Santa Clara County Considers Using Artificial Intelligence to Improve Disaster Response

The flood that displaced thousands of people in San Jose last year could have been far less devastating had local agencies been better prepared. Santa Clara County, which plays a key role in regional disaster response, is mulling the idea of using artificial intelligence to brace for future emergencies.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will talk about studying emerging AI tools help fight—or even predict—the next catastrophe. A memo authored by supervisors Cindy Chavez and Mike Wasserman would authorize the county to research ways to incorporate machine-learning technologies into local disaster planning emergency response and recovery efforts.

In the past year, San Francisco and San Mateo counties have begun to employ AI to train and prepare for earthquakes, to predict flooding and to guide policymakers regarding land-use and mitigation measures.

“Because many natural hazard events require regional emergency response and regional recovery efforts, the county should encourage regional use of best practices and compatibility of technology used throughout the region,” Chavez and Wasserman wrote in their proposal, calling on the county to “take a leadership role” in the effort.

Machine learning is a subset of AI in which the technology is hard-coded to perform certain tasks and is trained via algorithms to “learn” by making adjustments. The county will explore ways to use the technology to assess risk to vulnerable populations, infrastructure and building stock as well as to improve training for first responders.

More from the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors agenda for January 23, 2018:

  • The projected date to complete construction on the county’s new Main Jail has been pushed back to 2023, the number of proposed beds reduced from 815 to 535, its size increased to 243,000 square feet and its budget bumped up by $14 million to $295 million. The new facility would include mental health housing with classrooms and treatment space. It would also offer dental, optometry, physical therapy, kidney dialysis and pre- and post-operative treatment. “These recommended changes would increase the cost of the initial proposal by 6 percent and provide a jail with fewer beds and more square footage, that is a safer facility for staff and inmates, and is designed based on best practices,” Deputy County Executive Martha Wapenski said in a prepared statement on Monday. “These best practices include more single cells for the mentally ill population, larger day rooms for classes and programs, and larger recreation yards.”
  • The Sheriff’s Office wants to expand its marijuana eradication team to crack down on illegal drug manufacturing. Though California recently legalized adult-use marijuana, local law enforcement apparently anticipates an upswing in black market grows and hash oil production. Currently, the marijuana eradication team consists of a two full-time officers and one part-time detective. “These resources, while effective in completing the law enforcement activities they undertake, are by themselves insufficient to undertake the volume of known current illegal activities, much less the increased volume of these activities anticipated to take place beginning in 2018,” according to a memo from the office of Sheriff Laurie Smith. Below is a summary of the number of tips and eradications from 2015 to 2016.
Source: Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office

Source: Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office

  • To accommodate the disproportionate number of homeless LGBTQ youth and young adults, the county is moving forward with plans to build a specialized shelter. The Office of Supportive Housing is in the process of scouting out a site for the proposed 24-bed facility and anticipates opening its doors by this summer.
  • The county may need to spend $800,000 to place a charter amendment on the ballot to appoint a civilian jail monitor. Officials have been discussing ways to create a civilian oversight position of the country’s troubled jails since 2015, when three deputies fatally beat inmate Michael Tyree.

WHAT: Board of Supervisors meets
WHEN: 9:30am Tuesday
WHERE: County Government Center, 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose
INFO: Clerk of the Board, 408.299.5001

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. What is the County doing to collect child support from parents of unemancipated minors? Job Corps, military service, or free training programs for high school completion and trades are available. Why more shelter space when prevention and remediation aren’t emphasized? This seems like a way to throw more money at Bill Wilson center without any accountability for outcomes.

  2. > The county will explore ways to use the technology to assess risk to vulnerable populations, . . .

    “Our new HAL 3000 Artificial Intelligence System reports that the vulnerable populations are at risk. Take appropriate political action now. Error 404. Web page not found.”

  3. AI: for those of us that monitor such things, this is just another thinly veiled means to reward a vendor and boost an elected official’s profile. It’s endorsed by the affected agency since if gives them more budget and toys.

    Outcomes don’t matter. Example: David Sykes dawdled while Coyote creek waters rose and caused massive damage. He should have been fired, but is now San Jose’s new city manager. AI or heaps of experts don’t matter when their advice is ignored as it was with Coyote.

    Also laughable is clusterf*ck of overlapping responsibilities. Examine any emergency response plan and it’s clear there’s no accountability.

  4. Artificial intelligence is not needed to warn of an impending flood, A float, a rod, a switch, and a siren out at the dam is all that was needed. Now fire a bunch of overpaid six figure bureaucrats that should have done that years ago!

    • That’s all sucked up by Apple, Facebook,Google, and Intel working wage slave couples nonstop to pay for $2 million homes so they have no time to pay attention to civic affairs and local government is managed by the dregs.

  5. Adding to an already broken system that the county refuses to fix isn’t going to make it better. The last county I want to be in when a major earthquake hits is Santa Clara. They have failed to learn even the basic lesson of shoring up areas proven to be weak by previous disasters. but hey, IA sounds great doesn’t it? But how about starting with the 15+ year old promise to set up interoperable communications that the county has already spent tens of millions on and STILL doesn’t work? Is that asking to much before you dump tens of millions more tax dollars on a system that no one will bother to make functional beyond the great PR?

  6. Santa Clara County is now spending our money in a campaign to inform us that immigrants don’t cost us anything.
    When you see how deliberately our liberal leaders misuse and misinterpret facts and statistics, it’s no wonder many of us are skeptical of just about everything they tell us, including climate change.

    • Oops. Wrong thread. Obviously I’m not an immigrant. An immigrant would never have made such a mistake because immigrants are perfect.

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