October 22, 2014

Canyon Evacuation Drill Prepares Residents for Fire Emergency

 

PHOTO BY ANNEMARIE DONKIN MESSENGER © 2014

Canyon Evacuation Drill Prepares Residents for Fire Emergency

Los Angeles County Fire Battalion 5 Chief Anthony Williams briefs Firefighters, Sheriff’s Deputies, California Highway Patrol, members of T-CEP and Topanga CERT volunteers during the morning briefing at King Gillette Ranch on April 26.

The first call to residents from Alert L.A. came around 9 a.m. on Saturday, April 26, to 5,000 phones in Topanga; the drill scenario was that a wildfire had started in Topanga State Park and was moving rapidly toward the west with winds of about 35 mph.

By noon, the second Alert L.A. was issued: The fire had spread throughout the Canyon and evacuation to either Taft High School or Palisades High School was now impossible.

Everyone still left in the Canyon instead was advised to move to the Public Safety Refuges (PSRs) located at Pine Tree Circle, Cheney, Hillside, Robinson Road, Highvale, Greenleaf, Entrada, Jando, Skyline, Old Canyon, Fernwood, Grand View or Saddle Peak.

If this had been a real fire, all residents—approximately 10,000 people—would have had to evacuate rapidly.

Compared to the 2012 evacuation drill where almost 1,000 people participated in the exercise, this year, only about 650 residents actually responded to the “Ready, Set, Go” Topanga Evacuation Exercise that was conducted by the Los Angeles County Fire Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, with support from CHP, T-CEP, Red Cross, Arson Watch, the Disaster Radio Team and Topanga CERT volunteers.

“We are testing not only the community’s ability to respond but also the ability of the community to be educated about what to do in a worst case fire scenario,” said Susan Nissman, Senior Deputy to Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

BRIEFING AT KING GILLETTE RANCH

Nissman told the gathered group of firefighters, Sheriff’s deputies and volunteers at the morning briefing that this was the Supervisor’s last drill before he leaves office at the end of the year after helping to implement the Topanga Emergency Plan that has since become not only a county-wide but a nation-wide model for emergency preparedness.

Incident Command was deployed to King Gillette Ranch at Mulholland Drive and Las Virgenes Road, and at 9 a.m., Los Angeles County Battalion 5 Fire Chief Anthony Williams briefed about 100 first responders and volunteers on their goals and objectives for the drill, among them setting up tactical units to support all nine PSRs.

It was there you saw an impressive sight not often observed: the Los Angeles County Fire and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Command Units parked side by side, with personnel ready to activate communications operations throughout the exercise area.

Some of the goals of the Topanga Evacuation Exercise were to test and evaluate the reliability of the telephone mass notification system, LA Alert, evaluate the community’s participation for evacuation procedures and provide contact and reassurance to community evacuees at the PSRs.

Most of the firefighters deployed throughout the Canyon were unfamiliar with the narrow streets and winding roads of Topanga. Even with the Tactical Zone Maps they relied heavily on GPS units to find the PSR locations. This was a clear, sunny day. Imagine what it would be like driving through dense smoke with little or no visibility.

EVACUATION SITES: TAFT AND PACIFIC PALISADES HIGH SCHOOLS

PHOTO BY ANNEMARIE DONKIN MESSENGER © 2014

Canyon Evacuation Drill Prepares Residents for Fire Emergency

Leslie Doyle with her 3-year-old daughter and future Fire Chief, Siobhan, at the Taft High School evacuation site on April 26. About 340 people from Topanga signed in with CERT and Red Cross volunteers at Taft for the Canyon-wide drill.

As of noon, about 340 Topangans signed in with T-CEP and Red Cross volunteers at Taft High School in Woodland Hills. About 150 signed in at Palisades High School. The rest of the participants went to the PSRs.

In all locations, Topanga CERT volunteers and the City of Westlake Village CERT members in yellow jackets signed up participants for raffles and prizes and handed out “I Drilled Topanga” stickers.

Bruce Royer helped guide traffic into the parking lot across from Taft, where he ran into Rebecca Catterall, who felt it was a great idea to “practice the drill on a sunny day.”

Many Topangans who arrived at Taft, some with their dogs, felt the same way, to “develop a plan and participate during the drills.”

“We got the call,” said Leslie Doyle, who practiced the evacuation drill with her husband Chris and their children, Colin, 5, and Siobhan, 3. “We live on Hillside and like to be prepared.”

For residents, especially new residents, whether or not you participated in the drill, keep in mind that Topanga is designated as a VERY HIGH FIRE AREA and fire officials encourage all residents to evacuate as quickly as possible in the event of a fire. You never want to be gridlocked in your car in the Canyon with a firestorm bearing down on you.

WHAT ABOUT THE ANIMALS?

Susan Clark of Small Animal Rescue noted that the most common question was, “What do we do with our animals?”

“You have to have a buddy system,” Clark said. “Have a friend in a safe place outside of the Canyon where you can take your pets, then check in at the Red Cross evacuation center.”

For more information on small animal rescue, contact Susan Clark of Topanga Animal Rescue at www.topangaanimalrescue.org.

For horses, to learn more about evacuation plans or sheltering in place, contact Alli Acker at acacker@wolfsdorf.com or (310) 455- 3029.

REAL TIME UPDATES

For the fourth evacuation drill, it quickly became obvious that Facebook, Twitter and text messages were the real heroes of the day; one could get real-time updates throughout the drill and keep them with you. No longer do you need to call the EOC for T-CEP updates; the Facebook, Twitter and Text messages go with you to the evacuation site.

In fact, for those who think Twitter is a frivolous gossip messaging system, T-CEP volunteers recognized that it was one of the best resources among all of the social media for getting information in real real time.

“Twitter should be part of your emergency kit,” said Scott Ferguson, a volunteer with T-CEP.

Maria Grycan, Community Services Representative, Los Angeles County Fire Department, who coordinated the event, said these were critical to the implementation of the drill and if you are not familiar with these alert systems, register now.

• Alert LA (alert.lacounty.gov) —Landline phones are automatically registered but you may use the website to add up to four (4) additional points of contact, e.g., cell phone, business, e-mail, etc.).

• Text Messaging—Text the word EVACUATION to 888777. You will receive text messages during the drill containing updated information and instructions.

Do not unsubscribe after the drill, as this system will be used for actual emergencies affecting Topanga (normal text message rates will apply).

• Twitter— @LACoFD_DivVII

If you don’t have a plan, or even if you do, the next step is to go online to: lacounty.fire.gov and review the “Ready, Set, Go!” 12-page booklet that was sent to all residents and follow the steps from “Get Ready”—preparing your home; to “Get Set”—Preparing your family; to “Go”—Making an early checklist and your own wildfire action plan.