Excerpts Of Official Fire Analysis

Written by on August 1, 2019

The outside evaluation of the city’s handling of the Woolsey Fire was published tonight They make 53 recommendations to the city and its residents.
Below are the major points, taken directly from the 49-page report.
Major Observations:
Community members lack understanding about the City’s role in this incident (not a first responder), and about their own responsibilities and expectations should they choose to shelter in place instead of evacuating. Many residents practiced the “Stay and Defend” procedures versus the widely accepted “Ready-SetGo” protocol. The City is not obligated to provide logistical support for those who defy a mandatory evacuation order, but its planning must assume that some individuals will do so.
Regardless of the fact that the City is not a first responder (the county is), community members believe the City is a first responder and critically responsible for linking various outside agencies and ensuring accurate and reliable information to the extent possible. The environmental constraints, lack of operational cell towers and relocation of the EOC, as well as the fire, impacted City leaders’ ability to meet this latter, real mission.
The forced relocation of the EOC (as well as the entire community) out of Malibu resulted in a critically important
functional communication gap between City leaders, the community, and first responders for about 16 hours in the early stages of the incident.
The City Manager served as the primary liaison between the City Council and the rest of the organization and the EOC and during this event. That role was stretched thin, which was made especially acute with a citywide evacuation. The City Manager spent considerable time with elected officials during and immediately after this event, which impacted her time and capacity for the broader response issues and organizational management.
The Assistant City Manager effectively managed the remote EOC as the City Manager remained in Malibu during and immediately following the fire threat to manage local issues and report to the Incident Command Center. The City Manager remained in Malibu on a daily basis, resolving a number of issues that arose during the event as well as orchestrating the delivery of supplies to Zuma Beach for those who did not evacuate. She also kept Council members and City staff members informed about current conditions of the City.
City staff left behind critical information and equipment when the EOC was forced to relocate. Equipment such as laptops, satellite phones, personal contact information, and payroll information made operations in the new location exceedingly difficult.
The City did not fully utilize the community’s CERT volunteers to play an active part in the evacuation and response efforts, due in part to the fact that many CERT volunteers evacuated the City.
A major recommendation is that the City establish a residents’ committee designed to offer practical suggestions to the City on response to the Woolsey Fire and on disaster
preparedness efforts in the community.
Their six major takeways:
1. The City of Malibu is not a first responder for any fire event and there is considerable confusion and misinformation regarding the City’s role and responsibility before, during and after a fire event.
2. The City of Malibu, as an organization, is quite small and it relies on large, independent public safety agencies for emergency response services (police and fire). Staying informed and exerting influence during this event stretched City staff and its EOC preplanned structure and operation.
3. While not unusual, the public safety agencies’ (mostly first
responders) Incident Command Post (ICP) was not located
remotely near either of the City’s Emergency Operation Centers during the event, which significantly impacted the City’s ability to communicate information effectively. Decisions about how to respond were being conducted by a different command and management structure at the ICP and the City was challenged by geography, the fire incident itself, communication tools and lean staffing to gain and provide good information.
4. The need to change the location of the City’s EOC during the fire reset the City’s emergency response framework and impacted performance in terms of staffing, communications and the City’s ability to influence logistical decisions unrelated to fighting the actual fire.
5. The lack of a pre-planned, mutually agreed upon coordinated evacuation plan (across all first responders and the City) and agreed upon repopulation protocols in a city with a geographic topography like Malibu and the surrounding area resulted in major problems for City staff and considerable dissatisfaction by the community. The situation was exacerbated by the incident itself and the ability to communicate information effectively to residents and other local responders.
BOLDFACE THIS: Coordination with Caltrans and California Highway Patrol (CHP) by the Sheriff’s Department should have occurred prior to the issuance of evacuation orders to
facilitate a safe and expeditious departure for residents. Ironically, City staff had developed detailed neighborhood-level information to facilitate evacuations, but because they are not in charge of leading such an effort, this information and planning went largely unused. Additionally, City leaders were not consulted by those responsible for the evacuation efforts.
6. Community meeting facilitation and communication skills during an event as impactful as the Woolsey Fire require special training to be able to effectively respond to the concerns and real fears of those in attendance.

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