Legislative Hearing Focuses On Emergency Warning Challenges

Dec 5, 2017

Technological advances have made it easier to spread word in an emergency, but they’re hardly fool-proof. 

That was the consensus of a joint-legislative hearing held Monday in Sacramento in the wake October’s devastating wildfires.

Issues with warning systems surrounding recent emergencies in the North State were also amongst the topics discussed.  

Scott Bryan, emergency operations manager of Yuba County’s Office of Emergency Services, told lawmakers that the recent Cascade Fire’s fast growth played havoc with efforts to warn those in danger. Bryan said only about 70 percent of messages were relayed.

“Our power went out, because of the fast-moving fire, and our phone lines going out,” he said.

Four were killed in Yuba County and 144 homes were lost. 

Historic emergency sirens, built to warn of impending nuclear attack, have all but disappeared, replaced by alerts by text and reverse 911 systems.

But cellular phones, WiFi calling, VOIP and text messaging don’t work without electricity, while old-style wired telephones will. Earthquakes, tsunami and fire can knock out power. 

Sonoma County officials said some cell towers and power lines feeding them were destroyed before alerts could go out. In other cases, residents who missed recorded alerts tried returning calls, overloading circuits.

State Sen. Jim Nielsen, who represents much of the North State, reminded colleagues that many rural areas have no cell coverage at all.

“A fellow had some mental difficulties and began shooting in a little place called Rancho Tehama,” he said. “The people out there had no cell phone access.”

State Sen. Hannah Beth Jackson, who chaired the panel, said Monday’s testimony will prove helpful as lawmakers consider new legislation.