As owners of North Coast homes and properties prepare for what could be a gnarly winter storm season, courtesy of blockbuster El Niño conditions in the Eastern Pacific, many preparations also are being made by the agencies charged with keeping the public safe and providing them with services.
From the Federal Emergency Management Agency on down the governmental food chain to the smallest services or special district, the phrase “El Niño” is showing up with relentless regularity in news reports and on meeting agendas and to-do lists. The possibly severe winter weather also is triggering special training sessions.
For instance, senior planners of the FEMA district that covers California, Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii, in conjunction with state representatives and science/technical experts from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were to have gathered in Sacramento on Wednesday, Dec. 9, to rehearse a concept tabletop exercise for managing effects of the pending El Niño.
The officials are asking residents “to get ready for above-average El Niño conditions this winter and remain prepared throughout the season for floods, continued drought and wildfire risks, and any other extreme weather it might bring.”
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Likewise, a countywide exercise in Oceano should produce “elements of training that could be applied anywhere in the county,” according to Cal Fire Chief Rob Lewin.
He said a Cal Fire training center class is to focus on flooding. “All our personnel have had required training on use of sandbags and other flood control techniques,” including such skills as how to stack the bags, use Visqueen to prevent leakage and how to protect from slides.
Staff in “our department is very, very well versed in setting up area commands … and in the use of chain saws” for dealing with fallen trees, Lewin said. “When a strong wind is coming, we’ll try to move another engine into Cambria,” as long as staffing is increased statewide through the winter.
“People need to understand these trees have been stressed,” Lewin said. “Those trees need to be pruned. Do that now. And remove dead trees now.”
North Coast efforts
Locally, Jerry Gruber, general manager of the Cambria Community Services District, told his board members Nov. 19 that he and staff are making sure the district is prepared. He asked leaders of each department for written summaries of “what they’re doing in preparation for El Niño.”
For instance, “we want to make sure all pumps and generators are working, and that tanks at the wastewater-treatment plant are pumped down” so they can better handle extra inflow from heavy rains.
He said he’d reached out to Wade Horton, the county’s public works director, to make sure the “big huge pump that sits across from the Shell station” is in peak condition in case it has to pump flood waters out of the low-lying West Village area.
Gruber said Horton replied with “a 90-page document on the maintenance of the pump.”
Justin Smith of the CCSD water department told Gruber in a Nov. 19 email that his crew had load-tested all generators, gone through the alarm system and verified that all battery backups are functioning correctly, so crews will get the proper alarms in the event of an outage.
County Public Works stacked free sand for the public at Shamel Park (at the Windsor Boulevard curve on Park Hill), Lampton Park (at Lampton and Windsor Boulevard on Lodge Hill) and the dog park (on Main Street near the intersection with Santa Rosa Creek Road). San Simeon residents can get sand near the services district office at 111 Pico Ave. And the Community Emergency Response Team was to coordinate a sandbag filling day with area Boy Scouts.
Eric Shalhoob, a Cal Fire battalion chief who is assigned for now to Cambria Fire Department management, told the CCSD directors in November that the department is “getting ready for the floods if they do, in fact, occur.” He, fire staff and North Coast Ocean Rescue Team members also are reviewing procedures for swift water rescues and are holding regular drills to rehearse and keep their skills sharp.