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What Are the Worst Possible Disasters?

County and cities like Los Altos have identified their top five, and now agencies prepare for the worst in order to qualify for state and federal grant monies.

What’s the worst that could happen?

After asking that question for more than a year now, officials from Santa Clara County and 13 cities, including Los Altos, have the top five.

These are all stemming from major catastrophes, for the Local Hazard Mitigation Plan. The intent is to help agencies identify how to prevent safety hazards before and after major disasters.

The top five, identified in the order most pressing in the county, are enough to keep anyone awake at night:

  1. Collapse of unreinforced masonry buildings, or “soft story” buildings during an earthquake. A “soft story” building is a raised multistory structure where the ground floor is parking or retail stores with large windows
  2. Wildfires
  3. Lack of information sharing between agencies
  4. Flooding
  5. Dam failures

Los Altos' committee is most concerned about private soft-story buildings located around the city, unmapped earthquake faults under Foothill College, the failure of Stevens Creek dam, and wildfires originating from the surrounding foothills.

Now what do you think?

Officials want the public to voice what they think of the draft hazard-mitigation plan and the identified priorities. The county Office of Emergency Services has posted the plan online and asks for public comments during the month of May to be included in a final draft.

Kirsten Hofmann, director of the Office of Emergency Services, said they are looking for as much public feedback as possible. Comments can be emailed to the county's consultant, Corinne Bartshire of Dewberry Associates. Hofmann said the comments would help officials in planning for future emergencies.

“The more work done up front is going to help us in the response and recovery phase of any disaster,” Hofmann said.

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