CA Official: Alerts Reliant On Telecoms’ Profit, Not Public Safety


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The Thomas Fire burns in the hills north of the Carpinteria Valley Monday  (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo) Click here for an interactive map of evacuation areas in Santa Barbara County.  Seventy strike teams with fire engines are battling the fire with help from 10 dozers staffed with 30 personnel, eight hand crews with 160 personnel, 28 helicopters, six water tenders with 12 personnel, four fixed winged tankers and two VLATs, known as a 747 or very large air tanker.

With more fires moving faster than ever before in California, authorities are issuing more evacuation orders, earlier. And that’s placed a spotlight on emergency alert systems, which are controlled by local authorities, according to KPCC Radio.

Hours before the Thomas Fire hit Ventura County last Monday, the head of the California Office of Emergency Services told state legislators that he wants to standardize how and when authorities issue evacuation orders. Pointing to the deadly October fires in Northern California, he said notifying people to get out of the way of fast-moving flames is more critical than ever, KPCC reported.

“The events we’re seeing in California today are very complex, and the scale, scope and size are a tremendous challenge to us,” stated OES Director Mark Ghilarducci. He said Governor Brown plans to ask state lawmakers to provide more money to improve alert systems, which have evolved dramatically over the years.  

“We need to develop and implement standardized processes that really guide all of the users into a standardized practice,” he told legislators, noting alert systems are reliant on the infrastructure of private telecom companies – whose primary mission is not public safety.  “While I would say that the partners at the telecoms also believe in that, their ultimate mission is bottom line driven,” Ghilarducci said.

During October’s deadly fires, some cell phone towers burned and failed to issue warnings. Those towers need fortifying, said State Sen. Hannah Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), who chairs the Joint Legislative Committee on Emergency Management. “Should the state be investing more, should the private sector be called upon to do more – that’s one of the questions we should be asking,” told KPCC.

The chairman of Ventura County’s Board of Supervisors said he wants state money to publicize their VC-Alert system. “That kind of funding could really help us to get more people receiving alerts,” said Supervisor John Zaragoza.

Governor Brown is expected to ask for millions of dollars in new investment in alert systems. Senator Jackson predicted legislators would approve at least some new funding, reported KPCC.

“I think they will,” Jackson said. “This has been a rather profound fire season. And it’s not over yet.”

December 13, 2017                               

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