WILDFIRES AND POINT RICHMOND
By Edie Alderette-Sellers
In case you missed it, November's PRCERT meeting was tremendously informative. Our Emergency Services chief, Genevieve Pastor-Cohen, explained how Santa Rosa's emergency infrastructure managed the mass evacuations from the recent Wine Country fires, and we learned how Contra Costa County and City of Richmond are taking steps to ensure that we are ready if we face a similar disaster.
Attendees had tons of questions, and we're working on answering the ones that we weren't able to answer right away.
Aren't those sirens we hear on Wednesdays for Chevron only?
No. All refineries throughout Contra Costa County (and there are lots of them) are linked in with Contra Costa County's Emergency Warning System. If there is a fire, earthquake, or any emergency that requires your immediate attention, these sirens sound — regardless if it's at the refinery or not.
Officials with the county's Emergency Services Division can sound them, and emergency officials within each of the refineries also have the ability to sound them, so the system is unified. So unified, in fact, that all the sirens throughout the county are tested on the same day, every Wednesday at 11 a.m.
Will we get a siren if there's a fire? What about a phone call?
If there is a fire or any other hazard that immediately threatens the community, the emergency-services personnel will sound the siren. The siren means to go inside, close your windows and doors, shut your fireplace flue, and turn on your radio for further instructions.
The county recently replaced our old, problematic call system with a new, more reliable computerized system that has been used by the military for years. This new system will attempt to contact all listed land lines in the warning area and has an option to allow calls to go out into specific neighborhoods, streets, or even specific houses with pinpoint accuracy.
That being said, calling land lines with a voice recording is a challenge even with the new system, but it's not the system's fault.
Not all land lines have listed phone numbers, so they may not receive a call. In addition, because land lines must go through physical telephone exchanges (which can only handle so many calls at once), when the system attempts to call hundreds or possibly thousands of numbers, there's frequently a delay of getting all the calls out.
Texts to cel phones don't have that issue. Texts can be sent out by the tens of thousands instantaneously and don't need to rely on the physical phone infrastructure or delays in playing a recorded message.
If you want to ensure that you get a phone warning as fast as possible, you should register your cel phone with the county's system. You can also enter multiple addresses, so you can register your home, your work, or other county areas that you'd want warnings about.
You can register online at https://cwsalerts.com/registration/.
For extremely detailed information about our emergency-warning system, watch our video.
What can we do to prepare for and reduce the impact of a wildfire?
If something like Santa Rosa's fire happens here in Point Richmond (and with Miller-Knox Park, it's not out of the question), there's only so much you can do to prevent it from impacting homes. What you can do is help first-responders out by not making their job harder to fight it.
1. Clear any brush or vegetation around your home — get a defensible space of at least 30 feet around your house if possible. This includes grasses, shrubs, and tree branches that extend near or over your roof.
2. Make sure your next roof is not a shingle roof and is composed of fire-retardant materials.
3. If you have eucalyptus trees on your property, consider taking them out; if not, make sure they are healthy and not diseased, dying, or dead.
4. Prune your trees so that no branches are near the power line into your home.
5. HAVE GO-BAGS READY. One for your house, one for your car, one for your work. If you have pets, make go bags for them, too. Be prepared to evacuate yourself and your family in 2 to 5 minutes — people in some parts of Santa Rosa had less than that!
6. If you have a garage-door opener, make sure you know how to disable it so you can open in manually and lift the door. Several deaths in Santa Rosa were caused by the victims either not knowing how to disengage the mechanism or weren't strong enough to lift the doors. Test it now. If your garage door opener doesn't have a backup battery for power outages, consider getting a new one that does have this feature.
If you need any further information, including how to make a go-bag, visit other articles on this website.
We wanted to volunteer to help Santa Rosa fire victims, but didn't know how.
Santa Rosa's disaster posed a challenge on many levels. Lots of people helped with donations of clothing, food, and time. However, all the donations required a massive amount of logistics because many of the donations were bags of old clothes and shoes. With people "cleaning out their garages," this made for monumental piles of gear that needed to be sorted. Staff had to go through thousands of items individually, consuming hours of their time — one job for a lucky volunteer was to pair up an enormous pile of shoes with their missing mates!
That's why cash donations are so important; no need to pull volunteers from elsewhere to inventory anything and no storage costs.
In addition, each person who showed up to volunteer at a shelter needed to be "shelter trained" by Red Cross before they started working, so it was a challenge to not only care for the evacuees but also provide the infrastructure for the donations and volunteers.
Pastor-Cohen very much wants to start a new program of training Richmond residents to man shelters so they can deploy to Red Cross shelters in neighboring areas when the need arises — or to man shelters in Richmond if need be. If we do this before a disaster, it saves precious time and manpower that could be better used to help evacuees.
This training takes about four hours and would be available to CERT graduates. If you're CERT trained, please contact her office. If you're not CERT trained yet, let us know and we'll get your registered for the Spring session. It's free. Then you can be shelter-trained.
We've got a lot of dead trees around town. What should we do?
We all know about the number of dead trees around Point Richmond. Some are privately owned, but many are on city property.
We all know how hard it has been to get movement from the city agencies to remove the ones they should. Now that these fires have occurred, it has put the need for removing these hazards in the front of everyone's minds.
PR CERT would like to work with neighbors and the city to get these trees removed. We realize this means inventorying the public trees that need removal, getting that list into the right hands, and following up until the work is done.
This is a bigger job than one or two people can do so we need your help. If you're interested in lending a hand with this project, if only to be part of planning, send us a message via our contact page!
Any more tips?
If wildfire (or any other disaster) hits greater Richmond, first-responders will be hard pressed to get to us due to our location. We need to be prepared for being cut off for a time from emergency services. Getting trained as a Community Emergency Response Team member gives you the tools to help your own family and others safely and effectively. It also gives you the tools you need to effectively volunteer elsewhere, like those who helped in Santa Rosa and Sonoma.
Richmond offers CERT training twice a year, Spring and and Fall, and it's free.
We need more team members educated and active so we may weather whatever's thrown our way. JOIN US. GET EDUCATED. GET INFORMED. GET PREPARED TO HELP YOUR NEIGHBORS THE SAFE WAY.
Our meetings are the first Thursday of every month. Our next meeting will be Thursday, January 4, at 6:30 p.m. at the Point Richmond Community Center. Get on our mailing list through our contact page.