
7. Tsunami Risk Hazard Map (PDF)

Questions? Contact us by email at