Emergency Management Matters

By Montecito Journal   |   February 7, 2023

I read with great interest Gwyn Lurie’s recent editorial Q&A with Montecito Fire Chief Kevin Taylor. As a retired Certified Emergency Manager, with 23 years of experience in County Emergency Management, I find these topics very interesting from both a personal and professional perspective.

I’ll preface my comments by saying that I have an enormous amount of respect for Chief Taylor. He is a seasoned expert in his field, and Montecito Fire is lucky to have him as their executive leader. Furthermore, I have great admiration and utmost respect for all the first responders who put their lives on the line to protect our community. That being said, I found myself both puzzled and frustrated by some of the information provided in the editorial. My observations are made from the perspective as a resident of Santa Barbara; watching the recent storm response unfold on the local news, social media, and reading the editorial. I’ll try to explain in more detail, and in the sincere hope that this is received as thoughtful, informative, and constructive.

Storm Risk Decision Team: According to the editorial, this group apparently consists of representatives from Santa Barbara City, Montecito Fire, County Fire, and the Sheriff’s Office. I’m surprised to see no mention of County Public Works/Flood Control as part of the group. In a significant weather event, Flood Control should be a lead player. County Flood Control consists of personnel who are subject matter experts that best understand the potential danger to the community, the capability of flood channels to manage the runoff, and the geographic areas of concern in case protective measures are necessary.

From an Emergency Management perspective, the Storm Risk Decision Team sounds like a version of a Multiagency Coordination (MAC) Group. MAC Groups are an excellent way to approach an incident that will involve a variety of field response agencies that need to work together. Again, for a significant weather event, Flood Control needs to be a key member. Additionally, if MACs are used in a large event, it is critical that they work in close partnership with the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). The EOC also works in conjunction with a Policy Group. It’s important that the Storm Risk Decision Team is working in tandem with EOC Management, and in turn the Operational Area Policy Group. Failing to do so can result in unnecessary redundancy, confusion, and conflicting goals and objectives. Any disconnect in the standard Emergency Management process can lead to errors in management decisions, emergency notifications, and public information messaging. More on EOCs below.

Evacuation Orders: There is a nuance to this topic that appears to have been confused. I respectfully disagree that the local Sheriff is the entity that determines “if an evacuation or protective order is given.” California Penal Code 409.5 gives law enforcement the authority to close an area and enforce evacuation orders. However, in the case of a significant weather event, 409.5 does not give the Sheriff sole authority to determine the boundaries of that area, or whether or not an order should be implemented. Subject matter experts (i.e., Flood Control) determine that need, and the location of any areas to be evacuated. The Sheriff Department’s role is to implement the order. To further clarify, in a wildfire, the Incident Commander (Fire Chief) would determine the area to be evacuated, that information would be communicated to law enforcement, and the Sheriff would then implement enforcement of that order. By the same token, if there was a bomb threat, the Sheriff would determine the extent of the area of evacuation, and also enforce restricted access and evacuation of that area.

EOC Activation: According to the Santa Barbara County Ordinance (Chapter 12), the Director of Emergency Services is the County Executive Officer, and the Director of Emergency Management leads the Office of Emergency Management (OEM). These executive leaders, in conjunction with the Chair of the Board of Supervisors determine whether or not to activate the Emergency Operations Center. The decision to open or close the EOC is not determined by first responder agencies. Fire departments have a defined field response role to fill during an incident, as do law enforcement agencies. Emergency Managers, however, have a much different role. OEM is an “umbrella” organization with a mission to coordinate, collaborate, and facilitate support for the entire event. The EOC acts very much like the “glue” ensuring that all the various agencies work together in a comprehensive effort to minimize adverse impacts of the significant event. The EOC exists to coordinate a broader county government effort, and support all entities involved: state agencies, county departments, cities, special districts, and non-governmental organizations. Some unique responsibilities of OEM are to establish and staff all the necessary functions of the EOC, and initiate and manage something known as the Action Planning cycle that assists local government in addressing all aspects of the incident in an effective and efficient manner. Important especially during an evacuation order, the EOC coordinates with County Social Services and the American Red Cross to stand up evacuation shelters so citizens ordered to leave their homes have a place to go. The EOC communicates and collaborates with all levels of local school districts impacted by closures or disruptions, and the EOC oversees a comprehensive and accurate Public Information function so that the public and the media stay fully informed with timely and accurate information. The EOC also activates Disaster Service Worker Volunteers, such as large animal evacuation teams, and Ham Radio operators should their assistance be needed. These are just a sampling of the broader responsibilities that fall under OEM and the EOC.

It’s probably obvious that I’m a strong supporter of the Emergency Management discipline. It truly is a complex management mechanism that has had proven success since its formal establishment in California over three decades ago. If empowered and implemented properly, the Emergency Management function can adequately support crisis response agencies, and at the same time minimize the adverse consequences that come from local disasters. Santa Barbara tends to receive more than its fair share of disasters. The key is to be fully prepared when they happen.

Joe Guzzardi

Certified Emergency Manager, Ret.
Santa Barbara 

A Net Positive

Thank you for Les Firestein’s excellent article on the science and success of the Swiss Ring Nets that worked as hoped for during the recent 18 inches of atmospheric rains. The strategically built and placed nets played an important role in the management, direction, velocity, and power of the recent storm’s debris flow. They provided a brake for our new debris basins to capture the material and create an effective defense system to protect homes, businesses, and lives.

Thank you for also reminding us that those effective and efficient nets were only permitted for five years under an emergency permit, which expires this coming December. It only makes sense for the nets to be made permanent and serve as the “one-two punch” for future rainstorms. Clearly, the best next step is for the County to extend the permits before they expire and expand the existing flood control system to help ensure the protection of our community. Now is the time to start a cooperative conversation to transition the “Swiss Nets” to the County purview. 

Mark Mattingly 

Parklet Removal

Regarding your article about parklet removal, which created a total of seven spaces… I feel the parklet at Renaud’s is unnecessary since there is a patio outside Renaud’s and the parklet is often vacant. I also feel the one at Folded Hills unnecessary since it is not a restaurant, and they have sidewalk space to use for outdoor wine tasting. The one across from Tre Lune could be removed as well since they have an outdoor space next to the new deli that is so much more desirable than sitting on asphalt on the street. These three spaces would add six more spots and benefit retailers as well as restaurants.

Julie Teufel

A Core Change

Daily street reality clearly demonstrates the failed policies of the past 40 years. As the failed anti-car groups and politicians continue to throw obscene amounts of your dollars at archaic transportation plans, they boast of “green” and efficient designs. Has anyone looked at the increasing congestion on streets? The economy has barely started to recover to 2018 levels, street capacity and intersections clog up, yet Sacramento beats the war drums of environmentalism.

Far reaching and serious implications have resulted in workers, middle class families, and corporate headquarters fleeing the State. So why is this continuing? It is called narrow viewed refusal to see reality.

So what comes out of City Councils, Board of Supervisors, County Association of Governments, Sacramento? “It will work.” Trust us. We are government and here to help you… sure it will.

Where are the designs for Emergency/Natural disaster? For the Big Government Types, it is lip service. They get away with it because they count on 20- to 30-year spans between Nature Catastrophes.

What is another refrain flowing forth from politicians? “Hold on – things are changing in the past few years.” It takes years of experience for farmers to determine optimal ripeness to harvest crops. It takes even more time for “players” to “time” the stock market and most of them go broke. How about that… ignore nature, potential disaster, and the needs of commerce to have customers access to the market. But as we said above… “Hold on, things are changing.”

All you have to do is see what Sacramento has done in transportation planning. The broken High-Speed Choo Choo, intentional forcing energy prices beyond the middle-class capacity, telling you cannot own or park a private auto. It is now beyond plotting to “strong arm” the people to give up cars… through this and taxation, and mileage taxes, while refusing to remove current punishing confiscatory taxes.

Any first-year undergrad freshman will tell you Balkanization of the cities is key to destruction of economies. All you have to do is see how efficient and smooth creation of common ground businesses will float the entire city. Yep float the entire boat and no one drowns.

2022 was unprecedented in terms of terrible price returns. Street narrowing and closing planning using companies like MIG is throwing taxpayer dollars in a sewer. How about that, Santa Barbara hires a company that killed Old Town State Street, starting 40 years (MIG) ago, then hires them again using the same failed concept! SBCAG spends over $26 million on less than one mile of the Obern bike path and boasts about it. Goleta violates the Brown Act, and then votes to spend over $1.0 million to narrow Old Town Hollister and praises they will be adding 25 “new” parking places (yes… $100K per parking spot) and causing congestion on a primary artery. There is much more.

Hey, did you hear the latest? The Earth’s core has desynchronized meaning the core has stopped spinning. Do you think just possibly this is causing the issues of Global Warming alarmism?

Physicists state the core spin will reverse shortly. Will the predicted reversal of the core spin enhance tectonic plate movement and the recent increase in volcanic activity?

So when you see the fantastic advances in engine development, think about the cost returns of billions of dollars spent on questionable projects because they are “green” and the anti’s refuse to acknowledge they just might be wrong. Again, as stated above they have to justify their plotting to “strong arm” the people.

Something to think about.  

Scott Wenz, President Cars Are Basic (CAB)


You might also be interested in...