Lawmakers take close look at California’s emergency alert system after Camp Fire

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Following the state’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire, lawmakers are taking a closer look at the state’s emergency alert systems.

Lawmakers met with state and local emergency management officials in Southern California on Tuesday.

“We need a communications system, not just alert and warning, that is resilient and reliable for not only the public but for us in public service,” Cal OES State and Fire rescue chief Kim Zagaris said.

Re-examining the state’s emergency alert system is now a focus for state lawmakers.

Tuesday’s hearing comes on the heels of the Camp Fire. The effectiveness and use of the state’s emergency alert system are under scrutiny after frantic fire victims were caught in gridlock traffic while trying to evacuate.

Victims have said they either never got an alert or it came too late.

“This is a really challenging complication of we have a very fast wildfire, but we have a community where we never developed without egress that would allow for an evacuation in these types of events,” Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-Marin County) said.

Some emergency management officials along with lawmakers pointed to a need for more participation from cell phone companies to help strengthen the warning system.

“We have asked questions of the cell phone companies on why certain things aren’t happening, why there are certain failures, and unfortunately, we don’t get those responses,” Santa Barbara Emergency Management Director Rob Lewin said.

Emergency management officials say streamlining the system across the state’s 58 counties presents a challenge with varying populations, terrain, and languages.

“There are limits to what we can do,” state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) said. “Mother Nature does not give us a playbook. Mother Nature is not happy with us, but we are doing our best and I think it’s important that the (message gets) out.”

State lawmakers are set to address the issues in the upcoming legislative session.

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