City Orchestrates Virtual Wildfire Evacuation Drill

A still from the wildfire evacuation drill held last Wednesday, Oct. 20

More than 60 Malibuites observed the live wildfire evacuation exercise which took place virtually on Wednesday, Oct. 20, at 6 p.m. via Zoom. The drill was a multi-agency effort coordinated by the City of Malibu in partnership with the Los Angeles County Fire, Sheriff’s and Animal Care and Control departments, and California Highway Patrol based on a scenario of a major wildfire burning through eastern Malibu. 

Focused on the fictitious “Maria Fire,” the realistic fire scenario progressed during the live training event and resulted in resident “evacuation” by various zones. The drill was essentially modeled after a scenario created by the Los Angeles County Fire Department for another virtual drill with the Topanga community that took place back in August, according to Malibu Public Safety Manager Susan Dueñas.

“We’d wanted to do a live evacuation [drill] for some time but the pandemic complicated things a bit,” Dueñas explained on a call with The Malibu Times. “Being able to do this in a virtual format created a new kind of learning experience that was impactful in a different way, because people could really see what’s happening behind the scenes.”

Local public safety agencies participated through active instruction during the live drill, as each offered detailed descriptions of their respective roles in wildfire response efforts and critical decision-making processes for providing information to residents during a state of emergency.

“It really created an opportunity for people to learn about the decision processes, timeline and roles of the responding agencies during a large-scale evacuation,”  Dueñas stated. “The virtual format also provided a much bigger learning opportunity as it can be more easily accessible for residents and new staff members as a training tool in the future.” 

The city conducts multiple emergency operations centers (EOC) trainings and multi-agency scenario exercises every year to ensure city staff is always prepared to respond to a disaster, and to constantly improve the city’s state of readiness and coordination with other responding agencies, Malibu Media Information Officer Matt Myerhoff stated in an email to The Malibu Times. 

“I could see us implement something like this more regularly, even on an annual basis with different disaster scenarios such as earthquake and even tsunami,” Dueñas added. “It’s helpful for people to gain a better understanding of the various internal processes, which can result in more realistic expectations moving forward. The more familiar people can become, the better it is as this kind of inside knowledge has the ability to help eliminate some of the fear factor and know what to expect.”

Residents, businesses, employees, students, schools and organizations are encouraged to view the training video of the event, which has also been made available on the city’s YouTube channel as an ongoing public education resource:

“Wildfires and evacuations are a very real possibility in Malibu, and we all have to be ready,” Mayor Paul Grisanti stated in an email to The Malibu Times. “I hope everyone in the community who joined us for this important exercise came away feeling empowered with knowledge about the procedures and decisions made during a major wildfire and evacuation. And I hope that that will benefit them as they make their own preparedness plans going forward.”