Town Hall: Lessons From Glass Fire

           A Dec. 1 town hall focusing on Oakmont’s emergency preparedness on the eve of the Glass Fire concluded the major failure was a lack of timely and accurate communications that could have facilitated more orderly evacuations and less traffic congestion.

Not only were no Nixle alerts sent for 12 hours after the fire spread to 800 acres, but Oakmont’s evacuation order came more than two hours after several nearby areas were evacuated by the sheriff’s office. 

Stressing that lead time for evacuations is critical, Pat Barclay, coordinator of the Oakmont Emergency Preparedness Committee (OEPC), identified several steps taken to prevent a reoccurrence. He sought clarification from the Santa Rosa Fire Department which has now included the Oakmont cell tower in its mapping of who receives Nixle alerts. He also reiterated the need for more volunteers to serve as OEPC zone communicators to interact with neighborhood groups. 

Emphasizing that survival in an emergency is highly dependent on neighborhood organization and personal preparedness, he suggested that residents treat warnings for Melita, Pythian, Spring Lake, Summerfield, Kenwood and Glen Ellen as applying to Oakmont and leave early if those areas are evacuated.   

With the fire season over OEPC is now turning its attention to earthquake preparedness and will publish recommendations of what to do when you must stay as opposed to leave in a fire situation.  

In an open forum that was part of the virtual town hall, questions focused on ways to protect Oakmont, including whether a firewall could be constructed along Highway 12 and if Oak Leaf Drive East on golf course land could serve as an additional exit. OVA President Tom Kendrick said a firewall is “breathtakingly expensive,” but might need to be considered. He said additional money is in the OVA budget to do a detailed study of points around Oakmont where fire could spread quickly, including the creek near Woodley Place and Annadel State Park.  

George McKinney underscored the importance of receiving Nixle alerts, which most Oakmonters rely upon. “If we’d had timely notification, we would have had an additional hour to get out,” he observed, noting the alert for the Stone Bridge area across from Highway 12 where homes were lost came an hour after Oakmont North and South.

Also addressing the Town Hall was Katy Carrel, who oversees the Map Your Neighborhood (MYN) project that works with OEPC by providing step-by-step training with video on how neighbors can organize themselves. 

Stressing that 70 percent of all disaster survivors are rescued by other survivors, Carrel said the first hour following a disaster is critical when neighbors may need assistance turning off gas meters and water valves and putting out small fires. Originally focused on earthquakes, MYN is adding fire preparation to its core program.

“We’d like everyone to ‘opt-in’ for emails so we can send out information and training materials and invite you to guest speaker webinars on local disaster prep topics,” Carrel said.

To sign up or access additional resources, go to Oakmontvillage.com/MYN or email MYNOakmont@gmail.com.

Kendrick said another virtual town hall involving the fire department and PG&E will be held on Jan. 12.