CSAC Bulletin Article

CSAC President James Gore Testifies at Joint Emergency Management Hearing

December 3, 2020

CSAC President and Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore testified at a Monday hearing of the Joint Legislative Committee on Emergency Management along with other colleagues in local government, fire safety and law enforcement. The hearing, “Emergency Response to Disasters—Emergency Alerts and Evacuations” focused on challenges faced by state and local governments as they quickly evolved their evacuation procedures in the face if increasingly challenging emergencies. Wildfires in recent years have increased in size and scope, as has the subsequent threat to communities, requiring large-scale evacuations in many parts of the state. The hearing drew on the direct experiences of those who have managed these evacuations, and their perspectives on best practices and next steps.

The hearing opened with the State’s perspective given by the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) and CalFIRE. Cal-OES Deputy Director Tina Curry discussed the great strides the state has made in the emergency alert systems, but acknowledged that until everyone can receive accurate and timely alerts, the work to improve systems will continue. CalFIRE Chief Deputy Director Craig Tolmie spoke about the state’s Ready for Wildfire App, which is being used to provide step-by-step instructions to prepare and protect homes, and to prepare for evacuation. Legislators focused on concerns about social media and clarity of information, and the move to “opt-out” versus “opt-in” alert systems. Redundancy of alerts was also highlighted as a critical tool, particularly in public safety power shutoff events, or when cell services are overloaded.

Discussing the emergency management side of evacuations, the second panel provided perspectives from fire and law enforcement. Mammoth Lakes Fire Chief Frank Frievalt focused his remarks on the need for adequate first-responders, essential equipment and training, and minimizing the time of response in large-scale evacuations. Butte County Sherriff Honea again focused on redundancy and the use of all platforms to reach those who may need to evacuate. He emphasized that the compliance varies, but that it is not always possible to have a law enforcement officer visit every home to request them to evacuate. The panel closed out with a push for the use of the Hi-Lo siren, authorized by SB 909 (Dodd) this legislative year, providing a specific sound for immediate evacuation, as well as pre-evacuation preparation and practice drills.

The hearing wrapped up with the local government perspective. Supervisor Gore joined the City Manager of Malibu and Nevada County Emergency Service Program Manager Paul Cummings. City Manager Reva Feldman brought up the possibility of installing a city-wide outdoor warning system and encouraged this for all fire prone areas of the state. Supervisor Gore discussed the changing environment, and increasing fire threats from 2017 to 2020. He discussed Sonoma County’s comprehensive response including: hiring positions specifically for alert and warning; using Sonoma County 211 system specifically for emergencies to reduce reliance on 911; using social media while creating a core center for reliable information; and, finally supporting the opt-out alert systems to increase participation.

The hearing is archived on the Assembly website here.

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