County Emergency Manager Beverley Simpson and Fire Chief Troy Hughes discuss the County’s emergency operations plan. Photo by Kirsten Laskey/ladailypost.com
By KIRSTEN LASKEY
Los Alamos Daily Post
Los Alamos County is far from immune to wildfires and while some residents can recall their experiences evacuating during the Cerro Grande and Las Conchas fires, others are new to town and may be unsure of what to do if an emergency occurs.
As a result, Los Alamos County Councilor Susan O’Leary asked the County’s Emergency Management Office to inform the Council and the public about its emergency operations plan during the May 22 regular council meeting.
County Emergency Manager Beverley Simpson presented an overview of the plan.
In her presentation, Simpson outlined the objectives of the plan:
- A comprehensive countywide all hazards plan including prevention, preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation as it applies to emergency and disaster events;
- Establish capabilities for protecting citizens;
- Manage and coordinate resources from local government, private sector, civic and volunteer organizations, state and federal partners;
- Provides means for rapid and orderly restoration and rehabilitation of persons and properties affected by emergencies; and
- Outlines mobilization and operation of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC)
If an emergency arose, Simpson mentioned the chain of events that would occur:
- Consolidated Dispatch notifies Chain of Command;
- Los Alamos County Office of Emergency Management notifies Situation Assessment Team (SAT), which includes County Manager, Chief of Police, Fire Chief, Utilities Manager and PW Director;
- SAT verifies information and notifies the public information officer, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and County Council;
- EOC activated/partial activation at LANL or Los Alamos Police Department;
- Los Alamos County Joint Information Center either at Bradbury or Library; and
- LAC Customer Care assists with non emergency calls.
Simpson further reported there are several stages included the plan:
- Stage 1- Specific Location (County resources no evacuation)
- Stage 2 – Local area affected (multi-agency response, limited evacuation)
- Stage 3 – Wide area disaster (two or more jurisdictions, local and state resources, large area evacuation)
- Stage 4 – Wide area disaster (federal response and resources, wide area evacuation)
She added there are several methods in place to notify the public of an emergency. These include reverse 911 calls, CodeRed, government emergency telecommunications service cards and amateur radio operators.
There are two primary egress routes: State Road 4 and NM 502 by Totavi as well as Rendija Canyon via San Ildefonso Pueblo that feeds into NM 502/30 and Omega Road, East Jemez and Pajarito feeds into SR 4 at LANL.
The County is divided into 13 zones and according to the presentation, depending on residents’ zone, they may be told to remain in place, evacuate, or take no action except to monitor the local Emergency Alert System (EAS) station. Residents may also be told what roads may be closed, where school children have been taken, and other vital information.
O’Leary asked how this information was getting out to households and if residents know what zone they are in.
Simpson said the County does distribute information. She mentioned flyers were sent with utility bills, the County website has information as well as the County libraries. Simpson said providing a second flyer in utility bills is being considered. Information is also offered at numerous community events.
O’Leary wondered if County officials considered holding neighborhood sessions. Simpson said they hadn’t held neighborhood sessions but could think about it.
O’Leary said, “I think that would be a great idea. Even advertising it two weeks out and saying come to this meeting and learn what you need to know and they just have to walk out their front door and walk down a few houses.”
She emphasized communicating information is important. “I don’t know what zone I live in and I don’t know where I need to go or what road I need to take and I am a County Councilor … I’m really concerned about people not knowing what it is they are supposed to do.”
Simpson said CodeRed can answer those questions. She said those who sign up can get notifications through email, phone calls, text or all three. Simpson added Customer Care will also distribute information, too.
O’Leary also asked if the County Emergency office maintained any social media pages. Simpson said they do provide information on the County’s Facebook page as well as on Twitter and Snapshot.
Fire Chief Troy Hughes said he feels in the current world, they are well equipped to inform the public.
“We are probably even more situated to get the message out because there are so many different mediums … the messages will be pretty clear during that time. When people start seeing smoke and fire on the horizon, they tend to pay more attention than they do now and that helps us. I think that is a good thing for us,” Hughes said.
Hughes added that the County does have a “robust social media connection and that is just how people communicate. The messages will be pretty clear.” In addition to social media, there also is local media including the Los Alamos Daily Post, Monitor and KRSN.
“We try to get the message out early and then put our resources in those areas, too,” Hughes said.