Eighty-one percent of recommendations in Woolsey Fire report now in place

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Smoke lingers on a burned property on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018, just one day after the Woolsey Fire swept through Malibu. Photo archive.

Many lessons were learned from the November 2018 Woolsey Fire — the largest wildfire in LA County history. The county Board of Supervisors hired Citygate Associates shortly after the fire to work with eight county departments to see what policies and procedures were needed in order to be better prepared for the next big wildfire.  

In 2019, in its “Woolsey Fire After Action Review (AAR) Report,” Citygate came back with a list of 88 recommendations for changes within eight departments, and worked with them for two years to get the changes made.  

At the Board of Supervisors (BOS) meeting on February 8, it was noted that 81 percent of Citygate’s recommendations had been implemented. The Board then voted to let Citygate conclude its oversight of the report and assigned the remaining 19 percent of tasks to its own Office of Emergency Management.

Citygate wrote in its final report that “the public interest is being served by these Woolsey-Fire-driven reforms,” which represent “a great step toward ensuring institutional change.”

Many of the changes have already been used in other local wildfires. The changes made by each county department are as follows:

Regional Planning Department

RPD is working on long-range recommendations to lessen the impact of future wildfires by revising land-use policies. They will present a draft ordinance this spring that proposes updates to structure and open space access requirements, infrastructure, and open space buffers.

The BOS recently adopted revisions to the Santa Monica Mountains North Area Plan (which regulates development within that area) that include new fire hardening requirements and new provisions to rebuild homes destroyed by disasters and find ways to improve following the Woolsey Fire. 

The county drafted a countywide plan for unincorporated areas that replaces Woolsey Fire and other temporary rebuild ordinances. It now employs the most current standards and provisions for rebuilding homes and businesses after disasters, including lessons learned from the Woolsey Fire. The draft will be presented this spring.

The most radical change is the draft Safety Element Update scheduled for a board hearing this year. Its groundbreaking policy recommendations prohibit or strongly discourage new subdivisions in Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones. 

Public Works

Public Works convened a debris management project team and developed a draft Private Property Debris Removal (PPDR) addendum local program that can respond without the assistance of Cal OES or Cal Recycle.

They developed a template for a government-sponsored debris removal program and local property debris removal protocols for specific county-declared disasters.

To improve safety and location awareness of Public Works field units during significant emergencies, they initiated a two-phase pilot program to track vehicles that communicate via GPS receivers and other vehicle telematics.

Animal Care & Control

County Animal Care hired a new emergency operations coordinator in June 2021 responsible for training staff in emergency management. In addition, trailer training for 30 animal control officers and fireline safety training was approved.

New operation kits/fireboxes were developed for staff assigned to sheltering and staging sites.

Since the Woolsey Fire, more volunteers have been added to the Equine Response Team (ERT) program to provide more support at large animal sheltering sites during evacuations. The procedures for coordinating active and ad-hoc volunteers during emergencies were improved.

Animal Care procured and constructed 50 additional stalls at the Castaic Animal Care Facility and is collaborating with Rolling Hills Estates on an agreement to use a city-offered park as a sheltering site during emergencies.

Public Social Services

During emergencies, Public Social Services plays a leadership role in providing emergency shelters for people who have been displaced. The department collaborated with American Red Cross to learn about 24-hour shift scheduling. They gave a total of 19 “Mass Care and Shelter” training sessions to 636 shelter workers, with the program now available on YouTube. They also participated in training exercises and put together a list of shelter locations for disabled individuals.

Public Health

The role of Public Health would be to coordinate COVID-19 or similar protocols that might be in effect during an emergency, including obtaining supplies and helping to make decisions about debris removal.

Office of Emergency Management

OEM is now designated as the lead or coordinating agency for preparedness and response across all county agencies, state, and federal partners during a disaster. They will ensure consistent messaging between the fire department, sheriff, and Public Health on alerts, warnings, and emergency notifications through a Joint Information Center.

They’re also tasked with setting up a Unified Coordination Group to establish strategy, priorities, and objectives to coordinate, integrate, support, and synchronize county response and recovery.

Other tasks include expanding alert and warning training exercise opportunities for personnel, including National Weather Service Non-Weather Emergency Alerts as part of the program, making a number of improvements to data input and sharing, and establishing a future “Watch Center.”

LA County Fire

The Fire Department is designated as the lead or co-lead agency in a number of areas. They’re looking at technology upgrades, including new handheld and vehicle-mounted mobile radios. Computers are being installed in all units to improve communications and prepare for the LA-RICS radio system, a future improvement in radio and broadband communication for police, firefighters, paramedics, and other emergency responders in LA County.

LA County Sheriff

The Incident Management Team (IMT) process was streamlined, and the team now trains monthly. Training materials are available online to all personnel. Updated policies and practices are now used during evacuations and re-population.