By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent
Jordan Villwock remembers his first 911 call as a 20-year-old Laguna Beach police dispatcher.
A parent in North Laguna reported their former spouse for domestic violence related to a child custody dispute.
Last week, Villwock answered his final 911 call for Laguna Beach while filling in for a dispatcher. A man in South Laguna called crying and said he wanted to walk into traffic. Villwock was able to get him to sit down on the curb with his legs crossed until officers arrived at the scene. The incident was resolved without injuries.
“You just go home and think, there are a lot of people who have demons they’re fighting,” Villwock said.
After four years as a full-time emergency operations coordinator, Villwock is moving on to a position as chief of staff for the Ontario Fire Department. He’ll oversee a $60 million annual budget and emergency management on the ground at Ontario International Airport, which is a major hub for Amazon, FedEx, and UPS.
Villwock, 35, decided it was time to move on because Laguna Beach doesn’t have a senior position he was interested in stepping into. Ontario has 10 fire stations and is considering building three more as it continues to grow; the intellectual challenges of preparing for a large aircraft crash in an urban environment were also appealing to Villwock.
When asked what keeps him up at night, Villwock said, “I usually sleep pretty well. I have two little kids who wear me out.”
However, the destruction expected from a significant earthquake shaking the region remains at the front of his mind.
Emergency and Disaster Preparedness Committee member Tim Templeton said Villwock is one of the main reasons why Laguna Beach has a reputation among public safety officials for being one of the most prepared communities, despite threats from fires, mudslides, tsunamis, and earthquakes.
“From the local CERT program he launched, to the extensive work he’s done with emergency notification systems, including utilization of social media communications platforms, as well as his successful efforts to acquire state and federal funding, he is leaving Laguna Beach in much better shape than he found it,” Templeton wrote in a statement.
At the Dec. 3 City Council meeting, Mayor Bob Whalen thanked Villwock for all of his work for the city, including grant applications that brought in millions of state dollars for emergency planning and management.
“I said to Jordan last night at the Emergency and Disaster Preparedness Committee, ‘Congratulations, you did a great job for us, and your one remaining task is getting some good candidates to fill your shoes,’” Whalen said.
Villwock said his replacement must have the energy to serve a community that expects phone calls returned within the same business day, answer a stream of questions at public meetings, and stand by their expert opinions when needed despite pressure from the public.
“I’m very fortunate to work with a community that is very passionate about [emergency preparedness] and very supportive,” Villwock said.
In the wake of the Camp Fire that devastated the town of Paradise, the Laguna Beach City Council charged city staff with a comprehensive review of the city’s approach to preventing and responding to wildfires. A council subcommittee of Whalen and Councilmember Sue Kempf, with the assistance of Villwock and top city officials, produced a 132-page Wildfire Mitigation and Fire Safety Report.
The report discusses a slate of topics from wildfire fuel modification to undergrounding utility lines and hardened cellular infrastructure to the deployment of drones for reconnaissance of fire-prone open spaces. The subcommittee continues to offer quarterly reports at City Council meetings on the implementation of these ideas.
In July, the City Council earmarked an additional $6.65 million to pay for wildfire protection projects outlined in the report. When added to the $14.8 million already funding projects, Laguna Beach will spend more than $21 million over the next two fiscal years on new initiatives to protect residents and visitors from wildfires.
The Public Works Department will oversee a consultant who is completing a time estimate study for evacuating Laguna Beach, Villwock said. Sgt. David McGill will manage activation of the Emergency Operations Center, Nixle, and Wireless Emergency Alerts sent to the cell phones of residents and visitors in Laguna Beach.
After 15 years of service, Villwock said he has a vested interest in Laguna Beach’s safety, adding he plans to occasionally visit friends at the Police Department.
“Hopefully, I made a small impact and helped push things forward,” Villwock said.