Sonoma County Does a ‘180’ on Emergency Protocol After North Bay Fires

UPDATE  In October 2017, when wildfires raged in Sonoma County, the alerts dispatched by emergency personnel did not reach all residents. Now, leaders say they’ve overhauled their emergency alert system after a state audit found the county was understaffed and had a “limited awareness and understanding of the Wireless Emergency Alert system” (WEA) and its capabilities during the North Bay Fires.

NBC Los Angeles reported more than 30 additional staff members are now trained to issue WEA messages, with roughly six authorized users on duty at any given time.

In March, Sonoma County hired Chris Godley to serve as Interim Emergency Manager and help redesign its emergency alert procedures. Godley told NBC Bay Area, “In any event that’s threatening life or significant property, we will make use of all of our alert warning systems, and that includes the wireless emergency alert system. Our community has very clearly indicated at this point they’re OK with being over-warned,” Godley added.      

One component of this is employing WEA. It was not used last fall during the fires, because management never used the system, personnel were not properly trained, and few were authorized to send alerts, reported NBC Los Angeles. County officials also feared that sending a blanket message to 500,000 residents would cause panic. At the time, the procedures and policies “were misunderstood,” according to the account.

“Having learned from those experiences, the county has made a number of changes. For one, the county does make use of WEA now,” Godley said. Emergency responders used WEA twice this summer to warn residents about potential disasters.  

On September 12, Sonoma County plans to conduct a WEA test to collect more data and determine which carriers have trouble receiving alerts in certain areas, Inside Towers reported. “By this time next year, Sonoma County will be a leader in California. Not just in alert warning, but in it’s an emergency management program,” Godley said. Comments? Email us.

September 14, 2018

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