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Supervisors Should Approve New Emergency Operations Center

Former FEMA Director Argues EOC Would Improve Disaster Response and Recovery


It’s no secret that Santa Barbara County is disaster prone, having experienced four catastrophic fires alone in recent years. Being able to effectively respond to and recover from these disasters is paramount to the continuity of the larger Santa Barbara community. The Orfalea Fund’s Aware and Prepare Initiative, to build a more disaster resilient Santa Barbara, understood this concept and got it right. They engaged and empowered local stakeholders and partnered with the County Office of Emergency Services (OES).

The county worked to build capacity where there once was little or none, with the goal of building a disaster ready Santa Barbara through programs that focus on continuity and sustainability and accomplished this with building important public-private partnerships, which in this economy is paramount. They have successfully coordinated various non-governmental organizations and associated groups wanting to assist, but not knowing how. Together, with all participating foundations, they have invested millions of dollars to make Santa Barbara disaster ready.

A cornerstone is helping the County build a much-needed and critically essential Emergency Operations Center (EOC). Given that the EOC currently operates out of a non-dedicated, sub-standard mobile trailer, it was clear that a dedicated, fully functional “24/7” EOC was not only needed, but essential. Like coordinating the community groups to work together to build sustainable disaster resistant capabilities, the County needs the EOC to coordinate the response of emergency first responders for life and property saving operations; to distribute emergency public information in an immediate and effective manner; and to facilitate the recovery from disasters in an efficient way to streamline the process of assisting citizens and businesses to get back on their feet.

The need of a dedicated EOC is so important that the Aware and Prepare Initiative along with community-based foundations have committed over $2 million to offset the cost of the EOC construction. Due to timing and our current economy, the Office of Emergency Services has been able to obtain construction bids far less than what was originally expected, saving an addition $1.3 million.

This community has demonstrated their commitment to build a more disaster ready Santa Barbara. It’s time for the Board of Supervisors to responsibly vote to approve the construction of the EOC on January 5th. This is good business! Building on this public-private partnership opportunity and leveraging the best of both will allow the County to provide maximized service to communities through sustainable and coordinated operations.

Former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) James Lee Witt is the CEO of James Lee Witt Associates, a crisis and emergency management consulting firm based in Washington, DC.

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