Santa Rosa, CA – October 5, 2018 – The Sonoma County fires were a national tipping point in a new era of public expectations versus government capabilities when it comes to alerting and warning the public of dangers. The public expect to know within minutes, if not seconds about threats that could affect them, and they anticipate the government will provide extensive details about how and where the threat is evolving. Understanding in more detail how local and federal alert and warning systems function, including their capabilities and gaps, will help improve Emergency Manager’s ability to provide critical warnings to the public when future disasters occur.
In order to gain a better understanding of how these systems function in our community, Sonoma County Division of Emergency Management, in collaboration with local public safety agencies, conducted a first of its kind alert and warning exercise on the West Coast of the United States on September 10 and 12, 2018. The exercise included a survey for the public to provide feedback to help identify gaps and improve emergency alerts. This information will help emergency management officials create messages that are more effective, and develop protocols to more efficiently target and send messages.
Findings based on survey results collected from the exercise demonstrated that each of the alert and warning tools have specific strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, the exercise verified the need for improvement of the federal Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system capabilities. The data collected from survey responses indicate that Emergency Managers cannot rely on the Federal WEA system to provide targeted alerts.
“Critical events faced by today's public safety agencies cannot be effectively managed without cooperation and coordination from all sectors of industry, said Chris Godley, Sonoma County Interim Emergency Manager. Having an increased understanding of how the telecommunications providers disperse alert and warning messages would allow Emergency Managers to make better decisions when distributing life-saving information.”
Additionally, the publicity of the tests resulted in a 38% increase of subscribers to SoCoAlert and a total of 3,678 members of the public responded to the survey.
“The focus of the test was on technology, but in reality, that’s just one part of the toolkit, and we learned it’s not 100% reliable,” shared Chairman of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, James Gore. “This exercise should be a call to all Sonoma County residents to talk to your neighbors, have a plan, build a kit, and know your evacuation routes.”
To review the After Action Report, visit http://sonomacounty.ca.gov/FES/Emergency-Alert-Testing.