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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

By Chris Frost
Tri County Sentry


Camarillo--The Camarillo City Council, Wednesday, October 14, updated its Emergency Operations Plan (EOP).


The city updates its plan every five years, which is a tool used by city staff and responders.


"It establishes emergency preparedness response and recovery operations in case of an extraordinary disaster or emergency," Assistant City Manager Carmen Nichols said. "It's compliant with the California Standardized Emergency Management System, which we call SEMS, and the National Incident Management System, NIMS. City staff that report to the Emergency Management Center are required to undergo extensive training. On an annual basis, the training exercise is conducted."


She said in 2021, they worked closely with Wendy Milligan, the president of Terra Firma Enterprises, specifically to understand some of the new rules and requirements incorporated into the plan.


Milligan said she wanted to give the council a "30,000-foot" level update about what they're trying to do with the plan.


"The whole project is revolving around bullet points," she said. "There were two bills, Senate Bill 160 and Assembly Bill 477 everybody is talking about; making sure we incorporate our diverse communities and disabled access functional needs populations appropriately throughout our plan. We were a little soft in some areas, so we're trying to augment that up quite a bit. We also looked at, knowing historically what you've gone through in the past with some disasters, what worked and what didn't work with regards to actual response or training and exercises you've had."


She said they're looking to streamline the plan where they can, which she called a "really thick document."


"We've been trying to streamline it down to the end-users, which is your emergency responders that are going to be in your emergency operations center," Milligan said. "We're looking at those areas to streamline the information or perhaps refer to other plans that address the same information instead of having that information up here in two places."


She said they're also looking at state office emergency services that put out a crosswalk for the city's emergency operations plan.


"At the national level, there's a tool available for us to make sure we are incorporating everything that we should in our emergency operations plan," she said. "We use that as part of our plan to make sure, as we put the plan together, it's going to be meeting all of those requirements at the state and national level. Ultimately your plan is a sub-plan of Ventura County operational areas emergency response plan as well and the State of California's emergency management plan. So we want to make sure that your plan complements that plan as well, and we are using the same terminology and references that are going to be helping us when we respond together in an emergency."


The Emergency Operations Plan provides a structure and process that will be utilized to respond to and initially recover from an emergency or disaster. It assigns responsibility to individuals or agencies for carrying out specific actions during an emergency, sets forth lines of authority and organizational relationships and how they will be coordinated, and identifies personnel equipment facilities, supplies, and other resources available in the city or by agreement with other jurisdictions.


She said they looked at the plan's structure and started with the multi-agency coordination group, formerly the policy group.


"We're now calling it a multi-agency coordination group to be speaking the same language as the county and the state as well," Milligan said. That is the accepted term these days; multi-agency coordination group. That does not necessarily mean that in the past, the city council is the policy group. Not necessarily; it's a multi-agency coordination group that could be most of the directors of your city departments. You could be pulling in the port people if you wanted. It depends on the incident who you would pull in who you think should be sitting at that table, executive level, that would make decisions across the board for this city. The rest of the organization would implement it."


One change they did was create a disabled access functional needs coordinator, which did not exist before.


"We felt that it was important due to the fact that at the national and state level, we need to look out for everybody in our community," she said. "We may not have a real good understanding about how certain activities during a response may impact some of the disabled functional access needs populations for traffic. Maybe you are evacuating people, and you have people who have mobility issues. Even getting out an evacuation notice, you may have people who are hard of hearing or speak a different language. We're trying to incorporate that into our org chart so we have a way to make sure that no matter what we're doing, there's somebody that's overseeing the different tasks that we will be implementing during a disaster to make sure that we are incorporating the whole community. If we're ordering busses, do those busses have lifts on them to accept folks in wheelchairs?"


She said they've streamlined the organization, so there's a fire/medical health branch that used to be two different branches.


"It used to be a fire and medical health branch, but really, the fire department is going to be serving both of those tasks or both of those positions, so we figured let's combine them into one," Milligan said. "The police branch was changed. It used to be law enforcement, and we're changing it to police just to be a little more descriptive. In some cases, we had people get a little bit confused with law enforcement thinking that it was illegal, like your attorneys. It's not; it's the police branch."


She said the situation status unit is combined with a few other units.


"It absorbed what we call the damage assessment unit, and it used to be under the operations section," she said. "That also was a point of confusion because people thought that was your building and safety, people and were going out and doing safety inspections where, in fact, it's not. It's the person that has been gathering information about all of the damages for your city."


She said the same thing applies to resource status.


"You're not ordering resources here but rather painting the picture of where all our resources are," she said.


They combined procurement and purchasing in the logistics section.


"For the size of your city, it's typically done by the same people, so we figured we'll combine that," she said. "We've combined the org chart down and streamlined it quite a bit."


The threats section in the EOP includes detailed threat or hazard information already contained in the city's section within the Ventura County Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan being updated. Instead of providing the same information in the EOP, a summary of the threat or hazard is provided with reference to the Ventura County Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan for a more in-depth description of the hazard.


"It's going from over 100 pages of hazard stuff; it's going down to nine or 10 pages," she said.


They also color-coded the EOP checklist to make it easier to find.


She said the Emergency Operations Plan used to be 13 files, and it is now one file with hyperlinks, so you can find something by clicking on the hyperlink.


"Hopefully, that will make it a lot easier if you put it on your internal drives when you're activated during an EOC activation, and you're looking for a particular checklist," she said.


She noted that Disabled Access and Functional Needs (DAFN) must be beefed up.


"Throughout the plan, we've woven information about what we call DAFN issues," she said. "Throughout the plan in those categories, you know communications warning, notifications, evacuations, are woven throughout, but then, we also have support documentation for the operations section, particularly focusing on these categories for more in-depth information. What the state and the feds really want to see is that you don't have a standalone annex for dealing with the DAFN. It's woven throughout your plan. Then you can point to some specific details to support the information you have in your plan."