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Emergency alert systems may have its own crisis reaching the public

A state hearing has been held to work on fixes to state emergency alert systems that may not be able to reach the public in the time of a crisis.

Relying on cell phones messages, text alerts, emails or siren systems is a sweeping effort to cover all the bases but it still has reliability issues.

Technical and media options aren’t always effective to reach all citizens.

The hearing was held in the Carpinteria City Hall and many state officials and first responders attended.

State Senator Marc Levine (D) San Rafael, recently talked to survivors of fire in Northern California. “I listened to both survivors and public safety personnel who detailed countless close calls and horror stories from the initial hours of evacuation” he said.

The disasters hitting the state in the last two years have been described as overwhelming and beyond some planning expectations. Assemblymember Monique Limon (D) Santa Barbara said “the magnitude of what we have live in the State of California has grown to an extent that we really didn’t think was possible.”

The range of fire behavior for example has been increased by the prolonged drought. “Heavy fuels being caught up as burning embers in the column and dropped miles ahead of the fire starting new fires in and around communities that trap people that are trying to get out in that direction,” said Thom Porter with the California Department of Forestry.
Phone alerts on major disasters sometimes have had flawed deliveries.

“Instead of sending it out all over why isn’t there technology and I have no idea that could hit target people that are in those areas.” said Rob Lewin with the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management.

In addition to an emergency there are also other calls that the system has to manage. “People still need to call 911 when you are having a heart attack while the fire is occurring right? So we establish immediately when we issue an evacuation orders or shelter in place order in Ventura County we establish that emergency hotline ,” said Kevin McGowan with the Ventura County Office of Emergency Services.

Cell phone providers have also been asked to be part of the solution. State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D) Santa Barbara said, “we need them to provide us with the information we need to better inform people to be sure that they get that information so that the alert systems go to people in those relevant areas, and the information is accurate and timely.”

The meeting also included a discussion about emergency alerts for the non-English speaking population.

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