Santa Barbara County is trying to ensure that people in the community are ready for any type of disaster.
County leaders say only 12 percent of residents countywide are signed up for their emergency alerts and while they still plan on notifying people through traditional methods like sheriff’s deputies knocking on doors, there are new methods they’re testing out now that could potentially save lives in the future.
As the Camp Fire forced people out of their homes over the weekend, many people expressed their frustrations on social media about not getting notified by authorities it was time to get out.
It’s something that hits home for people like Santa Barbara County Supervisor Janet Wolf.
“I lost my house in the Painted Cave Fire where we didn’t have cell phones and the alerting system felt almost nonexistent,” Wolf said.
Despite new advances in technology since then, the county says many people still are not signing up for alerts.
“Santa Barbara County utilizes all methods of alerting that are available. We use a sign-up program through awareandprepare.org. We want people to sign up so they can get emails, text messages, and robocalls to their cell phones as well as to their home phones so we need people to sign up for that. Unfortunately, only 12 percent of people in the county are signed up for Aware & Prepare alerts,” explained Robert Lewin, Director of the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management.
The county is now trying to be pro-active for any sort of emergency in the future.
It is currently piloting a test program with two different utility companies in the Santa Barbara and Montecito area that would use utility customer information to sign people up for alerts.
“Some of the concern is that the data may not be current or how we deal with it when there’s duplication and people are already signed up. We’re confident we can make this work and we’re looking forward to being able to put in more data,” Lewin said.
So far, San Mateo County is the first county in the state to fully adopt this plan, but Supervisor Wolf says we’re not far behind.
“The county is really working on their messaging and communication but it is really important for people to have that self-awareness and leave when they can,” she said.
The county says only about 26 percent of residents in Santa Maria and Orcutt are signed up for the alerts so far, compared to the 68 percent registered in Summerland.
If the supervisors roll out this program using utility information to everyone in the county, you are able to opt out but they still recommend signing up on awareandprepare.org.