Fire

More than three years after the Butte Fire, Calaveras County staff and local law enforcement has developed a cutting-edge mobile and computer application to better inform the public about emergencies and evacuations.

The Calaveras County Office of Emergency Services (OES), along with representatives from the Sheriff’s Office, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) and county Geographic Information Systems (GIS), presented an electronic application to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that will allow county residents to receive real-time updates on emergency evacuations, using an interactive mapping system.

The application will be available to download via the OES website within days, according to developers. It provides an interface that can operate on mobile phones without internet access and offers users a searchable map of incident information, available routes, safe zones and more.

“For the citizens, we wanted to come up with a tool that they would be able to use themselves to help themselves,” said Capt. Ed Ballard with the Sheriff’s Office during the presentation. “We found what we needed from the citizens of the county was to learn the areas they live in. … A lot of the people I talked to knew one way to get to their house, and they didn’t know that a half mile behind their house was another way out, all the way to Nevada if they needed to go.”

The system will also be employed by local emergency services and CalFire to stay up to date in the “same language,” according to Ballard, as CalFire’s previously-established zoning system was utilized as the basis for navigating the map.

The application was the result of several months of coordination between county and statewide emergency services.

“As district head, having this tool that they’ve all put together is absolutely fantastic,” said Ebbetts Pass Fire District Chief Mike Johnson following the presentation. “In my opinion, seeing a collaboration of the state forestry, CalFire with their best practices of what they see up and down the state, integrated with the local county here, with the two GIS’s who put this together behind the scenes, was a tremendous feat in my opinion. … This is a very well-orchestrated piece of technology. I know that it’s going to evolve, and I wouldn’t be surprised if your surrounding counties, once they learn of this great product, come and solicit what it is and try to mimic it in neighboring counties.”

In response to growing apprehensions voiced by the public, the project is part of a greater countywide effort to inform citizens on disaster preparedness through community meetings and the recently-implemented Calaveras Alert system, which has garnered roughly 14,000 subscribers, according to OES Coordinator Chad Cassey.

Chief Richard Dickinson with the Calaveras Consolidated Fire Protection District stressed that individuals will need to actively download and sign up for programs like the evacuation application and Calaveras Alerts in order to benefit from them.

“You’ve done everything correct for the community, and if they’re willing to engage, they will help themselves. But if they’re not willing to engage it will be a tough one for them,” Dickinson said.

A work in progress, the application may incorporate additional features as needed in the coming months, such as access to information from other entities like PG&E, as suggested by District 3 Supervisor Merita Callaway.

District 4 Supervisor Dennis Mills also recommended that a feature be added to specify routes that are only 4-wheel-drive accessible.

Following the presentation, the board lauded the program and polled unanimously to make the application available to the public as soon as possible.

“This is great. Thank you guys so much,” said District 2 Supervisor Jack Garamendi. “I can’t wait to get (it) to the community, and unfortunately, we’ll probably have to test it sooner than later.”

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Dakota graduated from Bret Harte in 2013 and went to Davidson College, NC where she earned a bachelor's degree in Arab studies. After spending time studying in the Middle East and Europe, she is happy to be home, writing about the community she loves.

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