Pilot program rolls out for Mandeville Canyon. 

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By Sam Catanzaro

In a big win for public safety in Brentwood as fire season approaches, the City of Los Angeles’s Innovation and Performance Commission voted in favor of a Solar Powered Emergency Wifi network pilot program that will allow the City’s entire emergency response infrastructure — including Shake LA and Notify LA —  to communicate with residents via wifi during a power outage. 

 The pilot grants $200,000 from the City of LA’s Innovation Fund to the City Emergency Management Department for solar-powered communication equipment, community outreach, integration with the Shake LA mobile app and other ITA systems, and a year’s worth of quarterly testing and maintenance.

“Mike was eager to support the pilot program and has been proud to work with neighbors to better protect our neighborhoods from a natural disaster,” reads Councilmember Mike Bonin’s July newsletter. “The pilot area will cover five miles of the Mandeville Canyon area, where there is a potential of a loss of communication during a major disaster.” 

According to Daniel Branscome, Treasurer of the Mandeville Canyon Association due to the unique geography of the Santa Monica Mountains, signal service in the canyon is much worse than how it appears on a coverage map, an issue that affects thousands of residents in the area.

“Anyone who has ever driven up these canyon roads knows that you’re very likely to lose signal once you leave Sunset. You may reacquire signal once you get to your house, if you live up on a ridgeline or if you get to your house and you have WiFi assist to provide signal. Most likely you’re in a situation where you’re going to have gaps in coverage. Branscome said at a Brentwood Community Council meeting earlier this year. 

A structure fire last year in Mandeville Canyon illustrates that dangers lack of cell service in the canyon presents to the community. According to Branscome, the person who saw the fire was driving out of the canyon. They saw flames, but they didn’t have a cell phone signal and had to drive all the way out to Sunset to place the 9-1-1 call to report the fire. 

The Woolsey Fire that devested the Santa Monica Mountains also demonstrates the hurdles emergency officials face in alerting the community in the event of a natural disaster. 

“Early morning on the 6th [of November], I got a text from one of my neighbors, ‘Did you get the alert?’ I said, ‘What alert?’ The city had used the amber alert system in our community, but because of cell phone service, I didn’t get the alert,” Branscome said. 

As fire season approaches, it remains to be seen how the Solar Powered Emergency Wifi pilot program will play out in the event of an emergency. 

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