By SARAH SHMERLING | Editor-in-Chief
The Pacific Palisades and Brentwood community councils co-sponsored an Emergency Preparedness Town Hall the evening of September 23.
Over the course of the two-hour virtual town hall, five expert speakers provided information about wildfires, fire and earthquake preparedness, the Ready Your LA Neighborhood program, and the Los Angeles Fire Department’s implementation of drones.
The first presentation of the evening, “Southern California Wildfires: Causes and Appropriate Responses,” was delivered by Dr. Jon Keeley with the U.S. Geological Survey. Keeley began his segment by explaining the key differences between fires in Northern versus Southern California.
“The big difference between north and south is the north has a huge fuel problem because we put out fires,” Keeley explained. “The primary problem we deal with in the southern part of the state are these extreme winds we get in the autumn called Santa Ana winds.”
Keeley emphasized the five Ps of wind-dominated fires in Southern California: people, prevention, protection, planning and prediction. He reported that population growth is a big threat for wind-driven fires, as “100% of these fires are ignited by people,” adding that the majority of large fires in the last decade have been ignited by powerline failures, most often caused by inadequate maintenance.
“It’s a more positive message in my mind,” Keeley shared. “Things like powerline failures and arson are things that we can actually have an impact on relative to climate change issues, which are much harder to directly change.”
Next up to speak was LAFD Disaster Preparedness Officer Captain II Rico Gross, who covered planning, CERT, what happens the first hour after a major earthquake and fire.
“[LAFD has] a clear mission, that’s protect lives and property,” Gross explained. “That means when there’s something burning … we’re not going to give up. We’re going to employ the appropriate resources, and that’s done by daily informational briefings, weather reports and forecasts, and really just a stout and robust fire department protecting you.”
When it comes to wildfire preparedness in Los Angeles, Gross explained the importance of fire prevention, including brush clearance, and restricted parking during red flag warnings.
“I cannot tell you how many times we try to drive our apparatuses in certain areas and we cannot because it’s blocked,” Gross shared. “We need to address that, and that’s just one little thing that when you walk out in the morning and see, ‘Oh, I could ask my neighbor to move their car,’ to address that.”
One of the resources Gross shared with attendees was a link to LAFD’s Emergency Preparedness Guide, which is available at cert-la.com/EmergPrepBooklet.pdf. The guide covers everything from alert systems to what to do before, during and after earthquakes, power outages, wildland fires, and more.
“Becoming informed, becoming a part of your community, understanding what you’re doing in your own home and having these provisions, regardless of how bad it is outside,” Gross shared of how people can help themselves prepare, “that vulnerability—the fragility—is decreased.”
City of LA Emergency Management Department’s Crisanta Gonzalez, who works with Ready Your LA Neighborhood, presented on preparing for fire and earthquake with the program in place.
Ready Your LA Neighborhood—or RYLAN—is a free program created by the Emergency Management Department designed to help “neighborhoods to come together and prepare for any disaster or emergency,” according to a slide shared by Gonzalez.
“RYLAN provides the tools to prepare and organize neighborhoods to respond together in the first ‘Golden Hour’ after a disaster to reduce injuries, protect property and the environment, but most importantly to save lives,” the slide continued.
The program is seeking additional volunteers who are willing to help their areas prepare by hosting a Map Your Neighborhood meeting where neighbors will create a response plan, either virtually or in person. Neighbors will also establish contact, skills and equipment lists. Groups are also encouraged to practice for disasters and sign up for the city’s emergency notification program, Notify LA.
Those interested in learning more or signing up can do so at readyla.org.
Captain Ted Kalnas and firefighter David Danielson with the LAFD Done Program closed out the town hall by speaking on the early warning system and tactical uses, highlighting the benefits as ranging from locating lost hikers to saving “thousands and thousands” of manhours for the department.
“Several years ago, we went to the drones to be able to better get an idea of what’s going on in the hillsides,” Kalnas explained of why the department brought in drones in 2017. “It’s a pre-fire, or fire prevention, tool.”
Danielson reported the drones are used in a close proximity platform to provide an aerial view that otherwise would not be possible without the use of a helicopter, which are expensive for LAFD to run, at thousands of dollars per hour.
“We’re minimizing the resource, we’re preventing injuries on our firefighters and we’re able to objectively tell the incident commander that area is now safe, so it’s a time management tool,” Danielson said.
Kalnas and Danielson explained that the drones are able to fly and scope the scene in areas that are not always easily accessible by firefighters on foot. They can also be used to inspect brush clearance in much less time than it would take otherwise.
“I wouldn’t be investing myself into this program if I didn’t believe that it was safe, it was sane, it’s a means of mitigating firefighter risk and safety, and it gives back to the community in a way that force multiples what the fire department already does,” Danielson concluded.
For those who missed the town hall, Brentwood Community Council will be separating and posting the four presentations at 90049.info.
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