Virtual Evacuation Exercises Conducted in Lamorinda by MOFD

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(Julie Sparks, Photographer)
Joe Grupalo from Zonehaven taught the MOFD Support Team how to be an “alerter” on their community website. With training, team members should be able to enter hazard information in a disaster, such as closed roads, trees or power lines down, or traffic hazards.

    Orinda, Moraga and Lafayette residents participated in a virtual evacuation exercise conducted across Lamorinda, Sept. 10. Nearly 1,800 residents completed surveys in response to the drill to practice communications and procedures needed in the event of a major disaster.
    The exercise started with the Contra Costa County Community Warning System (CWS) sending an alert to simulate a large-scale wildland fire evacuation.
    “We also used this to practice setting-up and operating a unified command with law, fire and cooperating agencies,” said Orinda Police Chief Ryan Sullivan.
    Prior to the exercise, messages were sent via Nixle, newspapers, newsletters, Nextdoor and social media platforms to inform residents of the upcoming drill.
    Moraga-Orinda Fire Department (MOFD) Fire Chief Dave Winnacker did, however, point out, “Never wait to be ordered to evacuate. If residents feel there is danger, they should leave the area before an official notification is received.”
    The extensive drill involved participants from Orinda, Moraga and Lafayette police departments, Contra Costa County Community Warning System, Moraga-Orinda Fire Protection District, MOFD’s Communications Support Unit volunteers, Lamorinda Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and Lamorinda Radio Interest Group (LARIG). 
    After alerts were sent, residents were asked to take a survey. In addition to the surveys, CERT sent over 600 text messages with more than 100 recipients responded. LARIG fielded over 50 radio calls from Ham radio and General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) volunteers.
    “These drills are very important to ensure we are all prepared when the real disaster strikes,” said MOFD Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Dennis Rein. “Our highest priority is protecting life. If residents evacuate in a wildfire, firefighters can focus on protecting property and controlling the fire.”
    Orinda City Manager David Biggs said evacuation zone numbers are important.
    “All residents should know their evacuation zone numbers, so after an evacuation they can track and know when they can return home,” said Biggs.
    Evacuation zone numbers are available at https://community.zonehaven.com/.
    Evacuation orders come from the Contra Costa County CWS. MOFD Fire Marshall Jeff Isaacs encourages residents to register their multiple phones and emails for alert notifications at https://cwsalerts.com/registeration.
    “Some people may need more time or some assistance to evacuate,” added Rein. “If there is time and it’s safe to do so, try to check on your neighbors before you leave. Always have a go-bag ready and evacuate at your earliest opportunity.”
    Jimmy Lee, of the Contra Costa County Office of the Sheriff’s Public Information Office, was pleased with the number of alerts deployed.
    “During the evacuation drill in Lamorinda, some 40,000 alerts were sent by the Community Warning System (CWS),” said Lee. “CWS is a state-of-the-art, all-hazard warning system that uses multiple platforms to alert the community of situations where there is imminent threat to health, safety and lives. Drills provide CWS – which works closely with public safety agencies – an opportunity to evaluate the system and find ways to improve notifications and service delivery.”

S.K. Gupta can be reached at sk.gupta.us@gmail.com.

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