June 2, 2020 Your Source for Brentwood News

Mandeville Canyon Fire Drill Highlights Limits of City’s Emergency Alert System

Report shows that only 1/3 of residents received NotifyLA alert in fire drill earlier this year

By Sam Catanzaro

Mandeville Canyon, with limited ingress and egress and proximity to brush areas, is located in a high-risk fire zone.

On May 19, 2019, the City of Los Angeles sent NotifyLA alerts to more than 1500 residents in Mandeville Canyon as part of an emergency evacuation exercise. This was the first-ever test of the city’s Everbridge platform.

“As residents of the canyons in the Santa Monica Mountains live in a Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone, the drill was a crucial exercise in efforts to prepare both residents and first responders for potential disaster,” said Councilmember Mike Bonin.

The new Everbridge platform gives the city access to the federal Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system which can be sent to all cellular phones in a defined area under the direction of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Despite the potential of the system, however, according to Aram Sahakian, General Manager for the City of Los Angeles Emergency Management Department the NotifyLA system reached only approximately 30 percent of the residents in the defined exercise area.

“The drill exposed a glaring and frightening hole in emergency preparedness in the area: large numbers of residents report they were never alerted of the evacuation through the NotifyLA system, the City’s highly-touted official mass notification system.”

Councilmember Mike Bonin

“The drill exposed a glaring and frightening hole in emergency preparedness in the area: large numbers of residents report they were never alerted of the evacuation through the NotifyLA system, the City’s highly-touted official mass notification system used to send voice messages, text messages and email messages to residents and businesses during times of emergencies and disasters,” Bonin said.

In response to a motion submitted by Bonin, LA’s Emergency Management Department looked into why there was such a low rate of residents receiving the alerts. According to the Department, the May 19 drill did not include the Wireless Emergency Alert component of the federal Integrated Public Alert and Warning System. On August 14 the City conducted another drill to specifically test the capabilities of this system in the Mandeville Canyon area and found that 89 percent of respondents received the test message. Many residents and several members of a City staff control group within the target area, however, did not receive the test message.

“This could be caused by several factors, including cell service coverage, the cell service provider, residents disabling WEA alerts in their phones,” reads an Emergency Management Department report. “Some of the most fire-prone areas of the City are also areas with extremely limited cell phone service. Many of the contact methods used through NotifyLA…rely on cell service for message delivery. For this reason, [the Emergency Management Department] stresses that NotifyLA is just one tool in the mass notification toolbox, and may not be the best way to reach some geographically challenging communities.”

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