The 2019-20 Calaveras County Grand Jury released a report addressing emergency preparedness on Oct. 7 – the first in a series of five individual reports that will be released this month.
During a normal year, the county’s grand jury convenes from July 1 until June 30, around which time the annual report is released in its entirety. However, as with many other grand juries that have adapted to COVID-19, the Calaveras County Grand Jury’s schedule was extended until the end of 2020. This change will govern future grand juries, with the new schedule beginning in January and following the calendar year from now on.
Despite the 2019-20 Grand Jury finishing the majority of their report ahead of the initial June 30 deadline by utilizing remote conference technology, the effects of COVID-19 made it impossible for the county and court’s review of the report to conclude by that date.
Due to the unusual circumstances, current Grand Jury Foreperson Larry Abernathy, as well as several other jurors who “carried over” from the 2018-19 Grand Jury, can claim the singular experience of serving on a grand jury for 30 consecutive months. Members of the current grand jury who choose to complete the maximum two terms by serving in 2021 will also serve 30 months by the end of their tenure.
Reflecting on his exceptionally long run as a grand juror, Abernathy said, “It’s a lot of work, but that’s OK. … It’s really a privilege to serve. I’ve learned a lot about our county government, and it’s really kind of fun to be the watchdog for the citizens and make sure the government is running the way it should.”
According to Abernathy, although the 2019-20 report is being released in segments, a consolidated version will likely be uploaded to the grand jury’s website in the first week of January. In the meantime, the individual reports can be viewed at grandjury.calaverasgov.us.
Emergency preparedness report
The first individual report released by the Calaveras County Grand Jury overviews the county’s ability to notify, protect and evacuate residents during a potential disaster.
“Inspired by the 2018-2019 Marin County Grand Jury report, entitled ‘Wildfire Preparedness – A New Approach’ and the fact that Calaveras County is within a high-risk, fire-prone region subject to Public Safety Power Shutoffs, the Calaveras County Grand Jury chose to review the current emergency preparedness plans and potential disaster readiness of lead agencies within the County,” the report reads.
Following interviews with officials, including county Office of Emergency Services (OES) and Sheriff’s Office personnel, emergency response teams, American Red Cross representatives and others, as well as researching historical data and reviewing local disaster resources and plans, the grand jury made several recommendations.
Improved address visibility at area buildings and properties was recommended, in order for emergency services to more easily locate incidents.
“The (grand jury) recommends that beginning June 2021, the (board of supervisors) make annual proclamations at their first meeting in June declaring Address Identification Month and urge county residents to ensure their properties are identified in adherence to California Fire Code §505.1,” the report reads.
Additionally, the grand jury also recommended that OES should increase public outreach and education regarding the importance of enrolling in Calaveras Alert, a system that notifies participants of an emergency via phone.
It was also recommended that Calaveras Alert test messages should be sent out each month to ensure participants are enrolled with their best contact information.
Lastly, the grand jury recommended that OES develop a policy and procedure manual by Dec. 31, 2020.
“While an extensive interdepartmental Emergency Operations Plan does exist, the OES does not operate with an office-level Policy and Procedure Manual to guide employee conduct and maintain consistent practices in the event of personnel change,” the report reads.
Responses to the grand jury’s findings and recommendations are required from elected officials within 60 days of the report’s release, and within 90 days from governing bodies.
The Calaveras County Superior Court is currently in the process of selecting a 2020-21 Grand Jury. Those who would like to serve should contact the courthouse to complete an application. To request an investigation into a county matter of civil concern, submit a citizen complaint form at grandjury.calaverasgov.us.