Fire Dept Absent As City Quietly Reviews Emergency Plans

Written by on June 14, 2019

Caltrans officials were blasted by the City of Malibu yesterday … for failing to rapidly respond to traffic lights that went out as the Woolsey Fire roared over the hill seven months ago.

And the City fo Malibu’s new fire safety liaison expert publicly criticized the sheriff’s office evacuation and repopulation plans … for giving people what he called an “all or nothing” choice over evacuations.

The public criticism came at a round table review of the city’s emergency plan … a critical item that is being updated with lessons learned from the disaster.

Representatives from almost every public agency that operates on the city crowded a conference room at City Hall … but only a few Malibu residents.

The public meeting was not widely publicized … only a handful showed up.

Conspicuously not present at the meeting … the L A County Fire Department.

At the meeting …

City fire safety liaison Jerry Vandermuellen told sheriff’s officials that their roadblock policies were giving Malibu residents an “all or nothing” dilemma about evacuations.

Vandermuellen … a retired Ventura County firefighter … told sheriffs deputies that lengthy roadblocks meant residents were unable to return back to Malibu … in some cases losing homes as a result.

Quote … “you are giving people no choice” … Vandermuellen said.

But Southern California Edison officials noted how important it was for areas to be inspected for safety before being reopened to the public.

At the emergency planning meeting yesterday … Caltrans officials said their policy is to send technicians to repair traffic signals when they go down… and also call in the California Highway Patrol or the L A County Sheriffs office.

“Except that’s not what happened” Feldman shot back across the room.

The signals started flashing at P C H and Topanga Canyon .. and then went dead … hours before the Woolsey Fire crossed over the mountains.

Traffic was already snarled on PCH when the city gave the evacuation order.

City officials noted that the plan is just that … a plan .., and that things do not go to plan when a disaster strikes.

And there were decisions made by city officials …. revisions made to the city emergency plan.

The city will follow the lead of the sheriff and fire departments … and phase out the use of the term voluntary evacuations.

The reason … people assume a voluntary evacuation means it’s safe to stay.

The city will come up with more-specific language on traffic control at key intersections … by assigning traffic control responsibilities at each location …. each choke point.

The city will add temporary safe refuge areas to the plans … places like the parking lots at Zuma Beach and at Will Rogers Beach.

The idea there will be to get the back of the line of traffic out … to a safe holding area as quickly as possible.

The big lots parking lot  on P C H at Temescal Canyon Road night be used as a holding area …if the road through Santa Monica is too clogged to accept more cars.

And perhaps most importantly … the new emergency plan will include language about speedy inspection of evacuated areas … to make sure the utilities and other conditions are safe for re-entry as quickly as possible.

Many Malibu residents may be surprised that Malibu has a Disaster Council …. under a city ordinance the city manager and department heads make up a council that actually has only met once…. yesterday.

This meeting was open to the public yesterday … virtually no member of the public … however .. were in attendance.

And none spoke.

That is very … very unusual for Malibu … a city scarred and scared by the fire.

Because the Disaster Council is set up in the city ordinances …. it is a public body … and its meetings must be open to the public.

And the agenda was posted two days before the meeting.

But no public notice went out about yesterday’s most unusual public meeting until late Wednesday … just a half day before the meeting.

[There are no radio stations in the database]