After Botched Evacuation, City Leaders Explore New Options

Malibu Emergency Plan

Just about anyone who evacuated the Woolsey Fire on Nov. 9 going southbound on Pacific Coast Highway, and sitting in the gridlock for four to six hours as the fire started coming down the mountains, should welcome the proposed emergency evacuation plan being put forth by Mayor Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner and Planning Commissioner Chris Marx.

Because it’s already the beginning of the 2019 fire season, they hope to get their plan into people’s hands ASAP.

“We did it for the common person,” Wagner said. “They just want to know, ‘If I live here, where do I go if I’m told to evacuate?’ It’s also for the first responders, because they also had no idea where to go.”

“We hope to get city support for this, and that what we’ve done so far will give them something to build from,” Marx said in a recent phone interview. “Whatever we can do to advance this is going to help the community move forward.”

Recognizing Malibu desperately needs an official evacuation plan that would work for various types of emergencies, the two have been developing one since December. They were influenced by a plan that’s been in force in Topanga for over 20 years which is detailed in the “Topanga Survival Guide.” The guide comes in a three-ring binder, is updated as needed, and sent free of charge to all Topanga residents. One of the sections explains “what to do during a disaster.” LA County is on board with Topanga’s plan.

For purposes of evacuation, Topanga divides itself into geographic “zones,” and each zone has a designated spot in which to congregate during an evacuation, Wagner explained. The zones are depicted on a map.

Wagner and Marx have come up with a similar plan for Malibu, dividing the City into seven geographic zones—for now, known as Leo Carrillo, Trancas, Point Dume, Latigo/ Corral, Bluffs Park, Duke’s and Topanga. Designating the city into zones would allow the ability to evacuate by zones instead of evacuating the entire city at once. 

FEMA and OES (Office of Emergency Services) have designated Malibu as a one zip code response area, lumping everything together in “90265”—even though the town is 21 miles long, Wagner explained. In other words, if there is an emergency in Malibu, the state and federal government treats all residents, from Trancas to Topanga, as one zone.

Instead of evacuating that way, Wagner’s plan would ask residents of only those zones in danger to go to their designated congregation area instead of just getting on PCH.

“For example,” Wagner said in an interview, “zones five through seven, which would be Bluffs Park through Topanga, would probably be the areas that should evacuate more quickly during the next fire than the other zones (because eastern Malibu hasn’t burned in decades, and is the likely place for the next bad fire).” 

Wagner and Marx explained they put a lot of effort into identifying a flat fireproof area for residents of each of Malibu’s seven zones to congregate in; and each is described in detail in their plan with Google Earth photos showing where to park, as well as data for visiting fire departments, including  latitude, longitude, elevation, fuel loads, overhead lines, terrain features and ownership. 

The designated areas for each zone to congregate are: Leo Carrillo State Park/Beach (Zone 1), Trancas Market (Zone 2), City lot at Point Dume, aka the Christmas tree lot (Zone 3), Latigo/Corral Caltrans lot (Zone 4), Bluff’s Park (Zone 5), Duke’s Restaurant (Zone 6) and Topanga State Beach (Zone 7). If the plan goes into effect, a “right of entry” (ROE) agreement would have to be obtained from Trancas Market and Duke’s.

Although it’s not finished yet, Wagner intends to put together more detailed fire maps for out-of-town firefighters and other first responders coming to town to provide mutual aid in a fire or other disaster. Not only would it have the above information, but it would contain detailed street maps showing the locations of “tactical assets”: fire hydrants, swimming pools and areas where fire trucks can park and turn around. 

He intends to have these maps available to first responders both online and in a printed form that can be handed out in the event of power and communications outages. 

At the center of the plan is a wheel-and-spoke arrangement of all seven zones reporting into a central command post based at City Hall. Wagner conducted a cost analysis and proposed the city spend about $100,000, plus ongoing expenses, to purchase a mobile command post for emergencies, but said he received no support when he proposed the idea at a City Council meeting last December.