With El Niño-fueled storms dominating news headlines this week, the county’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) unveiled the Aware & Prepare Initiative, an enhanced notification alert system for Santa Barbara County. “It’s been a busy but productive week,” Robert Troy, OEM’s Deputy Director, said Thursday. “By and large, we’ve been fortunate.”
County residents can visit this website to register to receive alerts. The website functions as a hub of emergency preparedness information. Previously, the county used the notification service Nixle, which will remain active, although minimally, according to OEM Director Ryan Rockabrand.
The new Aware & Prepare Initiative allows residents to choose geographic and functional areas of interest so OEM may provide them with non-emergency info such as general preparedness, public meetings, and other things. Public safety officials can use the tool to inform residents based on specific geographic locations. Also built into the alert system is a function that allows emergency managers to send out messages to anyone with cell phone reception whether they opted in or not — similar to an Amber Alert.
In 2008, amid growing concerns about disaster preparedness nationwide, the Orfalea Foundation launched the Aware & Prepare Initiative. Orfalea closed its doors in 2015, and the program was transferred to the county.
County fire chief Eric Peterson called the tool “a huge step forward for this county.” Supervisor Janet Wolf, who convened a meeting of the disaster council late last year, called emergency preparedness one of the most important things the county does.
On Thursday, Rockabrand also announced he hired three new full-time emergency managers and two part-time emergency service planners. The department faced serious scrutiny after four of its five emergency managers left in roughly a year. Last year, one of those employees filed a fair-employment complaint with the state.
The Board of Supervisors discussed the matter during closed session this week; County Counsel Michael Ghizzoni said there was no reportable action. Previously set for December, an internal audit of the department is expected to go before the supervisors at an upcoming meeting.
OEM is finishing plans to refurbish its North County workspace and set up the office. According to Rockabrand, all OEM staff will rotate between the North and the South County offices. The North County Office houses up to four people, he added.