By Danielle Wermund, Communications Specialist, CSDA
We all have been concerned with the number of disasters from hurricanes in the southeastern United States and nearby islands, as well as other tragic events in the news worldwide. We started hearing about the sudden outbreak of wildfires overnight on October 9 in Northern California, and our hearts went out to everyone impacted. We recognize the fires may have affected you personally, someone you love, or others with whom you are acquainted.
Several of the fires are still in the process of being contained, and a little over 15,000 are still evacuated as of October 20. We want to recognize the challenges that have been experienced and will continue to be experienced while lives are restored to a new normal, although they will never quite be the same. Our condolences and sympathies to all who experienced any amount of loss.
We would like to take a moment to allow those impacted to share what was experienced in their areas and see what insights we can gain from their experiences.
You can help. Invite them over for a meal or spend time listening to those affected. Roll up your sleeves and donate your time by volunteering. Donate money to organizations that are caring for those in need. Contact locations housing evacuees before donating physical supplies, food, or other practical items. These locations may have a list of items that they need or let you know if it is better to supply funds.
Summary of the statistics of some of these fires
|Mendocino-Lake Complex Fires
Mendocino and Lake County
|Wind Complex Fires
|Southern LNU Fire
Impacted Napa and Solano Counties
|Central LNU Complex Fires
Impacted Sonoma and Napa Counties
110,720 Acres, 173 Square Miles
Experiences in their own words
Mendocino County DCSS – Bruce Mordhorst, Director
Though Mendocino County lost over 425 homes in the recent fires, none of our 27 employees lost their homes. We had one employee without electricity for 3 days. Since we are a small county, several of our employees have family and friends who lost their homes. I personally know a local doctor who found out he lost his home while working the Emergency Room at the Ukiah Hospital. County employees are considered Disaster Assistant Workers and all of our staff were requested to work the Emergency Operations Center; none refused the request and were eager to help. Child Support has given well over 150 hours of our employees’ time to the effort. In fact, yesterday we were still manning the emergency phones and will do so again tomorrow. We also have an employee who helped coordinate the large animal shelter over in Boonville. Recovery is in process now. I took a drive in the fire zone Sunday and saw the destruction and the random way a fire storm reacts—several houses gone and one standing. Stories of neighbors helping each other during and after the storm are countless. Such a sad loss of life and property.
All I can say is MENDOCINO STRONG!!!
Nevada County DCSS – Tex Ritter, Director
Recently Nevada County experienced 3 devastating fires burning almost 1,000 acres—the Lobo, McCourtney, and Garden fires (now referred to as the Wind Complex Fires) forced the evacuations of thousands of rural residents in Nevada County. All fires are now 100% contained.
There were 4 fatalities, one injury, and 398 structures destroyed. One of the smaller fires among a particularly dangerous late-summer fire season, the cause is still unknown. All Nevada County personnel had to be ready to assist evacuees and provide support if necessary.
What happened, what did we learn, and what do you need to know?
Best thing is to visit www.ready.gov for information about how to prepare for a disaster. Have a disaster bag ready with flashlight, batteries, clothing, cash, water, some snacks, medicine, photocopies of ID and credit cards, phone charger, pet supplies, and other important small items that you will need. You may not have time to go looking for things.
Cell phones may not work in the event of a fire as the towers burn. Know alternate routes. Roads may not be passable due to fire or other disaster. Have a plan and make sure all family members know the plan and have rehearsed it. Know your contact points, where to check-in and where you will meet.
In our fires, roads were closed, evacuations ordered, and some county infrastructure was threatened including our Waste Transfer Station and Animal Shelter. No animals were injured in our fires, but the shelter was threatened. That meant during the evacuations, pets could not be taken to the animal shelter, and the evacuation shelters generally do not accept pets, so many evacuees stayed in the parking lots with their pets.
With the road to the waste management facility closed, there was no trash service. This is a bigger risk for fire and health than you would automatically think. Many complaints involved trash piling up and the risk for increased fires due to the shifting winds were received by all county personnel.
Our disaster was not as widespread as the fires in Sonoma and Napa, but we have a lot of forest and brush, so we had to prepare for a large blaze. That meant exempt staff being called in to work evacuation centers, give out food and clothing, and be ready to give advice to residents about where to get assistance. Our Office of Emergency Services opened the disaster center and called staff to help with logistics, supplies, and caring for evacuees and possible injuries.
After the evacuations were lifted, the clean-up commenced, again having an impact on county resources. More people visited the County Administration Center in the days after the fire than they did the entire summer. The parking lots were over full and parking for staff was limited. FEMA set up disaster relief centers at our County Administration Center to assist individuals with fire and disaster related losses. Child support personnel had to be aware of where FEMA was, what they do, and who they could assist because we would get calls from individuals wanting to know where to go.
All in all, we were very fortunate in Nevada County, but preparation is key.
Napa County DCSS – Janet Nottley, Director
Lessons from the Fire
Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, Napa has had three opportunities in the last three years to test our Business Continuity Plan. Lessons that Napa learned…
Communications— Employees, LCSAs, DCSS, and CSDA
Most importantly, we are very fortunate to be part of the CSS community both professionally and personally. The outpouring of support for Napa through the earthquake, the Lake/Napa County fires, and the recent fires was overwhelming. Our customers were well taken care of, and my employees were able to concentrate on the emergency needs for their families and the community.
Solano County DCSS – Pam Posehn, Director
I was visiting friends in Washington for the holiday weekend when I learned about the fires in Sonoma and Napa counties. I received an email informing me the county internet was down with no estimated time for the repair. I called our assistant director on my drive home from the airport and asked her to call the supervisors scheduled to open the next day to let them know about the internet situation and that I would be in early.
Although the fires were miles away, the HVAC system was drawing outside air in, and the building was super smoky. The AT&T line that provides internet service to the county runs through Napa and Sonoma. The fire was still raging, so AT&T couldn’t access the lines to assess the damage, let alone repair it. No CSE…smoky building….no point. I got permission from the CAO to close the office. We had compiled a list of personal contact information, so staff who reported to work early pitched in to call the others, and the office was closed within an hour.
Thanks to the support of the child support community, we secured workspaces in neighboring child support agencies, so staff could return to work the following day. Toward the end of day one, the county had patched together an internet solution with limited bandwidth. The decision was made to deploy staff to Yolo and Contra Costa the following day with limited staff in Solano.
Day 2—Yolo and Contra Costa moved quickly to accommodate staff and made them feel welcome. Limited staff reported to Solano where we found the air quality in the building acceptable. The fire was still burning out of control and moving toward Solano County. HVAC was contacted to close the flow of outside air into the building.
Day 3—Staff continued working in Yolo and Contra Costa. The fire crossed into Solano County and residents about 2 miles up the road from the office were asked to evacuate. Sacramento graciously agreed to house the remainder of our staff if either the patched internet was not sufficient for operations or we were forced to evacuate the office.
Day 4—The winds remained calm and firefighters began to get a handle on the fire. The weekend produced good results and we were able to bring all staff back to the office by noon the following Monday, one week after the fires started.
Although we found some areas we can strengthen, our Business Continuity Plan was solid. We found our initial actions were more instinctive, but having that plan and especially all the important contact information was invaluable. All supervisors and managers have a copy at home and a copy at the office.
Communication with staff was a bit challenging. Although we had the contact information, playing the phone tree game that first evening to tell people where to report the following day was challenging. An email/text distribution list with personal contact information would have made the flow of communication office-wide much smoother. Using the CSDA conference line allowed supervisors and managers to figure out a game plan for staff deployment at the conclusion of the weekend.
We have Single Sign On so staff either had to work without their full array of systems or come in to the office and memorize all their passwords J .
Solano survived the Atlas Fire and are stronger as a result! I greatly appreciate the assistance of Yolo, Contra Costa, and Sacramento for their willingness to step in and help out. I also have a greater appreciation for the dedication and hard work of my staff, and they in turn have a new appreciation for the comforts of home. Solano County fared better than our neighbors. As of today (10/26/17), the Atlas Fire is 97% contained and has burned 51,624 acres in Sonoma, Napa, and Solano Counties and destroyed 481 structures.
Sonoma County DCSS – Brett Williams, Assistant Director
Action Plan—Know your local emergency operations plan. Use your employees’ contact information and communicate via email, phone, and text. In an emergency, you will be responding to life and death circumstances that will require you to bend the plans to fit the need. Be nimble and take the necessary action.
At 6:02 a.m. on Monday, October 9, Sonoma County sent an email to all county employees stating that the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was activated just after midnight. The county began calling employees into service as emergency workers. In rough numbers, about a third of our Sonoma DCSS colleagues had been evacuated, a third reported to DCSS for work, and the remaining colleagues reported for duty in their capacity as emergency workers.
Emergency workers were assigned to the EOC, the Local Assistance Center (LAC), the FEMA Disaster Recovery Center (DRC), or to various other sites related to the emergency. The LAC was an assembly of over 50 agencies and departments from city, county, state, or federal organizations as well as a variety of for-profit and nonprofit organizations to support the victims of the wildfires. The LAC has served over 8,000 households! Visitors to the LAC could find replacements for vital records from the county or from the state. They could speak with experts from FEMA, DMV, local planning and building departments, insurance companies, and even child support all located in one building and supported by 200 employees and volunteers. Many who worked at the LAC say that this is one of the most important and meaningful experiences of their working lives. Child support was well represented as emergency workers throughout the first three weeks since the fires ripped through our communities; those colleagues not assigned to emergency worker duties covered their colleagues’ tasks with heroic effort.
Continuity of Operations (CoOP)—Know your “CoOP” and be ready to adjust it to meet the needs of your county and your participants. We have worked shoulder to shoulder with workers from other cities, other counties, other states, and from federal agencies. In this moment, despite whatever political rhetoric rains from above, the “on the ground” reality is that every worker who puts his or her shoulder to the plough is on mission for saving lives and protecting property. In the first days of the wildfires, Sonoma County had that sole mission at the forefront of every action.
It was in those first days after the wildfires first filled the air with smoke, our child support participants were supported by our sister Local Child Support Agencies (LCSA) from Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Riverside, and Ventura as well as guidance from the state. All critical tasks were moved forward thanks to our sister agencies stepping into the breach on our behalf. There was an outpouring of support from the state, sister LCSAs, and a dedicated team of child support colleagues here in Sonoma County to ensure our participants were not left in the lurch.
Some of our local communities were consumed by flames, and neighboring communities within hundreds of miles were choked by thick smoke. Despite the displacement of thousands of residents… despite the loss of lives and the trauma that landed on every member of our community… despite the tragedy… there is a feeling that we who have survived this moment have come together to support our neighbors, our colleagues, and our shared recovery. It is true that we are Sonoma Strong and that there is more love in the air than smoke. It is only true because we have locked arms with our colleagues and friends from local, state, and federal agencies.
From the Ashes… Hope
An unanswered knock grows into a pounding on the front door… 6 minutes later, the apartment has been burned down. The ashes are all that remain of her physical possessions with one exception: an armful of her china pattern known as “Inspiration” with the word “Dream” written on each coffee cup. This is the foundation for building her life back after the wildfires claimed the rest. Toni chooses to use this inspiration and dream of rebuilding. Toni is one of thousands living in Sonoma County facing the overwhelming challenge of rebuilding a life in the face of this catastrophic complex of fires.
Toni’s Inspiration Series Dishes
Julie Calzontzi and Dora Navarro at LAC
Opening morning at the LAC
Additional preparation information for disasters.
Are you ready to go in the event of emergency day or night? When you get these items ready, review with your family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors.
Sign up for local emergency alerts, check local county website for emergency alert information.
- For Sacramento, & Placer – http://www.sacramento-alert.org
EMERGENCY SUPPLIES CHECKLIST
Don’t let them worry— Contact lists of those who want to know you are all right.
At times texting may be a better means of communication than calling. Many have utilized social media accounts to communicate quickly to the masses as well. Keep all phone calls brief. Let them know you are ok or need help, and give your address and any other information if you need help.
|Close friends near or far
Supervisor or manager for work.
Always keep a sturdy pair of shoes and a flashlight near your bed and handy in case of a sudden evacuation at night.
ANYTIME – What’s in your Emergency Go Bag?
|Evacuate to where?
||First aid emergency gear
|Clothing & Food & Medication
||Financial or other physical items to have on hand
|Items to take if time allows:
||Who needs help nearby? Be ready to assist, don’t let them be forgotten.
|American Red Cross|