If four fires and a flood in four years were not enough, add in a global pandemic, and it all could make a city want to revise its emergency action plan.
That’s exactly what motivated the city of Cloverdale, Calif., to work on an update to its 14-year-old plan, which now includes instruction about floods, fires, pandemics and other potential emergencies.
“We now have a strong document that will have us prepared for looming disasters,” Cloverdale City Manager David Kelley said.
He credits Cloverdale’s police Chief Jason Ferguson with embracing the project to update and “provide appropriate planning documentation to address the emergencies that are not a matter of ‘if’ but a matter of ‘when.’”
The update is also part of an overall emergency planning effort for all cities in Sonoma County.
The revised plan includes evacuation routes for helping residents navigate their way out of dangers present during a disaster such as a wildfire. “We probably should have had one a long time ago,” Kelley said.
Although Cloverdale has a population of about 9,200 residents, he said surrounding unincorporated communities increase that number along with visitors to the area’s farms, vineyards and towering redwoods.
Kelley said while there are roads passing through Cloverdale, Highway 101 is the main north-south road on which people would leave the area.
Ferguson said the planning team identified evacuation routes “that are critical for traffic safety and emergency response.” By establishing six zones in the area, they assigned a primary and secondary evacuation route for each zone that could be used in an emergency. While he admits that disasters evolve quickly and routes can be blocked by fires, floods and earthquake damage, they’ve given people in the area a guide for the best ways to exit Cloverdale.
The addition of these routes is a response to the need for rapid evacuation for wildfires. “We’re trying to get this in place before the fire season this year.
Dubbed CloveReady, the Cloverdale Wildfire Community Evacuation Plan includes three components: awareness, preparedness and activation.
The awareness piece of the campaign is designed to educate residents on what steps to take to increase their knowledge of changing conditions and the call for action by way of alerts and other media outlets, he explained.
The challenge for Cloverdale in this part of the plan is reaching all segments of the community, including those who do not speak English, and those with special needs.
“We are trying to take an equitable approach to this. Nearly 30% of our population speaks Spanish. We’re also sensitive to populations like caregivers and management groups who have others to consider,” Kelley continued.
Among these priority populations are homeless residents, people who don’t have access to a vehicle, seniors and people with disabilities, families with children, tourists and evacuees from other towns.
The preparedness phase is to provide guidance to residents to make smart investments in equipment and supplies that will ensure they are prepared to evacuate safely or shelter in place.
And finally, the activation phase of the policy for both evacuation and sheltering in place is designed to help residents meet their own household’s or immediate neighbors’ needs.
Kelley said the community is recruiting volunteers to create a network that can both inform and organize people to be able to take care of each other in the event of an emergency. This Resilient Cloverdale effort was born out of the 2019 Kincade fire.
The dilemma of mass sheltering has also been under consideration in the plan’s revision in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cloverdale incorporated the mass care and shelter guidance provided by the Sonoma County Department of Emergency Management.
Additions to the plan also include improvements to Cloverdale’s emergency operations center. These provide anyone working in the center with names and contact phone numbers to reach critical individuals and agencies. Ferguson said they have also compiled checklists for those working at the center who might be unfamiliar with procedures. “Whether or not you’re 100% confident in what your role is, there’s a checklist that you can go through and line-by-line check off.”
Up Route 101 in Lincoln City, Ore., Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Kenneth Murphy said his community is “indoctrinated in earthquakes and tsunamis.”
Until the Echo Mountain Complex fires in 2020, wildfires were not a great concern to area residents. “Most people didn’t believe a coastal community would have a wildfire.” The fire brought emergency preparedness to the forefront.
“In emergency management, our challenge is to convince people to be prepared.”
The Oregon town of about 9,000 also has a tourist population that swells that number every year.
“We are the third largest city in Oregon for vacation rentals with 500-600 vacation rental properties and thousands of hotel rooms.” That fluctuation in the population keeps the retired Federal Emergency Management Agency employee on his toes.
Murphy said Lincoln City has been a “fortunate community that has really never suffered a disaster.”
However, during a power outage, the north end of the community had to evacuate. “The evacuation didn’t go well.”
So, Murphy said the city began working on an evacuation plan keeping in mind that the many visitors to Lincoln City would provide a challenge in implementing the plan.
“We’re a small community with limited streets.” The section of Route 101 that passes through the city alternates between sections of four lanes and sections of two lanes. In an emergency, Murphy said it’s important to keep one lane open for first responders such as police, fire and public works vehicles.
All of this requires communicating the plan to the public, especially to those visitors to the area who may not face emergency evacuations at home.
“I would love to have the evacuation plan for disasters on the back of every hotel room door,” he added.
Another challenge in helping people plan for a disaster is encouraging them to think about priorities. If a person has several cars, a recreational vehicle and a boat, with limited highway capacity, it would be impractical to try to save everything. “But people are going to do what they’re going to do.”
To help Lincoln City residents plan for a variety of emergencies, the city’s website contains a 54-page Lincoln City Family Emergency Preparedness Handbook.
It provides both general instructions and directions specific to wildfires, tsunamis, earthquakes, floods and winter storms. Checklists, charts and questionnaires can help individuals, families and neighborhoods evaluate their resources and determine how to best weather whatever disaster comes their way. The handbook also teaches how to prepare and pack emergency supplies and where to store them to prevent damage.
Murphy said real-time communication to those evacuating is also a consideration. “What is the best way in case communication is down?” During the power outage, the local radio station could not broadcast because it didn’t have a generator.
He mentioned message reader boards and signage as options. Both Lincoln City and Lincoln County use Everbridge to provide alerts through phone, email, fax or text.
Cloverdale uses the NIXLE system for sending real-time alerts to residents who have signed up for the service.