Emergency Management Mutual Aid Requests: Soberanes and Lake County Fire Deployments
The 2016 California Wildfire season has seen more than 6,700 fires which have burned more than 560,000 acres. For many people, this means the loss of a home, property, or livelihood. As local emergency managers, it’s our responsibility to not only coordinate the response but to help our communities recover. In Monterey and Lake Counties local emergency managers were there for their communities but were often left wondering if their own homes had made it through. When we had the opportunity to provide them some relief so that they could check on their homes, our team was happy to lend a hand. This year we sent staff to both Monterey County for the Soberanes Fire and Lake County to assist in the Clayton Fire response and recovery efforts.
What triggers a staff deployment? The State of California issues an Emergency Management Mutual Aid request (EMMA). When a city or county has exhausted all of their resources (staff and assets) to respond to an emergency, they ask the State to reach out to the closest neighboring cities and counties for aid, be it fire trucks or staff.
Lisa Starliper, our Emergency Planning Manager and Tom Chin, our Response Coordinator had the opportunity to deploy to the Soberanes Fire in Monterey County. Additionally, Daniella Cohen with our External Affairs team assisted in Lake County for the Clayton Fire response. Here are some of Lisa’s and Daniella’s reflections on their experiences, with photos shared by Tom.
CalFIRE Air Operations conducted behind Tularcitos Elementary School. In partnership with the Monterey County Office of Emergency Services, CalFIRE held a community meeting at Tularcitos to provide information and answer questions for the residents of Carmel Valley.
1. Can you share with us what you know about the EMMA process?
Lisa: My basic understanding was that whenever another city or county needed assistance, a resource request would be initiated. Following, our department would ask for volunteers to support the request. The Operations Section within SFDEM has the “lead” on managing and monitoring EMMA requests. They work to put forward the name and qualifications of any employees that are capable and available to do the work required.
Daniella: The Operations Section within SFDEM manages the EMMA requests. Lake County Office of Emergency Services (OES) needed a Public Information Officer and someone to otherwise deal with press inquiries and public information in their Local Assistance Center (LAC). As a member of the External Affairs team at SFDEM, I jumped at the opportunity to assist our partners in anyway.
2. Please share what you knew about the fire going in and what you learned as you gained more situational awareness.
Lisa: I was aware of the basic information about the fire that was available from public domains. I also had access to daily situation reports, which provided a more in-depth analysis of the current situation.
Once I was actually working in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), I was able to increase my situational awareness through attendance at briefings and meetings. I also was able to work directly with members from Public Health regarding disaster assessment team deployments and debris management. This experience was extremely helpful in gaining a greater understanding around the issues of recovery.
Daniella: Going in I would agree with Lisa in that you can expect to be briefed with basic information about the incident upfront. I was also lucky to receive daily situation reports from Lake County OES which helped me to better understand not only what was needed, but also what would be expected of me once I arrived.
After I arrived, I realized that we were operating in the field in the middle of downtown Clear Lake where fire damage was clearly seen all around us. My experience thus far has been working inside of an EOC. It was truly humbling to be able to assist community members in this environment.
CalFIRE held multiple community meetings in the days, weeks, and months after the start of the Soberanes Fire in Monterey County. Community meetings were held in partnership with the Monterey County Office of Emergency Services and included fire suppression and behavior experts to explain the tactics and science behind the firefighting efforts.
3. What is expected of you when you deploy?
Lisa: I believe my role is to be as supportive, helpful and respectful as possible. Being a solid representative of my department and the City and County of San Francisco is just as important. On the more tangible side of things, there’s an expectation of long work hours and alternative living conditions.
Daniella: I completely agree with Lisa, you are there to provide support and to be of complete disposal to local emergency managers. It presents an opportunity to not only be of service, but to learn from others around you.
4. What was it like when you first walked into Monterey County’s EOC or the Local Assistance Center (LAC) in Lake County?
Lisa: For me, it was a very positive experience. Tom Chin had done an excellent job of laying the foundation for my arrival, which made the transition from “newbie” to EOC staff member much easier. Monterey County’s EOC had a very professional atmosphere to it, which helped smooth the transition as well.
Daniella: The LAC is a hub for fire victims to seek services, initially upon my arrival the LAC was just opening for the day and naturally it was a bit overwhelming. As time wore on, a rhythm was found not only for LAC staff but for community members as well. Facing fire victims as they try to recover from enormous loss is difficult, but it was also heartwarming to see how communities band together in times of disaster.
Every morning a CalFIRE led Partner Brief provided a common operating picture among the 20 + participating agencies including the Monterey County Office of Emergency Services, US Forestry, US Fish and Wildlife, mutual aid fire agencies, California Highway Patrol, California State Parks, and the California Conservation Corps. The Partner Brief detailed the progress made overnight and the clear objectives for the upcoming day.
5. How did your roles develop, and what were your greatest lessons learned or takeaways from the experience?
Lisa: My role remained pretty constant during my time there. I was filling a technical specialist role within the Plans Section and worked on the Concept of Operations for Debris Management and Damage Assessments.
For myself, the greatest lesson learned was to see firsthand the response and recovery considerations that were required for a wildfire incident. My emergency management experience has primarily focused on terrorism, being a first responder and maritime search and rescue. All in all, it was a fantastic experience.
Daniella: Like Lisa, my role remained the same. I acted as a Public Information Officer while also providing community affairs assistance. The greatest lesson learned for me is that the field of emergency management and disaster response knows no boundaries. Regardless of jurisdiction, or city and county lines we are here to assist each other. Often times it is that team work that yields the best results, and helps communities to heal faster. I felt lucky to offer a small bit of assistance to our partners.
Eventually, the coordination to fight a fire as large as the Soberanes Fire needs technology to be efficient. A televised morning Incident Brief provided instruction to over 350 firefighting units, fire air operations, and fire safety in three (3) different locations. This Incident Brief provided a united tactical advantage to conduct safe and effective fire suppression.
Thank you to both Lisa Starliper, Daniella Cohen and Tom Chin for representing SFDEM in Monterey and Lake Counties, and assisting in their response and recovery efforts.