The “The 2019 Wildfire Season: Are We Prepared?” hearing featured testimony from Reva Feldman, city manager for Malibu and president-elect for the League of California Cities City Managers’ Department, and examined how the partnership of federal, state and local governments can better prepare, respond and recover from wildfires.
Wildfires pose a risk to each and every California city, with risks varying drastically depending on the location, demographics and infrastructure of the city. As a result, the planning, preparation and response to wildfires can be different from city to city. The state of California works in partnership with local governments to prepare and respond to emergencies and disasters.
Feldman’s testimony reiterated that local governments view wildfires as the new normal, and that many California cities worry they are not thoroughly prepared for a wildfire in their communities, especially a fast moving wildfire that threatens both life and property.
She also discussed the importance of mutual aid and how it can help during a disaster, but often takes too long to mobilize. Some cities have vast resources and can share those resources with neighboring communities, while others are completely dependent on mutual aid to assist during a disaster. When the Woolsey Fire burned through Malibu in late 2018, Feldman contacted colleagues directly to ask for help, as opposed to simply waiting for mutual aid, which can at times take weeks to expedite. She took this same approach upon learning of the fires in Santa Rosa, and reached out to those impacted areas directly to offer help before waiting for mutual aid to arrive.
When asked about resources that cities need to combat wildfires, Feldman identified three main areas:
- Assistance with developing resilient communication systems;
- Assistance with developing safe and secure evacuation routes and the regularly testing of those routes; and
- Additional resources and solutions for law enforcement protection in the aftermath of a major disaster.
The League is an active partner with the Administration and Legislature to address emergency preparedness at the local level, and remains engaged on a number of wildfire and disaster preparedness bills that would allocate more money for local governments and coordinate statewide resources to high-threat disaster areas throughout the state. Cities will continue to play an important role in shaping legislation to address these issues as the legislative session continues.