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The City of Malibu on Thursday, Aug. 1, released the 58-page draft report on the city’s role during and after the Woolsey Fire—including a whopping 53 suggestions for what the City of Malibu can do in the future to better serve the community in the face of a fire, or potential other disaster.

The report was not intended to describe the actions of any other agencies, such as the Los Angeles County Fire Department or the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

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Repeated again and again in the report, which was compiled by Management Partners, a management consulting firm, was the reminder that Malibu exists within the jurisdiction of numerous agencies—LA County Fire, LA County Sheriff’s, CalFire (wildfire response), California Highway Patrol, LA County Waterworks District 29, Southern California Edison, LA County Sanitation District, LA County Animal Control, LA County Public Health and Caltrans. By the time Malibu, among the smallest and youngest cities in the state, was incorporated, it was already operating within those agencies.

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“Malibu’s international name recognition, coupled with the reality that it is a small city without direct service responsibility for public safety first-responder services, creates a unique complication when disaster strikes,” a summary signed by Management Partners Regional Vice President Andrew Belknap stated in the report. “Malibu will be the by-line for any event happening in the general vicinity, but the City of Malibu itself is not directly in charge. For the most part, members of the public (even city residents) do not understand this, and it creates complications relative to presumed responsibility and control, which can complicate communication.”

According to the report, this misunderstanding only made matters worse in the wake of the Woolsey Fire—since the city was not directly responsible for such issues as the evacuation, firefighting or repopulation: “Many factors that impacted the city’s response were not within their formal authority to control or ability to influence during the incident.”

However, Belknap wrote, there is a role for the city to play.

“Just because the city is not a first responder itself does not mean it has little role,” text from the report stated. “To the contrary, it has a critical role to play in planning how emergencies will be handled, and in communicating during a disaster.”

This was a point Belknap expressed in his letter as well.

“The city should take an active role as a convener of the large public safety agencies that actually deliver services, and advocate for an integrated planned response that takes the city’s unique features (especially as it relates to distinct neighborhoods, access and arterial movements) into consideration,” he said.

So, what went wrong?

There were many factors that made the city’s response less effective than it could have been, according to the draft report. Among those was the city manager being “stretched thin,” coordinating among elected officials and the emergency operations center. Malibu’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) was less effective due to some members evacuating in the fire. “Some participants believed they were not activated or coordinated to fully contribute to the response,” the report described. “Volunteers could provide valuable support in the areas of traffic control, door-to-door neighborhood notifications, preliminary damage assessments and welfare checks. They can be used to complete a variety of tasks during and after the event, including providing a CERT representative at the EOC.”

The fire also revealed shortcomings in protocol for city staff. 

“A consistent protocol is lacking on how to contact city staff in the event of an emergency to alert them of EOC schedules and the evacuation of City Hall,” the report detailed. In addition, a lack of operational cell towers, lack of designated liaison to the LA County Fire Department and a media information officer inundated with media calls led to numerous issues communicating with residents.

The report also addresses the evacuation—”treated more as a toggle switch (on or off), rather than a dimmer switch (phasing the movement of people)”—and repopulation issues. All of these issues, Management Partners suggested, could be addressed with additional education, training and outreach, together with an established tiered evacuation plan.

In all, the document provides 53 suggestions for the city to consider in preparation for the possibility of future disasters. All 53 suggestions are listed in an attachment to this story.

City Council will review and discuss the document during its Monday, Aug. 12, council meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. at Malibu City Hall. The document is available online in the council agenda report, available at malibucity.org/agendacenter.

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