By Devin Fehely

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — The city of San Jose relied on an emergency warning system so antiquated and ineffectual that it virtually guaranteed people were not warned before last month’s catastrophic floods.

We received no warning — no notice — that the flood was coming in,” said Hien Nguyen, a victim of flooding in San Jose.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said, “There’s no question the warning systems were totally inadequate in this situation. And we’ve got to fix this failure. And I’m committed to doing that.”

San Jose used the county’s Alert Santa Clara County system, which automatically calls people’s landlines, but requires you to sign up before receiving that same information on your cell phone.

Deputy Director of Emergency Manager David Flamm said, “There’s limitations to these systems. They require you to voluntarily sign up. We’ve done a number of things to try to increase the registration numbers.”

But according to the county’s emergency services office, fewer than 59,000 people in a county of nearly two million have signed up for voluntary alerts.

That’s less than 3 percent.

The city could have sent a warning using the federal government’s system. The same one used for Amber Alerts and National Weather Service advisories.

It would have reached people’s cell phones whether they signed up or not. But the city never asked and the message was never sent.

“Thousands of our residents are more than frustrated,” Liccardo said. “They’re angry. And they have every right to be angry. The warning system that was in place was not adequate.”

  1. I had my landline phone signed on the county’s alert system but I discontinued after alerts of things like missing children in a completely different area of the county or other subjects that I have no influence or didn’t effect me. And the alerts were very long voice recordings. I was aware of the flooding, was monitoring public safety and amateur radio frequencies. There was a time when wanting to get word out to general public, governments would use the EBS that break in on TV and broadcast radio. These days everyone is on their phones and they mostly text, perhaps along with EBS also send text messaging? Perhaps have it only for natural disasters, missing children and stolen cars will cause so many alerts the general public will get “alarm fatigue” and eventually ignore alerts. However, it has been years since San Jose has ever been faced with a flood (the potential is still there, i.e. Anderson dam is very old). People in tornado country use NWS system, not much use as we are not threatened by tornados. Earthquakes yes but NWS cannot issue warnings. A natural disaster alert system can also be used to notify residents of major chemical spills by a railway tanker or tanker truck accident.