Mid-morning Friday, October 11, Fire Station 69 Captain Jeff Brown posted the following notice on Nextdoor: “As you can tell, we have a good amount of smoke in the air. This is from the brush fire on the north end of the San Fernando Valley.
“The Palisades is not in danger of this fire reaching us. We ask all Palisadians to keep informed on fire and weather conditions via the news on TV and radio. We ask, Please DO NOT CALL THE LOCAL FIRE STATIONS FOR INFORMATION. We have the same information the news is giving you. Thank you.” (Visit: lafd.org/news/saddle-ridge-brush-fire)
His post raises several questions: Are Pacific Palisades residents ready if there is a fire nearby? Where would alerts come from? What happens if a fire comes over the Santa Monica Mountains in the middle of the night?
Obviously calling the business line at Fire Station 23 or 69 is not the answer. If the fire is close, firefighters will be fighting the fire.
Circling the News asked Fire Station 69 Captain Tom Kitahata in May how people are notified if evacuations are needed. He said, “texts would go out first, then 911 reverse calls, then the L.A. Police Department would go through with a PA and finally the police would knock on doors.”
In a practice evacuation in Mandeville Canyon on May 19, with 400 residents participating, many people who have NotifyLA did not receive the text.
The City of L.A. has a mass notification system, NotifyLA, that goes directly to a landline. If you no longer have a landline, you MUST register your cell phone (Visit: cert-la.com/cert-la-news/alerts/) or you will not get alerts.
As many residents know, cell phone service at times is spotty in Pacific Palisades, so if you do not receive a text, then you will become dependent on your neighbor or LAPD to wake you and tell you to evacuate.
After the Malibu Woolsey fire last year, two Palisades residents Krishna Thangavelu, Ph.D and Maureen Grace, PH.D. looked at fire preparation in Pacific Palisades and realized that residents might be at risk because of a lack of notification and no evacuation plan.
They met with a task force of five LAFD and five LAPD members (including LAFD Chiefs Mark Curry and Operations West Assistant Bureau Commander Orin Saunders, as well as Training coordinators Sergeant Christopher Cox of LAPD and Chief Michael Johnson of LAFD).
At the meeting the women discussed problems during the Woolsey Fire:
- Power failure resulted in key traffic lights going out and causing gridlock on PCH.
- Cell phone service failure.
- More satellite phones needed. (The phones use iridium that work through smoke and haze.)
- Lack of traffic coordination on PCH.
- Confusion in chain of command, especially with out-of-town fire crews.
- CERT teams were not activated or allowed to enter Malibu.
Grace and Thangavelu wrote after the meeting that they were “reassured that the Pacific Palisades community is supported by a large, well resourced, well-trained, and well-integrated team of first responders. The issues and concerns we brought to the table from our assessment of Malibu’s damage from the Woolsey Fire are unlikely to happen in our better resourced large city.”
But they also wrote, “We must prepare for the worst-case scenario where residents are asleep, where cell phone towers are not working in high smoke areas, and where fire fighters and police officers are spread over large areas.”
The two worried about fire evacuations because of the high population to road availability. (There are only three roads in and out of Pacific Palisades.) Many residents live in the wildlife interface and some live on winding narrow roads, such as those streets in Castellammare and Paseo Miramar.
They suggested that LAPD and LAFD speak to officials in Northern California about implementing the European high-low siren.
This siren produces an “unfamiliar sound,” but alerts the public of emergencies. When people hear the siren, they are to seek media news (television, radio, reliable social media news sources) immediately. The plan was developed by Napa County Sheriff, John Robertson, and the siren has been implemented in Sonoma, Solano and Lake County Sheriff’s offices.
Grace and Thangavelu discovered that Oakland, California, which had one of the worst California wildfires “Oakland Firestorm of 1991,” has installed stationary outdoor warning sirens.
The City of Oakland posts a flyer: “The City of Oakland, and UC Berkeley have installed Alerting & Warning sirens to alert and inform their communities in a disaster.
“Sirens will sound in the event of dangers resulting from earthquakes, chemical spills, large fires, terrorist acts or other public safety incidents.
“Monthly testing: A 90-second slow wail tone will occur the first Wednesday of each month at noon to test both system readiness and enhance public awareness of the system.”
The women ask if a similar siren might not make sense in some Palisades areas, such as the Highlands, Sunset Mesa and Mandeville.
Finally, Grace and Thangavelu are asking for a traffic evacuation plan for Pacific Palisades.
“The lack of an evacuation study was named as a major failure in Paradise’s wildfire because they practiced individual zone evacuations and weren’t prepared for a total evacuation scenario,” the two said. “We continue to request that a study be done on how long it will take to evacuate residents.”