Santa Barbara County officials say they are continually exploring old and new technologies and systems to address emergency alert system issues raised by residents following the bridge fire that broke out. reported on June 5 near Highway 154 and Foothill Road in Santa Barbara.
Kelly Hubbard, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management, summarized complaints about random alerts and the delayed transmission of alerts to the board of oversight in a June 28 report.
She also explained the complex process of preparing and sending alerts and how third-party agencies can affect who receives alerts and when they receive them.
Hubbard said, however, the county isn’t just sitting on its hands with a “this is the way it is” attitude, but is actively looking for ways to incorporate old-school methods as well as new technologies.
Some solutions are not viable due to the costs involved which would lead to unacceptable inequities in who might receive notices of an impending emergency.
Others involve the use of systems already employed by other agencies and necessitate negotiating changes to their systems and agreements for their use that have slowed progress.
Still others could streamline internal processes but wouldn’t address sources of resident complaints, Hubbard said.
“A lot of the issues we had were with reception,” Hubbard explained, noting that the county takes inspiration from the Montecito Fire Protection District, which has its own low-power AM radio transmitter.
“We’re working on one for the county,” she said.
Continuous radio broadcasts
Purchased with grant funds in 2008, Montecito’s informational AM radio network on frequency 1610 continuously broadcasts emergency preparedness information from a rotating playlist until a threat arises.
Then, linked to the county’s ReadySBC alerts system, it provides residents with the information they need to respond to wildfires, flash floods, earthquakes and other emergencies with messages that can be created and inserted into the broadcast. remotely by firefighters in the field using mobile phones. or internet.
Montecito will test the ReadySBC Alerts system at 11 a.m. on July 21.
The county is also still working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on using the federal agencies weather radio system to send out alerts.
NOAA uses several specific frequencies to broadcast weather reports and forecasts, but the county would like to use them for emergency alerts.
However, this would require each resident to have one of these radio receivers.
The cheapest type must be manually activated to receive broadcasts.
“I like AM/FM radios that would turn on for an alert,” Hubbard said, though they’re more expensive and might not be affordable for some.
“It’s possible we could use grants to buy them for seniors on fixed incomes and low-income residents,” she said.
“Like a security alarm box”
Hubbard recently settled into a new system that is “almost like a security alarm box.” The county would buy a transmitter and consumers would buy the receivers.
But then again, the issue of inequality arises in the cost of receivers that many might not be able to afford, she said.
This week, a potential solution was pitched by Rusty Prince, head of architecture and development for Counterspherics Inc., a California-based company owned by disabled veterans who, along with Specialized Safety Services in Riverside, developed MERLENN.
An acronym for Multiple Emergency Response from Linked Emergency Notification Networks, MERLENN is software that comes pre-installed on a Microsoft Windows 10/Intel laptop and configured to run only that software.
The system is portable and can be used by firefighters, law enforcement and other field personnel to send alerts, but requires an internet connection.
Prince said MERLENN goes beyond just sending alerts.
“MERLENN is more than an alert system, because the alert is just one component of the system,” he said. “It includes emergency supply inventory management, human resource (incident) management, OSHA safety, drill simulation, management, prediction of human threat of violence based on FBI findings and Secret Service, HAZMAT spill reporting, casualty tracking, family reunification planning, etc. ”
Hubbard said she was unfamiliar with the MERLENN system, so it was unclear whether or not it would solve some of the county’s emergency alert issues, but she planned to look into it to see if it could. be useful.
“New products are always emerging in this area,” she said, noting that the county is always exploring new possibilities.