Voluntary and mandatory evacuation orders in advance of today’s storm have prompted several South Coast schools to close. Closures in Montecito include Cold Spring Elementary and Montecito Union School (MUS), which are located in mandatory and voluntary evacuation zones, respectively. Private schools Crane Country Day School and Laguna Blanca School, both in Montecito, are also closed, according to David Lawrence, communications director for the Santa Barbara County Education Office. In Carpinteria Unified School District, Carpinteria High School and Rincon and Foothill continuation high schools are closed, as is Cate School.
Late yesterday afternoon, school superintendents, including MUS’s Anthony Ranii, conferenced with the county’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and Cal Fire representatives. “They let us know that they were nervous about the storm,” said Ranii, “and the most important thing we take into consideration is what the experts are telling us.”
Emergency officials point out that while wildfires can move very rapidly, at least they can see them coming and execute evacuation orders accordingly. Not so with landslides, such as the January 10, 2005, La Conchita event that killed 10. Massive debris flows can knock out power, gas, and street access, Ranii said, “And we’d have to shelter in place, and the parents would all want to rush to the school to get their kids.” This could potentially create more confusion and congestion on the roadways, especially during a heavy downpour.
“It’s a tough call,” Ranii added. But he kept returning to the language of OEM’s evacuation warning. “It says to be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice; you can’t do that with 400-plus kids.”