LAFD Addresses Highlands Fire Safety

Over 160 Palisadians met Tuesday evening, March 19, at Calvary Christian School to discuss safety protocols in the event of a wildfire.

Los Angeles Fire Department West Bureau Deputy Chief Armando Hogan and Assistant Chief Orin Saunders were at the meeting to answer questions posed by residents.

“Some of the things I’m going to say tonight you’re not going to like, but I’m not going to sugar coat it, I’m going to be totally honest,” Hogan said. “I want to … make sure that we are partners. I want to collaborate with you, hear what your challenges are, your concerns are, and how we can best work together.”

Two months prior to the meeting, Hogan and Saunders toured The Highlands with Pacific Palisades Community Council Representative Steve Cron and Field Deputy Lisa Cahill with Councilmember Mike Bonin’s office, agreeing to conduct another tour of the area in early April.

At the Tuesday meeting, Hogan and Saunders presented a PowerPoint slideshow that discussed what residents of The Highlands can do to prepare themselves for a situation that may be inevitable.

“We want to recognize and prepare for a potential disaster,” Hogan said. “Will we have total comfort? Probably not. But at least you’ll be educated and be able to know what’s what.”

The Highlands is especially susceptible to wildfire, with brush surrounding the neighborhood and Palisades Drive the sole route in or out.

Topics covered by Hogan and Saunders included defensible spaces (tree trimming and debris removal within 200 feet of structures or 10 feet of the road), emergency supply bags, pet documentation, and establishing a neighborhood plan.

“People ask me: Chief Hogan, will you give us evacuation maps?” Hogan said, explaining that some residents get lost trying to evacuate on unfamiliar routes. “No, I will not, and here’s why: In an emergency … we don’t want to create an incident out of an incident.”

Hogan also discussed the use of NotifyLA, a free alert system for emergency notifications that will be used in the event of a wildfire.

“This is our notification process … you’ll get all the information that’s taking place,” Hogan explained. “Things will be happening in the Valley but you’ll still get notified because that could affect you, especially with the corridor along the 405.”

NotifyLA will be the go-to system for early warning notices, disaster notifications, evacuation notices and public health notices.

Residents asked Hogan what they should do if cell phone reception is spotty or if landlines go out.

“One of the things we’ve addressed with service providers is the ability to bolster [your service],” Hogan said. “I get it—that’s worst case scenario. The other thing we need to do collectively is look at what is our neighborhood plan? What do we do when our fire department isn’t there in five or 10 minutes? Because I can’t promise in a disaster that we’re going to be there in five minutes, even though that’s our goal. We want to find out from you all what we can do to provide better service.”

“One question we get a lot is, ‘How do you know where to evacuate people?’” Saunders added, explaining the difference between evacuation orders, evacuation alerts and shelter-in-place orders (when evacuations are more dangerous than staying put).

“The thing is, conditions change,” he continued. “When we send out the alert through NotifyLA … that 30 minutes when the fire is approaching is not the time you want to be deciding what to put in your go bag. That time is now. Once you receive that evacuation order, it’s time to leave.”

Hogan explained that emergency services would put resources in the area and have personnel present to direct residents out of the area.

“If Palisades Drive is closed then we would shelter you in place if we can’t get you out of there,” Hogan explained. “I know that’s not a popular decision … it’s site-specific. We have to look at what happens first.”

Residents posed questions regarding tree removal in The Highlands and the upcoming construction of an eldercare facility along Palisades Drive affecting evacuations.

“Whatever happens, the fire department … we just adjust,” Hogan said. “We do what we need to do. We can’t comment about what’s allowed to be built.”

One resident questioned why The Highlands couldn’t have an air siren as an emergency alert system.

“I have heard that discussion. We haven’t explored that as of yet but we will definitely look into that,” Hogan said.

To be part of the Highlands emergency alert system and email chain, email pphighlandsrep@gmail.com.