Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Fire chief calls disaster communication essential


Santa Barbara Fire Chief Ron Prince told City Council that getting information to the public is one of the key issues in determining how prepared Santa Barbara is to handle a major disaster.
Chief Prince presented a report to the Council yesterday on what fire officials are doing to make Santa Barbara a more disaster-resistant community.
“In the event of a disaster, the measure of how well we did will be determined by how well we communicate with the public,” Chief Prince said.

He highlighted several projects that aim to disseminate vital information to residents if Santa Barbara is hit by a wildfire, tsunami, earthquake, or other major disaster. Among those projects is a new website launched by the city,, which provides information on emergency preparedness and evacuation plans.
In addition, Chief Prince said his staff is working on developing the 2-1-1 information hotline.
“As more and more people learn about it,” Chief Prince said, “it will take a lot of pressure off of our emergency dispatchers.”
In the future, he said emergency officials plan to look into using a low-power AM radio station to broadcast messages as well as working with reverse 9-1-1 technology that will allow emergency workers to call residents to warn them of an impending disaster.
Providing as many sources of information to the public as possible is essential, Chief Prince said, adding, “There is just no one panacea that is going to help us get the word out.”
Michael Harris, director of emergency operations for Santa Barbara County, echoed Chief Prince’s emphasis on getting vital information to the public in an emergency and pledged the support of his staff.
“The County of Santa Barbara is totally committed to working with cities to get information to the people,” Harris said.
Councilmember Grant House emphasized the need for residents to develop an emergency plan regardless of what resources the city may be able to provide.
“Each household needs to be prepared,” Councilmember House said, “so if they can’t get information, if they can’t get help right away, they can survive.”
Chief Prince also discussed recent efforts to educate the public about emergency situations, including training programs and presentations to children. The city gained five new instructors for Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training sessions, which are 8-week courses for local residents in fire safety, triage and medicine, search and rescue, and other areas of disaster response.
Over the past two years, Chief Prince said, about 400 people have taken and graduated from CERT classes. In the past year, his staff has also given more than 500 public education presentations and provide emergency training for 600 kids, he said.
A full-scale evacuation drill of the Riviera also took place earlier this year, which Chief Prince said was very successful with 70 percent of residents participating in the exercise.
“They really put forth a great to help us evaluate [evacuation plans for the Riviera],” Chief Prince said.
Councilmember Das Williams suggested holding a similar drill for city employees, and the fire chief said he is definitely planning exercises involving staff in the future. In addition, Chief Prince said he hopes to work with county officials in the coming months on a tsunami preparedness plan.

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