Editor’s note: Circling the News ran a story on October 11 headlined “Saddleridge Fire Has 13 Percent Containment: Two Residents Ask If Pacific Palisades Is Prepared for a Fire.” If a fire came up quickly over the Santa Monica Mountains, would hillside/canyon residents be able to evacuate safely? A planned evacuation was held in Mandeville Canyon in May with mixed results because cell-phone reception (and texts from NotifyLA) did not reach many residents.
Maureen Grace, Ph.D. and Krishna Thangavelu, Ph.D., had done research about Palisades escape routes, particularly after the Paradise Fire, where those residents also had limited evacuation routes. After running the October 11 story, I suggested that they reach out to Councilman Mike Bonin’s office and L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s office, which they did. I also suggested that they contact the Pacific Palisades Community Council. They sent a letter to the PPCC, and secretary Chris Spitz responded: “Thank you Krishna and Maureen: I do feel that the best persons to address your concerns are our elected officials and/or their reps. I’m cc’ing our Vice-Chair David Card as well, in case he has any other suggestions.” Grace responded to Spitz.)
“Most people are not aware that the best practices that have evolved from fires in Northern California involve the use of sirens. Napa and Sonoma Counties have put them in since their fires. The City of Oakland has them and educates their citizens with a once-a-month drill. Mill Valley just put in sirens that can also communicate verbal warnings that go out one mile from their location.
“Mill Valley’s siren system is enabled by satellite and has a battery back-up in case of loss of power. The City of Berkeley is now considering implementing them.
“Oakland and Berkeley are urban areas with hilly terrain. The Oakland fire of 1991 was devastating in life and property, thus they sought a resilient warning system.
“The recent information from Councilman Bonin about a solar-powered WiFi system that would function to send alerts in poor cellphone areas is unproven and we need more information to assess it as a tool.”
“Some obvious issues are that solar panels don’t work well in smoke and haze and get covered by soot in fires. Additionally, without adequate charging, the WiFi won’t be reliable.
“While this technology may be useful in some cases, we need proven technology for alerting that is being used and is available now. Lives depend on it.
“In the current Saddleridge fire, the community complained that there were no alerts due to cellphone towers burning down.
“We need to take this alert system weakness seriously and learn from regions who are addressing this issue with proven technology–sirens.”
(Grace sent a link to the 90-second siren system now being used in Mill Valley [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oi3mB_0XIxQ] to Circling the News.)
Besides money, time, reliance on outside contractors and government
the Achilles Heel of a fancy electric or solar power warning system is
a PG&E power shutoff, smoke and haze. In WWII there were air raid
wardens on every block. Today, a DIY comms system of battery power
walkie talkies could keep them in touch with each other – and with a
command post. Hand powered sirens with 1/2 mile range are available.
Time to stay low tech. Remember Paul Revere.