MARTINEZ -- Contra Costa County is traversed by seismic faults, railroad tracks and pipelines, and its shore is lined with petroleum refineries, chemical plants and other industrial installations. And yet, with a population of almost 1.1 million, a grand jury found that the county does not have a stand-alone Emergency Operations Center, and its Emergency Operations Plan was last updated in late 2011.
The report by the 2013-2014 Contra Costa County civil grand jury noted that the county faces hazards from natural phenomena such as earthquakes, which can produce ground shaking, liquefaction and surface rupture, and tsunamis, as well as extreme weather that can lead to floods, landslides and wildfires. Seismic faults extend across critical infrastructure elements such as water, natural gas and petroleum pipelines, railroads, BART tracks and roads, including major freeways.
The grand jury report comes at a time of growing public concern over the prospect of transports by rail through the East Bay of large quantities of crude oil, possibly including highly flammable Bakken crude oil. There have been several oil train explosions in North America over the past year, including one in Quebec that killed 47 people and destroyed much of a town center.
There are five Bay Area petroleum refineries -- Chevron in Richmond, Phillips 66 in Rodeo, Shell and Tesoro in the Martinez area, and Valero in Benicia. Valero has a project pending for a facility to receive 100 railroad cars of crude oil per day. WesPac Energy wants to build an oil storage and transfer installation in Pittsburg. And Kinder Morgan has an ethanol and crude oil rail-to-truck loading facility in Richmond.
Phillips 66 also has a pending rail expansion project to receive crude oil by rail at its Santa Maria-based refinery in San Luis Obispo County. Many East Bay environmentalists say they fear Phillips 66 would transport the Santa Maria-bound crude through Contra Costa and Alameda counties.
Contra Costa's Emergency Operations Center in Martinez is under the joint responsibility of the Sheriff's Office of Emergency Services and the County Administrator, and serves the following agencies: Sheriff's Office of Emergency Services, Homeland Security Unit, Emergency Services Support Unit and Community Warning System Unit. Although the building serves as the Sheriff's Operations Center on a day-to-day basis, it still would take about four hours to get the center fully staffed and running in an emergency, according to the report. The other agencies' routine daily operations are displaced when the center, which occupies a fairly small building, is activated, the grand jury found.
Undersheriff Mike Casten, in an email Thursday, said the Sheriff's Office does not agree with all of the findings in the grand jury report. The office reviews the Emergency Operations Plan regularly, on a three-year cycle, and the center is fully operational within the physical limitations of the facility, he said. A capital project for a Public Safety Command Building, conceived in 2001, was put on hold in 2007 due to budget constraints and concern over the size and cost of the project, then estimated at $71.4 million. The replacement cost has now grown to more than $75 million, said County Administrator David Twa. He said the project should be a priority.
"Our number one need is the replacement of the Emergency Ops Building to meet the certainty of future emergencies whether natural or man-made," Twa said
Twa said his office's response to the grand jury report will be on the Board of Supervisors' Agenda for Board review and approval sometime in July.
Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Karen Mitchoff said¿ she would wait to comment on the report until county staff presents its response to the board.
The grand jury report is available on the Contra Costa Superior Court web site at http://www.cc-courts.org/. Select "Jury Services/Grand Jury" and click on "Civil grand jury."