AMU Emergency Management Original Public Safety

Sonoma County to Revamp Emergency Operations after Last Year’s Fatal Tubbs Fire

By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest

The Board of Supervisors in California’s Sonoma County are restructuring their emergency operations after an internal report found that emergency workers were unprepared for the major fire that swept through the region in October 2017.

The Tubbs Fire destroyed 5,143 homes and killed 23 people in Santa Rosa. Many of the victims were elderly and disabled.

CNN reported that the Tubbs Fire consumed 36,807 acres and was the most destructive of the blazes that plagued Napa and Sonoma counties that month.

County officials drew quick criticism for their decision not to alert all area residents as the wildfire devastated local neighborhoods.

Phone Evacuation Orders Did Not Reach all Residents

Sonoma County officials placed nearly 50,000 calls to cell and landline phones to issue evacuation orders. However, “only 15 percent of those calls were answered, leaving some residents with little notice of the rapidly spreading conflagration,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported in January.

According to a report in Monday’s Chronicle, the restructuring of county emergency operations will include a new, improved wireless alert system. The new system is designed to alert residents’ cell phones by vibrating or sounding an alarm in an emergency.

Also, the restructuring plan calls for a countywide emergency warning system that will include sirens. In addition, Sonoma County supervisors approved recommendations to strengthen county training requirements, clarify roles and hire more emergency staff.

Sonoma County Emergency Workers Were Overwhelmed, Understaffed and Inadequately Trained

County officials analyzed everything from the operations center to training. They concluded that county emergency workers were overwhelmed, understaffed and not adequately trained to handle the logistics in such an emergency, according to the Chronicle.

The findings of the county staff report are similar to the conclusions released in February by the California Office of Emergency Services. The state report found, among other things, that Sonoma County’s procedures for issuing emergency alerts to residents were “uncoordinated and included gaps, overlaps and redundancies.”

“The wind-whipped Tubbs Fire was the worst of several fires that raged through Sonoma,” the Chronicle noted. “It raced 12 miles into Santa Rosa, destroyed the Fountaingrove neighborhood, jumped Highway 101 and burned down the neighborhood of Coffey Park.”

David E. Hubler brings a variety of government, journalism and teaching experience to his position as a Quality Assurance Editor. David’s professional background includes serving as a senior editor at CIA and the Voice of America. He has also been a managing editor for several business-to-business and business-to-government publishing companies.

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