February 23, 2018
Representatives from the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) met with Sonoma County officials in a closed-door meeting February 20, briefing the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and others in advance of the release of an independent report that is expected to broadly condemn the county’s preparedness for the October 2017 Northern California fires.
According to those present at the private session, the report will find that, while Sonoma County’s emergency preparedness efforts had focused around routine events such as the flooding of the Russian River, the municipality was vastly underprepared for a disaster of the fires’ magnitude. The shortcomings noted by the Cal OES investigation reportedly include problems with the local warning system, inadequate coordination among entities, and failure to keep emergency personnel trained on the latest emergency-rescue techniques.
“[W]hen you think about these particular circumstances, they were caught short. And they, I would say, weren’t as prepared as they needed to be,” Mark Ghilarducci, Director of Cal OES, told reporters following the closed-door session, referring to local agencies’ response to the catastrophic fires.
Local officials tried to downplay the significance of the report, which focused on specific policies and procedures rather than the actions of individuals.
“To tell you the honest truth, a lot of it was not surprising to me,” commented Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Chairman James Gore. “[Ghilarducci] basically said there definitely were some coordination and some training issues.”
Among the main criticisms contained in the report is expected to be an analysis of the problematic local alert system. Ghilarducci blamed both the local alert system itself and the staff manning it for failing to keep up with the latest technology, which allows for better coordination and more precise targeting of alert messages. Instead, the county largely relied on a mishmash of opt-in services such as Nixle and SoCo Alerts.
The full Cal OES report is expected to be issued in the coming days.
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Santa Rosa Press Democrat “Sonoma County unprepared, uncoordinated in emergency reponse to October wildfires, state review finds”