SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - During the Cave Fire, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown was able to give very precise numbers on who evacuated. That’s because County Search and Rescue is utilizing state of the art technology in the palm of their hands.
Search and Rescue officials say after the Thomas Fire, the accountability they wanted wasn’t there but that’s all changed thanks to an app on their phones.
Like many things in this day and age, we’ve moved from hard copies to digital, including evacuations during a natural disaster - like the Thomas Fire.
“We would pull out a map, we would circle an area that is to be evacuated and then we would start to have to come up with assignments by hand,” said Nelson Trichler, Santa Barbara County Search and Rescue Incident Commander.
Once a homeowner was contacted, officials would have to physically write down on a sheet of paper whether or not the resident was home, their address, phone number, etc.
Trichler says because of that method, it used to take four to five hours before they could come up with an evacuation log. “Oftentimes we had teams that were double or triple-checking some areas it was very inefficient and a lot of wasted time,” he adds.
Trichler says they knew there had to be something out there that could help them do better.
“I think it’s just the philosophy of our Search and Rescue team. We try as much as possible to embrace technology, to find things that will make our jobs safer and more efficient and faster,” said Trichler.
First responders started using the Fulcrum app to do a damage assessment after the Montecito Mudslide.
Then Santa Barbara County Search and Rescue tested the data collecting app during storm evacuations after the mudslide.
“It’s sped up the process of getting assignments out. It’s tremendously helped us with accountability so that we can, within a few hours of evacuations, tell the Sheriff how the progress is going, how fast it’s going, how many people are staying, how many people are leaving,” said Trichler.
Now, Search and Rescue is one of the first agencies to utilize Fulcrum for emergency management purposes.
County evacuation zones are pre-loaded into the system and after extensive work in-house, parcels have been further refined.
“We know exactly what homes were contacted, what addresses, whether they’re leaving or staying if they have any special needs,” explained Trichler.
While it’s still a priority to go door-to-door, once a pin is dropped, the command post has instant results.
“If they have connectivity with the internet, once they drop that pin, whether they’re staying, evacuating, whether they have special needs, our command post staff will know that within a few minutes,” said Trichler.
Giving deeper, community-wide meaning to the phrase, “there’s an app for that.”
Since its a community service, Fulcrum lets the county use the app for free.