Disaster Spawns Flood Watch Advocates

By Jennifer Erickson | LB Indy


In the wake of Laguna Beach’s most recent disaster, some residents see costly lessons in how to minimize danger and destruction in the future.

In addition, resident David Mitchell’s goal is to harness revived interest in disaster preparedness by rallying volunteers to establish a flood watch group along the lines of the red flag patrol that is activated during fire season. He made a start this week.

Topping Mitchell’s agenda is earlier use of the AlertOC system that makes reverse 911 calls, such as the ones received by many residents mid-morning on Wednesday, Dec. 22, after the flooding had occurred. “It was fairly predictable what was going to happen by about midnight that night,” said Mitchell. Anyone monitoring the weather on Doppler radar (accessible online at http://radar.weather.gov/), would have seen the severity of the storm headed right for us, even though a look at the sky outside would have been inconclusive.

City Manager John Pietig agrees. At a meeting of Mitchell’s committee this past Wednesday, Pietig promised that city officials will proactively send out future storm alerts with less concern about waking residents. That point was welcomed by Ann Quilter, the disaster relief coordinator for the Laguna Relief and Resource Center, who urged sending a caution to residents no matter the hour even if it proves a false alarm.

Pietig said he assigned the fire chief to determine what criteria should evoke an early alert. In an emergency, first responders can benefit from the added eyes and ears of citizens and relief efforts of volunteers, he said.

In addition to telephone warnings, Mitchell urged city officials to install video surveillance cameras at critical junctures of flood channels, such as the bottleneck at Beach Street. Monitored online by trained volunteers during storm watches, these cameras could provide early indications of potentially dangerous situations without risk.

“All of the technology exists,” he said. What’s needed are volunteers to monitor the cameras and trained to trigger disaster-preparedness protocols established by city officials.

While the water district possesses such a camera used for various projects, it could be repurposed for surveillance during flood season, Mitchell said. Eight to 10 cameras would be ideal, according to Charlie Quilter, who figured the cost at five figures is not prohibitive.

As an outgrowth of the 1993 firestorm, David Horne established the Greater Laguna Coast Fire Safe Council and its volunteer Red Flag Patrol, whose volunteers patrol potential hot spots, looking for threatening conditions and suspicious behavior as well as posting red flags.

A citizen-run flood watch modeled on the red flag patrol “sounds like a logical thing to do,” Horne said, cautioning that “floods and mud are a lot more dangerous than watching for smoke in the distance.”

Mitchell stressed the need to broaden the base of volunteers involved in disaster preparedness. “It’s not something that should be left to a few people,” he said.

Specifically, Mitchell wants to deploy texting, Facebook and Twitter to reach the under-30 crowd as well as students. He proposed trying to entice students by having them play (perhaps even create) disaster preparedness video games with prizes, rather than simply handing out fact sheets.

His intent is to “change the equation to make it enjoyable to be prepared.”

“Anything you can do to get people interested in assisting in these kinds of things is a good move,” agreed Horne.

Educating the population remains critical to preparedness, even when information is readily available. The city’s web site, for example, offers a virtual primer on flood preparedness (http://www.lagunabeachcity.net/cityhall/fire/disaster/floods.asp).

Pietig pointed out that educating newcomers about taking flood precautions is particularly important. Several owners of new businesses in town told him they were unaware of the need for flood gates and flood proofing prior to the recent storm.

Phone alerts are only helpful to those who receive them. Residents with unlisted numbers or those whose landline is now a secondary number should update their information at the city’s website: http://www.lagunabeachcity.net/cityhall/police/resources/alertoc.asp where there is a “click here” link to add, edit or delete contact information for residents and businesses. AlertOC is capable of notifying subscribers by phone, email, or text message, as long as they specify their contact information.

The committee is in the process of establishing a time, day of the month and location for regular meetings going forward, which all residents are encouraged to attend.



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