September is National Disaster Preparedness Month. Hooray! But here in Topanga, where brush fires, earthquakes, and rock slides often seem as routine as eating and sleeping, disaster preparedness is a year-round effort.
The two main disasters that require pre-planning are wildfires and earthquakes.
Fires get most of the attention because they happen more frequently, spread quickly, and sometimes trigger evacuations. Because fires don’t immediately announce themselves to a wide area like an earthquake does—especially if a fire starts in the middle of the night—you need multiple ways to get early notification.
- PulsePoint app and Cal Fire’s Ready for Wildfire app will push notifications to your mobile phone.
- Alert.lacounty.gov—LA County’s mass notification system sends alerts to landlines, wirelines, and mobile phones, plus texts and emails. You must actively sign up.
- Twitter—Follow @TCEP90290, @LACoFDPIO and local news stations.
Once you know there’s a fire, or following a big earthquake, you need accurate updates on what’s happening so you can learn of evacuation orders and make informed decisions. Stay tuned to:
- TCEP website—tcep.org/emergencystatus
- TCEP Hotline—(310) 455-3000
- Broadcastify.com—Listen to Los Angeles County Fire Blue 3 radio
- KNX 1070 AM; KFI 640 AM
- TCEP’s Top-of-the-Hour report on FRS channel 15—Short updates are transmitted only during major events when TCEP is fully activated
- Ham radio: Go to qualitymatrix.com/hamclass to get on the air
Use as many of these notification and information update resources as you can, because none of them are guaranteed to work 100 percent of the time.
PLAN FOR POWER OUTAGES
Many of the recent deadly California wildfires were likely caused by arcing power lines. To lessen the chance of that happening here, Southern California Edison (SCE ) has developed their Public Safety Power Shutoff program (PSPS). In extreme fire weather conditions (Edison has their own definition of what that means—not necessarily Red Flag), SCE may shut down entire electrical circuits and keep the power off until conditions improve.
Problem is, Topanga’s communications infrastructure, including telephone, internet, TV and cell phones, relies on electricity. Without power, none of the emergency alert systems will work reliably. You may not even be able to call 911 for medical emergencies.
The telecoms, utilities, and public agencies don’t yet have solutions for this. Having your communications shut down during the very conditions that would cause a small brush fire like the July 26 Cheney Fire (Community House) to become a Woolsey-type conflagration is not a comforting scenario. If residents could not be alerted to a major wildfire, it would make the “Public Safety” part of the PSPS program look tragically ironic.
For now, we all need to consider installing backup power at our homes—at least for critical communications like telephone, internet, and Wi-Fi cell calling. This type of minimal backup power could be provided by a small generator or battery. TCEP has researched a few options. Download them at: t-cep.org/fbdocs/TopangaUnplugged5-4-19.pdf
PREPARE A PLAN, PRACTICE YOUR PLAN
- Map out evacuation routes and create lists of what you need to take with you. Video your home—inside and out—including all possessions in every room to make insurance claims easier in the event of loss. If you grew up before cell phone cameras, scan all of your print photos and digitize old taped movies of Johnny’s first birthday. Then store everything in the cloud.
- On Red Flag days, practice your plan by grabbing everything on your evac list and packing the car to see what fits and how long it takes.
- Harden your home against embers (ntcfsc.org) and secure your home to protect against earthquakes (earthquakecountry.org/prepare/)
- For more tips on family emergency plans, refer to the Topanga Disaster Survival Guide at topangasurvival.org and Ready.gov.
PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE
The Topanga Emergency Management Task Force (TEMTF) is studying the following initiatives:
- Sirens—Designed to send out an audible “get out now” alarm even if grid power is out.
- Low-power local AM radio station—Similar to the radio stations near airports, this station could provide Topanga-specific evacuation details.
- Weather radios—These special radios are used in other parts of the country to warn of tornadoes. A form of push notification, the radio sits in a standby mode and can be activated by state agencies for emergency notifications. Using the system for wildfire notification hasn’t been done before, but it’s technically possible.
- Canyon mass evacuation plans—It’s critical to keep traffic flowing out of the canyon and onto to PCH with minimal gridlock. This requires coordination between LA County Fire, Sheriff, CHP, LAPD, and Santa Monica PD, among others.
We can’t prevent disasters. But the more prepared you are, the less stress you’ll experience when something bad happens. It’s like insurance. You hope you never have to use it, but you feel safer having it in place.
Scott Ferguson is Board Chairman of TCEP — the Topanga Coalition for Emergency Preparedness