LVMCOG looks at enhancing emergency notification tools

LVMCOG logo. Photo courtesy.

The Las Virgenes-Malibu Council of Governments (COG) Governing Board met on June 21 and addressed strategies to help enhance notifications and communication during emergencies such as wildfires.

Back on May 17 when LVMCOG met, Veronica Pawlowski, the justice deputy to Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, provided a status update on Campus Kilpatrick and a possible tour of the facility. Pawlowski will determine when and how many people can be accommodated on a tour. No action was taken by the Governing Board.

Malibu/Lost Hills Captain Jennifer Seetoo, LA County Fire Chief Drew Smith and Director Kevin McGowan presented a report on the expectations, preparedness, and coordination during a natural disaster such as power outages or wildfires. 

McGowan said following the Woolsey Fire after-action process, they’ve enhanced their coordination skill sets, command post, and the emergency operation and coordination center for the county and refined emergency notifications to the public.

McGowan said they are using a combination of social media, traditional media, and emergency notification tools to reach a broad audience that might not only be impacted but might have an interest in the notification.

“I think one of the bigger aspects that came out of the Woolsey Fire as it relates to internal notifications was timeliness,” McGowan said. “So when a significant fire occurs, how quickly are we notifying our partners and telling them where they should send an agency representative so that they can be a part of the emergency response coordination aspect.” 

McGowan said they continue to advocate for rapid notification through partnership.

“On critical fire weather, we’re going to send out notifications to all of our city and special district partners to let them know that we are in a critical fire weather area and that we’re all monitoring,” McGowan said. “If an event occurs, depending on the scale and size of the event, we’ll start communicating with our identified stakeholders to put everyone on notice that this is occurring.”

Smith said one of the biggest failures they see is everyone wanting to send out the information first.

“We talked about unified command, everything on information distribution, whatever platform that we do it on, has to be a unified message that’s approved by the incident commanders,” Smith said. “That’s in our best interests for the right information if it leads to other things, … and so language and how that’s framed, means a lot.” 

Smith said the best thing the cities can do is have it go through the public information officer and/or the liaison officer.

“So the information that we share is highly important to get the right message out to the groups that are affected,” Smith said.

McGowan thanked the cogs for their efforts and said the whole Las Virgenes and Malibu COG area is zoned out.

“By the time we get into a really heavy fire season it should be an inspirational asset and that will help with coordination, communication, and notification to our residents,” McGowan said.

Seetoo wanted to take the time to let the COG know about the importance of communication and their Sheriff’s Department expectations in being involved.

McGowan and Smith continued to share the other organizations and agencies they work with to get the proper information out such as the National Weather Service. 

Malibu City Manager Steve McClary asked if there was an update or more information on backup batteries for major cell towers. 

“So that when we do have an extended outage, people can still use their cell phones to call 911,” McClary said.

McGowan said there’s still an ongoing effort and will provide more information on the progress. 

For COG city updates, McClary provided an update on COVID-19 cases, summer traffic, and the temporary tow yard at HeatherCliff. 

Farrer said the COG at the June meeting that they would not meet in July to coincide with the City of Malibu break and will reconvene on Aug. 16.

The board addressed returning to in-person meetings but the majority of the board preferred continuing with virtual meetings.