Petaluma prepares for next big emergency

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MORE INFORMATION

What: Public workshop for the preparation of Petaluma’s Local Hazard Mitigation Plan

When: Tuesday, Oct. 8 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Where: Petaluma Community Center, 320 N. McDowell Blvd.

For more information, visit petalumastar.com/hazards or click here to view the city web page dedicated to the hazard plan. Residents that cannot attend the workshop are encouraged to participate in the online survey at bit.ly/petalumahazardplanning

Petaluma officials have been addressing disaster readiness in earnest in recent weeks, starting the process for a new federal hazard plan that will help fortify the city in the future, while also undergoing annual operations training to prepare for a major crisis.

As the two-year anniversary of the North Bay fires approaches, officials are creating a local hazard mitigation plan that would assess what aspects of the city are susceptible to a broad range of natural disasters, like an earthquake or wildfire, or human-caused events like a cyberattack, and then identify ways to reduce those risks.

Once it’s adopted, Petaluma would ostensibly become more competitive for grant funds to address those vulnerabilities. The city would also be eligible for the highest tier of federal assistance if an emergency occurred, said Diane Ramirez, project manager for the Public Works and Utilities Department.

She pointed to vital undertakings like the Denman Reach flood control projects that have used more than $40 million in outside funding to strengthen one of Petaluma’s most susceptible natural hazards.

“It’s to get the city prepared in case something happens, and what can we do in advance that would mitigate anything that happens in the city,” Ramirez said. “More preparation makes us more resilient and able to rebound more quickly.”

Petaluma’s previous hazard mitigation plan was adopted seven years ago as part of a regional consortium with the Association of Bay Area Governments.

The rules for the plans have changed, though, and now federal regulators are calling for one in every jurisdiction, Ramirez said.

The scope of hazards officials believe the city is vulnerable to are broad, including drought, earthquakes, extreme heat, flooding, sea level rise and wildfires, according to a press release. Infrastructure contamination and cyber threats were also listed. So was climate change and its impact on natural hazards.

City officials are hosting a workshop at the Petaluma Community Center next week to get feedback on what hazards residents are seeing, and provide more information on the process for adopting the plan.

“We have a lot of base knowledge, but we want to hear from our community what they hear is important,” Ramirez said. “There’s some prioritization in terms of where we might put funding and projects first based on how the community responds to our preparation.”

After the workshop, officials will create a draft that the public can comment on. It then has to get approved by FEMA and eventually the city council before it’s adopted.

Ramirez anticipates it’ll be in place by spring 2020, and would be subject to future amendments should the science or technology change, she said.

While the hazard plan would serve as a guiding document to reinforce the Petaluma’s weaknesses in the future, city employees have to be ready for the worst right now.

Department heads and some of the senior-most public officials across the entire agency met for a mandatory, two-hour training session last week at the Petaluma Police Department headquarters, the site of the city’s emergency operations center in a disaster.

Petaluma’s EOC was triggered in October 2017 when the city became a refuge for fire victims and a staging ground for the response efforts throughout Sonoma County.

With several new officials like City Manager Peggy Flynn and Director of Human Resources Charlie Castillo onboard, the city shuffled roles and drilled into the minutia of what was learned in the fire’s aftermath.

Departments are sorted into sections like management, logistics, intelligence and operations with responsibilities doled out to ensure public safety and continuity of government, said Petaluma Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Schach.

City officials went over details like what sort of communication is possible with ham radios, record-keeping for federal reimbursement and the nuances of volunteer activation. They later broke into groups to meet with their sections and go over their chain of command and what the new roles are when an EOC is activated.

“This is my favorite day of the year,” Schach said. “When you raise your right hand” to serve as a government employee, “that’s what comes with the territory.”

Nancy Sands, Economic Development Specialist, described the collaboration across the city’s divisions as an effective measure to help ensure every element of service is addressed.

“They are all connected in that they all affect the city’s infrastructure,” she said. “What I see as a city employee is that we’re all working together cross-departmentally, and that’s really helpful in making sure that nobody misses anything.”

(Contact News Editor Yousef Baig at yousef.baig@arguscourier.com or 776-8461, and on Twitter @YousefBaig.)

MORE INFORMATION

What: Public workshop for the preparation of Petaluma’s Local Hazard Mitigation Plan

When: Tuesday, Oct. 8 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Where: Petaluma Community Center, 320 N. McDowell Blvd.

For more information, visit petalumastar.com/hazards or click here to view the city web page dedicated to the hazard plan. Residents that cannot attend the workshop are encouraged to participate in the online survey at bit.ly/petalumahazardplanning

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