aside California County That Warned Residents By Cell Phones Of Fires Had -0- Deaths

RED REPRESENTS DESTROYED STRUCTURES

During the October 2017 raging fires in northern California, only Lake County officials chose to activate the government’s most potent public notification system — a blast that overrides the volume controls on cellphones, turning them into the equivalent of squawking alarm to warn their 64,000 residents to evacuate due to imminent danger due to spreading fires. As a consequence, this county suffered no fatalities.

So, far, there have been the reported number of 40 deaths due to these fires with over 100 peoples having been reported as missing.

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Derek Watkins/The New York Times

As per the 10/14/17 NY Times article, “The inferno, known as the Tubbs fire, began Sunday, Oct. 8, and, as of Friday morning, was not expected to be fully contained until next Friday, Oct. 20. ”

“The wildfires across Northern California have destroyed at least 5,700 buildings. An analysis by The New York Times using satellite images in combination with its own ground surveys found that one fire in particular incinerated at least 5,100 structures, which would make it the most destructive wildfire in the state’s history.”

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DigitalGlobe

On October 13, 2017, Aaron C. Davis and Sandhya Somashekhar of the Washington Post penned the following report, “The only California county that sent a warning to residents’ cellphones has no reported fatalities.”

Excerpts:

“As wind-fanned flames raced across several counties in Northern California, only one activated the government’s most potent public notification system — a blast that overrides the volume controls on cellphones, turning them into the equivalent of squawking alarms.”

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LAKE COUNTY BEFORE FIRES

“The simultaneous wake-up call for many of Lake County’s 64,000 residents came shortly after 2 a.m. Monday (10/9/17), after county emergency officials decided to order a mandatory evacuation because of the inferno known as the Sulphur fire.”

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“We decided it was the right course,” Lt. Corey Paulich, spokesman for the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, said of the alert. “We felt that our residents were in imminent danger.”

“In neighboring Sonoma County, however, officials decided not to send an alert because of concern that it might cause panic and clog roadways, potentially blocking rescue workers or even leaving thousands exposed to shifting, wind-driven fires.”

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“The fires did not treat the nine affected counties equally, and the destruction in population centers was worse in Sonoma than anywhere else. But all 36 confirmed fire-related fatalities were in Sonoma and three other counties that did not send wireless alerts. No deaths have been reported in Lake County.”

“Five years after it was launched by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the use of the nation’s alert system remains uneven. And despite a campaign by FEMA to encourage local governments to participate, most U.S. counties could not order an alert today if they faced an emergency. More than 65 percent of the nation’s 3,500 counties do not have agreements in place with FEMA to send alerts through the Wireless Emergency Alert system, as it is known, the agency said.”

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“The alerts are sent to all phones in the targeted area, often accompanied by a vibration and a unique sound that FEMA says is “designed to get your attention.”

“But a trade group for wireless carriers credits the alerts with helping to save lives during extreme weather events and other emergencies, including a tornado in Connecticut and child abductions in many states.”

“Of the 4 counties in Northern California where residents were killed in fires this week, two — Sonoma and Mendocino — had agreements in place with FEMA that enabled them to send alerts. Yuba and Napa counties did not, according to federal records.”

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“That left Napa residents like Emily Cocks with no warning before fire appeared in view of her home. Cocks said that her husband woke up around 12:45 a.m. Monday after he heard branches hitting their bedroom window from high winds in the Atlas Peak area. Looking outside, the couple saw fire on the ridge above them. They packed their cats, some clothing and Cocks’s grandmother’s jewelry, then left for her parents’ home 100 miles to the south. Before they arrived, on a news report, Cocks’s father spotted the home in Atlas Peak engulfed in flames.”

“Of the lack of an alert, she said, “In hindsight, it would have been nice.”

“Molly Rattigan, Napa’s deputy county executive officer, said the county has long opted to do evacuations in person. “We’re a small community and going out to people in person, and helping them, that’s been what’s worked well for us,” she said.”

SONOMA COUNTY

“Napa used its Nixle service Monday night (10/9/17), a system that allows for a kind of reverse 911 calling and emergency text messaging to those who sign up voluntarily. Two people in the county died Monday; two more deaths were confirmed Friday. Before the fire, 20,000 people in the county of about 140,000 had signed up for the service, she said. Since Monday, the number has grown to 135,000.”

“Officials in Yuba County defended the decision not to rely on the alerts system. Cell service is spotty in the rural area, said Russ Brown, a spokesman for the county’s office of emergency services. Instead, Yuba used a reverse 911 system dubbed CodeRED, along with old-fashioned bullhorns and sirens, to wake people, Brown said.”

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“Brown dismissed the idea that a wireless alert would have prevented the four deaths from this week’s fires in the county, saying that cellphone towers were among the first structures overwhelmed by flames.”

“Emergency officials in Sonoma County, where fires incinerated whole neighborhoods in the city of Santa Rosa, said at a news conference Wednesday that the dwindling number of landlines added to the challenge of reaching people through reverse 911 calls.”

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SONOMA COUNTY

“Sheriff Rob Giordano urged Sonoma County residents to sign up for its voluntary system of emergency alerts — which, like Napa, Sonoma used to spread evacuation orders. As of earlier this summer, only 10,000 of the county’s 500,000 residents had signed up.”

“On Thursday (10/12/17), Sonoma County emergency officials offered a different explanation. They said they had consciously decided not to use the FEMA-backed wireless technology for fear of causing mass panic and “because the warning is not targeted,” said Jennifer Larocque, a county spokeswoman. But WEA notifications can and have been targeted to smaller geographic areas, FEMA said Friday (10/13/17).”

“The agency pointed to the wireless alert issued Monday at the request of Lake County officials. That alert went to a six-mile-wide swath of residents in and around the city of Clear Lake, according to a map provided by FEMA.”

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SONOMA COUNTY

“Among those who received the warning was Josy Range, who noticed a vague smell of smoke when she woke up unexpectedly around 2 a.m. Almost immediately, Range said, her cellphone erupted with messages, including one that was delivered with a sharp ring unlike an ordinary text message. “It sort of sounded like a siren,” she recalled.”

“The message read: “Mandatory evacuations for Sulpher Fire. Elem Colony & N. Clearlake Shelter ­@ Twin Pine,” according to FEMA.”

“I looked back at my house and I could see a row of flames on the hillside above it,” recalled Range, 65, who at that point pulled out her cellphone once more. “I said, I guess I should take a picture of this.”

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7 comments

  1. Dear Rob,

    You said it. There have been the LA fires, the election of Donald Trump as president, the Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, The Las Vegas Shooting; the Charlottesville, VA white supremacists’ rally that turned violent; the fires in North California plus all the tragedy around the world.

    It has been a horrible year for so many peoples.

    Hugs, Gronda

    • Dear Suzanne,

      I have to admit that the photos of northern California look so inviting. The brush fire risk is quite high as well as the possibility of an earthquake. If I were to live in California, I would rent.

      After living in Florida, I can definitely tell you that no place is perfect.

      Hugs, Gronda

  2. Gronda, this is such a tragic story that seems never ending. Too many factors are lining up to make these fires more frequent, worse and longer. I read a report in 2011 by Mercer Investment Consulting and the largest pension plan (or scheme) investment directors in the world, including CalPERS, on the cost impact of climate change. A quote from
    an Australian director said the impact of forest fires will only get worse with climate change as Australia has more than its share. This cost lives and huge rebuilding price tags. Keith

  3. Dear Keith,

    I used to be a sales agent for a casualty & property insurance company where I was licensed in almost every state in the country.

    I am writing to the CEO in my company as to what they are doing to end this republican denial nightmare. Homeowners insurance policies are going to be so expensive, and that is if the consumer can even find insurance to buy.Otherwise these insurance companies will be defunct.

    Hugs, Gronda

    • Gronda, what should be headlines to all, Georgia State University has one of the better risk management programs in the world. They have courses on teaching the impact of climate change on property risk. Marsh McLennan Companies is one of the largest insurance brokers in the world. They spend a significant amount of time with risk managers on insuring, reinsuring and defraying property risk increased by climate change. Yet, according to the President, his EPA head, his Energy head and the Republican Party, it is not a problem. So, my question is why are these insurance experts spending so much time on it then, when they could spend time elsewhere.

      What has already started happening is it is harder to insure property on the coast without limits, higher deductibles and higher cost. Companies have to have a higher first dollar cost on property insurance and limitation on the payouts. Some homeowners cannot get insurance at all. The same is becoming true in forest fire regions. This stuff costs lives and money, so it should be an issue for everyone. If a business person is naysayer, ask them if they have coastal resources and the impact on their insurance?

      Let me know what your old CEO says.

      Keith

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