Notes compiled by Lisa Goettel and Tara Sluyter at the Pfieffer State Park Lodge Conference Center in Big Sur on October 29th, 2008.
This was a big meeting, with lots of people, lots of good information and lots of notes. Key points are bolded for a quick read-through if you don’t want to read the whole shebang. Little separation lines have been inserted between the different presenters/ sections.
Cal Fire and the SEAT Team
NOAA (National Weather Service)
Big Sur Fire Brigade
Big Sur CERT
Big Sur Community
Dave Potter’s office
Len Neilson, the CAL Fire representative on the SEAT Team presented the State Emergency Assessment Team Report. This was developed by a multi-agency, 14-person team. Len welcomes contact by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
What the SEAT team did:
A rapid assessment of risk areas post-fire to determine the probability and likelihood of damage this winter. The intention being to distribute this information to Big Sur businesses and residents so they may best prepare.
Basin Fire: 162,818 acres burned
Indians Fire: 76,554 acres burned
Combined to be the Basin Complex Fire: 239,372 which is the 3rd largest wildfire in California’s recorded history.
Potential values at risk (that were assessed):
- threats to human life
- wildlife, botanical values and fisheries
- water quality (noted: (If you have a well you should be fine, but if you have spring water, it may be impacted by sediment from debris flows.)
- recreational resources
- natural and cultural resources such as Native American sites
Introduced soil burn intensity and severity maps.
See CPOA Website at http://www.cpoabigsur.org for PDF versions of the maps. Maps are also available at the Big Sur Library. The hazards are labeled by their longitude and latitude. The CPOA has translated this onto Google Earth and Google Maps. There is 95% accuracy level of this map, as verified between satellite and on-the-ground study.
The development of these maps was the start of the assessment process.
When the soil burns intensely, it burns all of the small vegetation holding the soil together which makes it
a. less likely to absorb water
b. more apt to flood and create debris flows
It becomes hydrophobic soil, and they conducted tests to determine how hydophobic the soil was in different places (how fast the soil will absorb water post-burn.) When soil is hydrophobic and it rains, the water is not absorbed, but instead acts like a snowball rolling down a hill. The water droplet attaches to a bit of dirt, then this attaches to a larger piece of dirt, then a small rock, then a larger rock. etc.
The maps show that:
55,058 acres had high severity burn
88,565 had moderate burn
93,355 had low burn
It was estimated that there are 300 points in Big Sur in which life or property are threatened by debris flows.
The debris flows will gravitate to the watersheds.
If a creek gets filler with debris, it will make a new channel. Homes, people, etc. may be in the path of this channel.
Debris flows can happen at any time and often happen at night. We must asses our personal safety and be ready to evacuate when the situation become hazardous. Unlike the fire, which moved slowly and were somewhat predictable, debris flows are very fast and unpredictable.
If you can install diversion structures (sand bags, K rails, etc.) you should do this now. These are good for smaller slides, but will not hold back a big slide.
Recommendation: Contact a professional assistance or hydrologist to assess your land. NRCS (National Resource Conservation Society) through the OES will do this for you for free. Contact the Office of Emergency Services.
The rainfall benchmark they announced:
If we receive 1.9 inches of rain in 3 hours there is an 80% chance of debris flows.
In addition to the soil burn study they did many assessments/ evaluations such as:
- Review of existing maps and data collection
- Verifying on-site conditions
- Consulting/ gathering local knowledge and history from the Marble Cone, Molera, Kirk fire, and others.
- An early warning system is usually recommended but not really feasible in most of Big Sur – the best early warning system is individual preparedness. Be safe and ready to go. The slides will happen too fast for an early warning system to be very effective. It may sound like a train coming, but only moments before it hits.
Look around your house and neighborhood – work with your neighbors – to assess your own personal risk
Prepare and install diversion structures where appropriate – good for smaller slides (sand bags, k-rails, straw bales) but won’t hold back a large event.
Seek professional assistance – professional erosion control specialists
- Establish evacuation routes and test them. See what you can get ready to go in 5 minutes – practice this. Keep supplies in your vehicle.
- Improve and establish communications.
- Phone trees and telecommunications systems (see SurCATS info)
- Vegetation removal and modifications – NOTE some requires permitting (see permitting info.)
- Inspection and maintenance of infrastructure – especially culverts – check it before and after rain but never while its raining.
- Area and trail closures
- Seasonal bridge removal
Above all, be situationally aware. Be ready to go. Don’t stay in a risk area when it’s raining.
Don’t be surprised if Highway 1 gets washed out several times, in several places. It is likely to create “islands” of people cut off from one another for some period of time.
In the ideal situation we’ll get light rain through the next few winters that gets the vegetation going but isn’t enough to trigger slides.
A question was raised: Should we be concerned if were on the top side of a burn area, such as at the Hermitage? Answer: There is a risk if you are near the edge of the burn area – when debris moves it can de-stabilize whatever is immediately above it.
National Weather Service (NOAA) gave a presentation (Tom Evans with contributions from a colleague) Tom’s e-mail is email@example.com.
http://weather.gov/SanFrancisco (even though it says San Francisco it’s local info)
Tom showed images and videos of debris flows – showing large boulders moving at high velocity and re-routing of channels after culverts plugged. Flows can have depth of 10, 20 and 30 feet. He feels debris flows will happen this winter with certainty.
Weather reporting timeline:
7 day forecast
3-5 day outlook
Hazard watches are announced 12-48 hours ahead
Hazard advisory or Hazard warnings are given when a situation is imminent or occurring (meaning life or property is at risk.)
He recommends staying ahead of the curve – check the website regularly for weather forecasts. Also:
162.550 MHz – radio
phone – 831-656-1725
TV and radio
NOAA is working with the CPOA to get radio into the area.
Be prepared, have a plan. Know your neighbors. Become a volunteer weather spotter. Know what’s going on and be ready to act.
A 10-year storm will cause debris flows. (The definition of a 10-year storm is one that can happen anytime, but happens on average every 10 years and equals 1.9 inches of rain in 3 inches.) It was noted that an intense longer rain storm or very intense rain in very short time can also trigger debris flows.
Forecast this weekend:
System moving into the area Thurs. and Friday – main part of the system coming Saturday and Sunday. Could see 1-4 inches of rain in higher elevations. Look for a possible watch on Thursday/ Friday.
Len noted that in past situations in burn areas, early weather warnings were wrong. There will likely be many warnings this winter and you will have to evacuate several times. If you don’t see something in your area it didn’t happen.
NOAA has installed specialty, cutting-edge equipment this week at Pt Sur – a vertically pointing radar that samples clouds overhead will measure water in the atmosphere. along with a wind profiler, giving them the ability to better predict how much rain will be falling.
NOAA further defined the “problem” rain benchmarks:
2/10 of an inch in 15 minutes
4/10 of an inch in 30 minutes
6/10 of an inch in 1 hour
NOAA prediction for whole winter:
Neutral prediction – not an El Nino or La Nina year. In these non “El or La” years complex of thunderstorms out of the Indian Ocean are more frequent, so that ‘s what we need to watch for.
Eyes are needed on the ground to report back to the NOAA office. They want to calibrate themselves against real-life info. Please call 656-1725 or 1 800-437-2689 to report weather information and become a volunteer weather spotter.
Frank Pinney of the Big Sur Fire Brigade reported:
During El Nino in 1998 the incident command system went into place, using a shelter-in-place model. We got county assistance for residents to stay, and got guests and non-essential personnel out. During the disaster, the county and CAL Fire agreed to teach the fire brigade how to work into county incident command structure.
This winter could look like that, but it will more likely be a series of small, aggravating disasters to neighborhoods over a period of months. Local groups have a good handle on how it will work with the county and agencies. The brigade (Chamber and CPOA is assisting) is actively pre-planning with the OES and other agencies on how to best respond to any situation.
This weekend will be a practice session, both in response and with communications. Dick Ravich is working on implementing radio communications. He’s working on getting the NOAA alert system signal down to Big Sur in a reliable way. Dick will put out a recommendation for radio equipment (radio, scanner and 2-ways) for purchase. If you do get cut off from phone and web, think about what equipment you need to connect with neighbors. Technically you need a license to use those radios, but in an emergency situation it will be ok. There may be a class on radio etiquette.
Dick Ravich talked about CERT:
The training course will prepare local residents to be first responders and enable us to shelter-in-place as well.
www.citizencorps.gov/cert/is317 (for exam)
The online course is a requirement.
The training is through CAL Fire and 80 people are registered for the course currently. For more info or to sign up, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Hal Latta, Mary Trotter and Martha Carstens are also very active on this.
SurCATS – Barbara Ray Daughters and Frank Pinney described:
SurCATS is the communications team from incident command. It was started 10 years ago and re-emerges during disasters. They are planning for hotline needs and other communications needs in all the possible situations. The SurFire website is being re-launched and will be called www.surcats.org.
SurCATS will be proactively seeking detailed contact information from residents, so you can be contacted with critical information in any situation. Volunteers are needed from each neighborhood to help facilitate this. Please contact Barbara at 831-667-2424.
A brief discussion on recommended supply purchases ensued. This list included:
- a generator
- inverter for your car that allows you to turn your car cigarette lighter into a standard power socket.
- solar power unit with a battery pack
- phone that doesn’t require electricity
Rob Clyburn from OES (Office of Emergency Services) Presented:
The full winter plan is going to be published (note: it’s from a stakeholder perspective and not in laymens terms) and is expected to be released next week.
They are currently making a composite of all the hazard analyses (there are currently several different hazard maps and they will put them all into one.)
Has noted he has never been an incident with this much preparedness and he feels very good about how response will be. He gave a big shout out to CPOA for all their efforts.
A reverse 911 system is operational. If your phone is a TDD for the hearing impared or if there is a shared fax on the line, the text message will print out on the fax/ TDD system. All Big Sur residents who are in the phone book will receive weather/ road/ evacuation warnings. You can self-register additional information to assist this on a website to be announced soon. You will have to use the official address in the system or correct property numbers or it won’t allow you to register (they realize this is a challenge in Big Sur and they are working on options.) If you register more info there, the system information to a cell phone too, for instance.
AT&T/ SBC has teams actively preparing for phone outages.
The US Small Business Administration declared their own disaster as of today – will be set up at the Barnyard shopping center in Carmel up on the 3rd floor as of Monday. They will be offering low interest rate loans for property owners and businesses to cover losses not covered by insurance or have suffered cash flow problems due to the fire.
Rob was acknowledged by several people in the room for his outreach and proactivity.
A representative from the Sheriff’s Department presented:
The Sheriff’s office has been involved in all the multi-agency planning.
Role of department – he recognized there was some confusion during the fire and they learned from the fire and have made some changes to do things a little bit better. This apology was well received by the room.
He defined the incident command structure, and clarified that under Unified Command, the USFS, Sheriff and Fire Brigade share command, so all major decisions, including those about evacuations, are made by this whole group – it’s not just the decision of the Sheriff’s department. Once the evacuation has been ordered however, it is in the Sheriff’s jurisdiction to enforce it.
He announced that the terminology has been changed and the following will be used in the future:
Evacuation watch – threat of life or property
Evacuation warning – imminent threat to life and property
A question was asked about what will cause an arrest?
He stated unequivocally that they will not arrest anyone for staying in their homes.
He defined the two main types of closures.
No access – prohibits anyone other than emergency personnel.
Limited access – will be determined by incident commander and usually allows residents, emergency personnel, media through with passes or ID.
Rob at OES said: in some instances when we know we are going to hit weather threshold levels we will evacuate the area. This winter will be a collection of events and each one will trigger a response. It was also noted that the day after the rain is still a danger – there may be jam and release situations.
Identify shelters-in-place within your communities – recommend getting professional assistance in determining where those places are. They may be safer to stay at than to drive during a storm. Driving on the roads during and post-storm is extremely risky. Be ready to shelter-in-place for long periods of time. If the roads close, re-supply will be a challenge. Take the 72 hour supply recommendation info and multiply it by 5. Self-sustaining depends on your own needs and your location. Get a supply of medication before you decide to stay put.
A question was raised and it was announced that school bus drivers are included in the planning team.
The incident command system will be involved in delivery systems to closed areas. When a community need is identified it will be tracked as a resource request through the incident command. Chinooks used in El Nino probably won’t be available. There could be competition for resources because of other impacted areas such as Santa Cruz. It was insinuated that resources that if you get resources through personal channels and the incident command is not notified of them, it could be problematic.
More info from Q&A:
Consider evacuation routes that don’t use roads that are likely going to be impacted, like Nacimiento.
Expect that signs on the highway will communicate with tourists and such. There was a big shout out to Caltrans who has been working very hard on preparations. Expect that road closures will be reactive and not close in advance of weather unless there is very good confidence that a debris slide will occur.
Carl Holm from the County Panning Department talked about coastal zone permits:
Since the fire, county staff has authority to expedite permits and waive fees to get things through the process. CPOA came to them to see if a global permit could be procured instead of all the individual permits, so they’ve created a blanket emergency permit for Big Sur for two years. This allows things such as K-rail installations, tree and vegetation removal, etc. NRCS must come out and do an individual site assessment and then they will sign off.
The county has put together a permitting committee that meets weekly to have the authority to sign off on all other permits quickly.
Anticipate it could be 5 years until things are back to normal, there is recognition there will likely be a need to extend the current blanket permit.
Some things not covered under blanket permit:
– debris racks, retaining walls or other engineering projects
He created and distributed a flow chart for procesess to follow for doing different things that require permit activity. Even if you don’t think you need a permit, take a look at this document and you’ll see all the contacts you need to notify. (Working on getting an electronic copy to post.)
Carl’s phone number: (831) 755-5103
Rob Johnson with County Water Resources presented:
Their job is to prepare, monitor and inform. They prepare by distributing sandbags to fire agencies. He distributed a handout says where to pick up sandbags. (Working on getting this electronically too.) They maintain a county alert system. When storms come they will trigger thresholds and talk with the weather service. Field crews monitor river levels, etc. They share info with National Weather Service and OES who makes emergency decisions.
Red Cross – Carmel Chapter presented:
- Build a kit to sustain you at home and one that you can grab and go – use checklists provided. Check if your kits are expired.
- Make a plan. Make sure your family and friends have a plan and everyone knows what it is. Set up communications systems, places/ people to call that are reliable.
- Be trained if you are isolated. Learn basic first aid and CPR.
- Count on the Red Cross for food and shelter. They are looking for recommendations for local shelter locations and looking for local volunteers.
Sheltered and evacuated more than 500 animals during the fire.
Window stickers from SPCA were distributed with an information packet with a list of things to consider in your evacution plans.
Do not leave your pets behind when you evacuate. Bring your pets – SPCA will be at the Red Cross shelter. Don’t wait until the warning hits for livestock evacuations. Do that before emergency services comes in. Have a full body color photo with you and your pet that will help you claim your pet. List of all the hotels and motels that accept pets is on the SPCA website. Put it in your disaster kit.
Make arrangements with neighbors now for places to stay if the road goes out.
Take pictures of all your property now for insurance purposes.