A Net Benefit

By Nick Schou   |   December 12, 2019

In the wake of the devastating debris flows of January 9, 2018 that killed 23 people in Montecito, local residents gathered together to brainstorm a safety solution that could prevent a similar tragedy. The Partnership for Resilient Communities (TPRC) raised millions of dollars to purchase state-of-the-art steel nets – high-tensile ring nets designed by the Swiss firm Geobrugg and installed by the San Luis Obispo-based construction firm Access Limited.

So far, six of the nets have been installed in the canyons above town. Now, less than two years since the tragic disaster in Montecito – and having learned from the work done by TPRC – the Getty Museum in Los Angeles is installing the same nets on the property. According to Mike Rogers, the Getty’s facilities director, he began scouring the internet immediately after the so-called Getty Fire broke out on October 28, searching for information on post-fire mitigation measures that would work on the steep slopes surrounding the museum.

“This all came about by doing some quick research about who are the best people and companies to work with,” Rogers said. “In Santa Barbara and Montecito, a lot of work was done on this already. I spoke to my experts and we were able to very quickly identify the right people to talk to.”

Those people included Kevin Wiesman, vice president of Access Limited, the same outfit that installed TPRC’s nets in Montecito. Although Wiesman declined to comment for this story, both William Kane of Kane GeoTech, who worked with Wiesman and TPRC to install the Montecito nets, confirmed Access Limited’s important role in the industry. “I’ve worked with Kevin Wiesman for fifteen years,” Kane said. “He has more experience than anybody. And Geobrugg are the world leaders in research and mitigation using lightweight steel products.”

“Access Limited was one time under budget, and had zero safety problems,” added Pat McElroy, a retired Santa Barbara fire chief who is president of TPRC. “After the Getty Fire, Access Limited called McElroy and asked him to put in a recommendation on their behalf with the Getty. “So I called up Mike Rogers and told them who we were, who we worked with, and sent him everything we had, our permits, our biological work.”

Pat Butler, an assistant chief with the Los Angeles Fire Department, has worked with the Getty Trust for decades. He first became aware of the net technology adopted in Montecito last year when he bumped into McElroy on location at the Mendocino Complex Fire. “Pat told me about this new technology in Montecito,” Butler recalled. “We had sent teams to Montecito to do body recovery. I figured if there was anything we could do to protect our communities we should.”

After the Getty Fire, Butler talked to McElroy again and urged him to talk to Rogers at the Getty. “I told him how this would be an opportune moment to install nets in Los Angeles, where we have these canyons and draws. Pat made contact with the Getty and initiated discussions with them about employing nets there.”

Within 24 hours of the Getty Fire evacuation being lifted, Rogers already had a team on the ground evaluating where to place the nets. Although the museum sits on 110 acres that are visible to commuters along the 405 freeway, the Getty also owns another 640 acres behind the museum. “The fire burned in an open space area where there are canyons that drain down into L.A. City proper,” Rogers said. The canyons – Norman Canyon and Bundy Canyon – are just to the north and east of the museum.

“We are currently building four nets in Norman Canyon. Bundy Canyon is a bit more complicated, but we are trying to put some nets into the tributaries, and a large one at a debris basin we plan to expand.” Although designed in Switzerland, the nets are manufactured at a plant just outside Albuquerque, New Mexico; they are expected to be shipped out this week. Meanwhile, Rogers said, drilling has already begun in preparation for the first four nets.

Although the Los Angeles Dept. of Public Works has installed several k-rails – better known as temporary concrete freeway dividers – on the slopes below the Getty, the museum isn’t waiting for city funding to install the steel nets. “We’re paying for this,” Rogers said. “It’s important. We are doing community protection and trying to mitigate any damage that might happen to the community. It’s that simple. It’s the right thing to do.”

For his part, McElroy is excited that TPRC’s hard work paid off. “That is one thing we told our donors: We will share this. If we can help one community avoid what happened here, it will be worth it.”


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