The local Montecito Emergency Response & Recovery Action Group, MERRAG (pronounced mirage) elected their new president and board members last month at their annual meeting, which took place at the Four Seasons Resort Biltmore in Santa Barbara. Troy Harris was elected president. Other officers and members elected include: Carrie Haffner, 2nd Vice President; Gayle Tucker, Treasurer; Tom Schleck, Secretary; Sue Ziliotto, At Large Member; David Boyd, At Large Member; Vicky Harbison, At Large Member; Phyllis Marble, At Large Member; Sandie Owens, At Large Member; Warner Owens, At Large Member; Keith Yeager, At Large Member; and John Ziliotto, immediate Past President. Several of the board members have also served as presidents in the past years. New members and officers were sworn in by Chief Hickman of Montecito Fire, who also presented the Volunteer of the Year award to Sue Ziliotto. Mike McCaleb was recognized for his many years of service to MERRAG.
The newly elected Board is looking forward to another year of service. “MERRAG is weathering some challenging times. Yes, that’s a pun! We are seeing not only climate change, such as sundowners and resulting wildfires, winter storms, and debris flows, but also some human-dynamics sea changes. We are evolving in the practice of emergency management,” said incoming President Troy Harris.
The Montecito Emergency Response & Recovery Action Group (MERRAG) is an official volunteer auxiliary of Montecito’s three public service agencies. MERRAG provides crucial personnel and communications support during community emergencies as well as training for community members in recovery and response. Members play a critical role in helping to keep the public informed, whether with kiosks and maps during the Thomas Fire and subsequent debris flow, or in warning hikers heading up the trails of Montecito during peak heat and fire watch weather. Following the Thomas Fire and subsequent debris flow, MERRAG was mentioned with other Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) in the report, “A Retrospective Study of Montecito Fire Protection District’s Wildland Fire Program during the 2017 Thomas Fire.” MERRAG provided public information and was set up on the South Village lawn. Armed with bulletin boards, maps and handouts, MERRAG staffed the site up until the area evacuations took place. They provided updated fire information as the fire approached and vital pre-evacuation preparedness information. As the fire neared Montecito, MERRAG helped staff the public stations with incident public information officers.