By Mary-Justine Lanyon
At the Oct. 5 meeting of the Lake Arrowhead Municipal Advisory Council, Capt. Craig Harris shared the findings of the committee that evaluated the sheriff’s department response to last winter’s storms.
The committee – made up of former Capt. Don Lupear, Harris and Sgt. Benjamin Henry – looked at a number of things, Capt. Harris said. “We came up with planning strengths and things to improve on.” This report – available at wp.sbcounty.gov/sheriff – is independent of studies being done by San Bernardino County Fire and the county.
Pre-planning and communications counted among the sheriff’s strengths, Harris said. He noted that deputies stayed in the bunk rooms at the Twin Peaks station so they did not miss any shifts while roads were impassable.
“The interagency communication between us, Fire, CHP and the road crews was pretty good because of prior relationships we had and constantly work on,” the captain said. County Fire generated a spreadsheet documenting calls to them and the sheriff over three weeks. “We got to people, checked on them and asked if they needed to be rescued,” Capt. Harris said.
A week and a half into the event, the sheriff started tracking employees and volunteers through GPS. “We could see in real time where we were hitting neighborhoods.” That tracking will continue in any big events in the future. Deputies have now been issued phones by the county and have the tracking app on those phones.
Harris said the command centers worked out well. Former Capt. Lupear was at the incident command center down the hill while Harris ran the one at Fire Station 91. “We were in constant communication,” Harris said. He did note that, in any emergency, “it’s chaos to get things going. It worked well after the first couple of days.”
All decisions, Harris said, were made together by the involved agencies.
He is pleased that the Twin Peaks station will be getting its own Sno-Cat, thanks to a $275,000 allocation from the county. “I don’t care if there’s a half-inch of snow on the ground – I’m driving that Sno-Cat!” he said.
One problem during the storms was a lack of accurate information on the social media platforms. “There was not a lot of consistent information coming out from the sheriff, Fire, the county,” Harris said. The proposed solution is to imbed the various public information officers in the incident management teams – get all the PIOs together for a combined message. And, he added, “We will do a better job getting information out even before a storm arrives.”
Scott Rindenow reported that the Highway 173 committee met with Caltrans in July and had what he called a “great conversation. We presented the issues and reasons why we believe the closed portion of Highway 173 needs to be repaired and reopened.”
Rindenow said the Caltrans representatives were receptive to the idea but were also realistic. “This would be a mammoth project and could cost up to $400 million to do what we want to do,” he said. There are environmental issues that would have to be dealt with as well as some right-of-way access issues.
Caltrans, Rindenow noted, presented the option of relinquishing the road to the county as their restrictions would be less problematic. As Rindenow said this at the MAC meeting, Lewis Murray, Supervisor Dawn Rowe’s field representative, murmured, “That probably won’t happen.”
The MAC subcommittee will meet again with Caltrans to further discuss a plan.
“There is no question we need the road open at some level,” Rindenow said. “Maybe just for emergency vehicle access or for evacuation. It doesn’t have to be an everyday use road. We don’t want to be stuck up here.”
County Fire Battalion Chief Sean Markey urged homeowners to be sure they have created defensible space around their homes. He also said they should have their furnaces serviced and check the batteries in their smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Additional tips, he noted, are available at sbcfire.org/safety.
Cal Fire Battalion Chief Brett Taylor noted that fuel moisture levels are “above average” for this time of year but he said residents should still “stay on guard.” He also urged homeowners to maintain defensible space on their property.