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SLO city officials create a new report that helps improve the quality of response to natural disasters

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Posted at 10:50 PM, Aug 16, 2023

The City of San Luis Obispo's Storm After-Action Report and Post-Incident Improvement Plan was created to improve the city’s ability to manage future flood events and emergency operations center activations.

A series of winter storms that occurred on December 27, 2022 through January 31, 2022, resulted in significant flooding across the city of San Luis Obispo.

These impacts peaked on January 9, 2022, when parts of San Luis Obispo received more than 6 inches of rain in one day.

The impacts of the previous rain events oversaturated the ground and led to widespread flooding.

The report and improvement plan was developed internally by the city’s emergency management division under the fire department through the collection of internal and external feedback and observations provided to the emergency manager.

“The after-action report is an improvement plan and that’s taking all the challenges that were identified in the report and finding solutions to those challenges. So, that will be part of our work effort moving forward to be able to quickly address those high priority items, which involves a lot of internal city work, collaborating with our partners, and also just putting our heads together in solving these issues,” said James Blattler, City of San Luis Obispo Emergency Manager.

In their assessment, officials pointed to communication, effective homeless and public outreach and rapid damage estimates as some of its key strengths while responding to the storms. But they also identified challenges in communication - specifically during the early morning hours of January 9, 2022, when officials were trying to reach city staff members.

They also identified the road closure dashboard as a challenge -- some of the information available at the time were not accurate due to a delay in the system so road closures and reopenings weren't updated.

“The storms this winter were such a unprecedented situation that I don’t think any of us could’ve predicted how bad it was and it really had been since 2003 since the San Simeon earthquake that we’d seen a disaster of this magnitude in our county, so I think every jurisdiction within this county learned some lessons from this emergency and is looking back at how we can improve for next time,” said Rachel Dion, County of San Luis Obispo Emergency Services Coordinator.

Based on what officials learned during their response to the winter storms - their future response plan includes identifying a software and mass-notification system to improve communications, enhancing shelter location reliability, exploring sandbag program improvements, and establishing a protocol for creek and encampment evacuations.

“Having a report that future staff members can look on, to see the conditions that preceded the emergency, the actions that were taken during the emergency and after the emergency is really helpful,” said Blattler.

The city began their feedback collection process in mid-January to ensure key events and observations were not lost due to time.

Feedback was collected through individual conversations, department compiled reports, emails, and a city-wide survey.

“I guess our job feels like it’s making a difference and, you know, this was an emergency that affected so many people in our county and we talked to so many residents that were hot so hard who lost their homes, who lost their businesses, their income, and so obviously we want to look back at the response and see what we could’ve done better to help the citizens in our community.” Dion said.

There are no financial impacts associated with the recommendation to receive and file the report and improvement plan.

Any costs associated with implementing the improvement plan will fall under currently appropriated operating budgets or put for council consideration for future budget or grant opportunities.