MENDOCINO Co., 12/8/17 — During the recent fires residents of the counties affected found themselves alerted to the emergency by different means. Some got a landline call, some watched on the news as the fires approached over days, and but many were warned only by neighbors, or got no warning at all. The speed of the fire’s spread in Redwood Valley, late at night when many residents were already asleep, made warning particularly difficult. So, since day one of the fires the question has been asked, whether people were adequately warned and what more could have been done.
Forty-four people died in the fires, nine in Mendocino, and it will surely be several weeks or months before we have definitive accounts of how things went down in those first few horrible hours. Now, the five state legislators representing the areas of the North Bay and North Coast affected are banding together to push through legislation that would standardize the use of a warning system that went unused during the fire — the Wireless Emergency Alert system, an alert system created by the Federal Communications Commission.
A press release issued Thursday by the group of five state legislators calling themselves the “North Bay delegation,” made up of Senator Mike McGuire, Assemblyman Jim Wood, Senator Bill Dodd, Assemblyman Marc Levine, and Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, stated, “Legislation being introduced by Senator McGuire and the entire North Bay California Legislative Delegation in January will require every county in California to adopt the up-to-date Wireless Emergency Alert system with trained operators who can implement an evacuation order using the alert system. The legislation will also set out standards for when counties should use the system, the legislation will mandate that alerts have to be sent out via landline telephones, mobile phone devices and other mediums as well as guidelines and protocols for when and how the alerts should be sent.”
All five legislators are Democrats.
Here is the full text of the press release:
"North Bay Legislative Delegation to Introduce Bill Setting Statewide Emergency Alert Protocols
Sacramento, CA – California is experiencing a fire season like none other in our history. The unprecedented devastation during the October firestorm in Northern California is now ranked as the most destructive and deadly in American history, and we are now facing the huge fires raging in southern California.
The firestorm that ravaged Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties destroyed over 6,000 homes, scorched more than 170,000 acres, causing billions in damage and resulting in the death of 44 residents (there are still residents registered missing from the fires).
Thousands of neighbors, in the middle of the night on a Sunday evening, were caught unaware and their lives were saved by brave neighbors, friends, police and firemen going door to door. Residents reported that they did not receive emergency alerts during the peak of the evacuations, and after initial review, it's become obvious a statewide standard for emergency alerts must be established.
California’s North Bay legislative delegation will be introducing a bill setting statewide emergency alert protocols.
There are several different emergency warning systems available to counties that alert residents through cell phone calls, text messages, and landline recordings. Some systems require residents to “opt-in” to the alert notifications, and others have limitations on how they can be targeted in specific areas.
Legislation being introduced by Senator McGuire and the entire North Bay California Legislative Delegation in January will require every county in California to adopt the up-to-date Wireless Emergency Alert system with trained operators who can implement an evacuation order using the alert system. The legislation will also set out standards for when counties should use the system, the legislation will mandate that alerts have to be sent out via landline telephones, mobile phone devices and other mediums as well as guidelines and protocols for when and how the alerts should be sent.
“The size and scope of wild land fire events in California are only getting worse. It's clear there are shortcomings in our emergency alert system and residents deserve timely notifications and up-to-date information,” Senator Mike McGuire (D-North Bay) said. “Lives depend on the Legislature and Governor taking swift action to ensure statewide emergency alert standards are adopted, training is implemented and funding is secured to ensure communities big and small have reliable alert systems deployed.”
“When wildfires and other disasters strike, it’s critical that impacted residents get emergency alerts as quickly as possible,” said Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa). “Regardless of where you live in California, everyone should be able to rely on a comprehensive, modern warning systems that gets information to the people who need it, when they need it. Emergency alerts can save lives, which is why Senator McGuire and I are partnering with our colleagues in the state Assembly to advance a system that meets our twenty-first century needs.”
“The raging wildfires endangering Californians across the state is without precedent. Lawmakers must protect our communities with the best safety notifications available to prevent loss of life during emergency situations,” said Assemblymember Marc Levine (D-Marin County). “All California communities should have dependable emergency alert systems and be notified when lives are in danger.”
“The recent devastating fires in Northern California have put laser focus on our need to fix our emergency notification system,” said Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg). As we now see with the fires in Southern California, the time is now to protect our residents with a system that works for everyone, both urban and rural.”
“As a Member of the Joint Committee on Emergency Management, we heard testimony this week on how critical it is for local governments to alert our mutual constituents in times of crisis,” said Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters). “I’m happy to join in this effort with my legislative and local government colleagues, and I look forward to continuing our work together that started during the North Bay wildfires. As the recovery continues, we must also stay vigilant to protect people in the event of future emergencies.”