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Sonoma Co. Urged To Increase Emergency Staff After Wildfire Report

SANTA ROSA (CBS SF) – The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors was advised on Monday to hire six full-time emergency response-related employees at a cost of $1.2 million in the wake of the 2017 October Wildfires.

The recommendations are included in an 85-page report by the county's Interim Emergency Manager Christopher Godley, who is Director of Emergency Management at Tetra Tech in Oakland.

Two of the employees would lead and coordinate a comprehensive Alert & Warning Program and improve situational awareness about emergencies.

Three employees would work in the county's Emergency Management Program. One would work on community preparedness to support neighborhood established Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) and Citizens Organized to Prepare for Emergencies (CORE).

Another full-time employee would serve as an emergency director and a third as an additional emergency services coordinator. Once the enhanced and coordinated emergency public warning and incident response is in place, a sixth employee in community preparedness would be hired.

The report that contained dozens of recommendations, in addition to hiring six new employees and building a new Emergency Operations Center estimated at $20 million, focused on the performance of three areas of the county's emergency response to the 2017 wildfires - its Emergency Operations Center, Community Alert and Warning Program and Emergency Management Program.

Godley said Sonoma County "did relatively well" responding to the Tubbs Fire on Oct. 8, 2017 that raced 12 miles in four hours from Calistoga to Santa Rosa and the Nuns Fire in the Sonoma Valley. The fires destroyed 6,686 structures - 5,143 of them homes - and killed 24 people.

In February, the Governor's Office of Emergency Services issued a report critical of the county's alert and warning system. It said the county's Emergency Services Manager Christopher Helgren decided before the fires not to use wireless alert technology that includes texts to cell phones and an Emergency Alert System that uses radio waves, wireless cable and television cable systems to warn the public of a disaster.

Instead, warnings and alerts were sent via Sonoma County Alert and Nixle that require residents to sign up by phone and email to receive them.  The procedures for those alerts were uncoordinated and included gaps, overlays and redundancies alerts, according to the state OES report.

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to consider the funding for the six new employees during its budget hearings this week.

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