Santiago, Jackson Co-Host First Hearing on Recent California Wildfires

Monday, December 4, 2017

(Sacramento, CA) – Earlier today, the Legislature held the first of many hearings examining the impact of the recent catastrophic wildfires in Los Angeles, Napa, Sonoma, and Lake Counties.  The hearing, co-hosted by Assemblymember Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles), Chair of the Assembly Committee on Communications and Conveyance, and Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), Chair of the Joint Legislative Committee on Emergency Management explored the effectiveness of California’s current public warning systems in the context of these most recent disasters.

 

The wildfires that swept across California this past October have become the second deadliest fires experienced by the state in the last century. The fires are responsible for the deaths of 44 people with hundreds still missing and over $3 billion in damage. While many hearings are likely to be held over the next year examining every aspect of this tragedy, these two committees have banded together to hold the first overview and begin the painful process of recovery and progress in California.

 

“Like most Californians, I was devastated to see the damage inflicted by October’s wildfires. Our first responders and local officials who battled these fires for weeks are all heroes. They often work with outdated materials and equipment and still manage to make miracles happen,” said Santiago. “It’s terrible that it takes tragedies such as these to highlight the inadequacies of our state and local alert, warning and public safety communications systems. But as chair of the Assembly Committee on Communications and Conveyance, I’m happy to be partnering with Senator Jackson to examine California’s technological infrastructure and capabilities so that when -- not if -- the next disaster strikes, we will maximize our chances for positive outcomes.”

“The recent wildfires that struck California were devastating to those who lost their lives and to the thousands of families who lost their homes, personal belongings and their livelihood,” said Jackson. “During a wildfire, people have precious minutes to get to safety. These hearings are critical to help us identify ways to make emergency alert systems more effective and to give the public more time to react during an emergency.”

When Assemblymember Santiago asked about how alerts differ between rural and urban areas and what challenges exist for first responders, the panelists had several responses. 

Michael Gabbert, Chair of the State Emergency Communications Committee noted that, “It’s very important that we make sure we don’t have excessive alerts which could anesthetize the public” to impending disasters referring to the number of alert systems (i.e. Amber Alert, Yellow Alert, Silver Alert, Blue Alert, etc.) that are now in place in California.

Michael Dayton, Deputy Director for the City and County of San Francisco’s Division of Emergency Services also stated that, “Redundancy is key; we can’t rely on apps” that exist for people with smartphones. He added that it’s incumbent upon families across California to take proactive measures to ensure that they are adequately receiving all possible emergency messages from their first responders.

Archived footage of this hearing, entitled “Sounding the Alarm: Examining the Performance of Emergency Warning Systems in California during the 2017 Fire Season,” can be viewed here.

Today’s hearing was the first of two scheduled this month on emergency communications.  The second one, scheduled for Thursday, December 14th, will be held in Los Angeles and will take a broader look at the new public safety communications capabilities and technologies slated for California in the coming years. More information on that hearing can be found here over the next few days.

Assemblymember Miguel Santiago is the Chair of the Assembly Committee on Communications and Conveyance, and a member of both the Assembly Public Safety Committee and the California Latino Legislative Caucus. He represents the 53rd District composed of the cities of Los Angeles, Huntington Park, and Vernon. 

CONTACT: Jackie.Koenig@asm.ca.gov, (916) 319-2053