By Miriam Raftery
Photo courtesy of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office
March 26, 2019 (San Diego) – Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday proclaimed a state of emergency over wildfire dangers to “protect the state’s most vulnerable communities,” according to a press release issued by his office.
The action expedites forest management projects with an aim to protect 200 communities most prone to fire risk. That includes 35 fuel reduction projects in areas identified by the Calif. Dept. of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) in a new report as at high risk for wildfires. In San Diego County, fuel breaks to protect Crest and Guatay are included.
Crest was among the communities hardest hit by the devastating 2003 Cedar Fire.
California has also launched a $50 million public campaign on preparedness to build resiliency among vulnerable populations at the highest risk for natural disasters
“The increasing wildfire risks we face as a state mean we simply can’t wait until a fire starts in order to start deploying emergency resources,” said Governor Newsom. “California needs sustained focus and immediate action in order to better protect our communities.”
The state of emergency provides time-saving waivers of administrative and regulatory requirements to protect public safety and allow for action to be taken in the next 12 months, to address address community vulnerability and wildfire fuel buildup. These 35 priority projects were identified by geographic areas with populations that are particularly at risk during natural disasters.
The action is not without controversy. Some environmental groups have voiced concerns about habitat destruction and the potential for cleared chaparral to be replaced by grasses that could burn even more quickly.
But in the wake of catastrophic fires including the 20218 Paradise Fire that killed some 80 people and an increase in severe fires statewide in recent years fueled in part by climate change as well as faulty utility equipment, saving lives is at the forefront of the Governor’s priorities.
Previously, Governor Newsom issued an executive order on his first full day in office directing CAL FIRE, in consultation with other state agencies and departments, to recommend immediate, medium- and long-term actions to help prevent destructive wildfires.
On Friday, the Governor also announced the next phase of an effort to modernize the way the state contracts for goods and technology systems, to prepare for and assist during disasters.
The “Innovation Procurement Sprint” seeks to turn government contracting on its head by giving the best and brightest minds an opportunity to have their wildfire solutions tested and evaluated in the field. The Governor ordered this “sprint” so that the best tools and technologies can be purchased under government contract while they are still cutting-edge, in an effort to save lives and properties.
“California has experienced an increase in catastrophic wildfires over the past ten years,” said CAL FIRE Director Thom Porter. “The Procurement Sprint enables CAL FIRE to think outside the box and work with innovators from across the private, public and non-profit sectors to identify solutions to the challenge of detecting when a wildfire starts, and subsequently, where the fire will progress.”
Now that the Procurement Sprint is underway, CAL FIRE is inviting vendors, academics, entrepreneurs and scientists from a range of industries to propose innovative technological solutions to yield more comprehensive and effective results to address the state’s wildfire problems. The goal is to foster a culture of innovation, communication and collaboration between the private and public sectors and nonprofit organizations, while engaging the public in these efforts.
Further, Newsom announced additional details on the $50 million California for All Emergency Preparedness Campaign.
The campaign — a joint initiative between Cal Volunteers and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services — will augment the efforts of first responders by ensuring at least one million of the most vulnerable Californians are connected to culturally and linguistically competent support.
The campaign will provide:
- $24.25 million in grants to community-based organizations across the state to prepare residents for natural disasters through education and resources designed to bolster resiliency.
- $12.6 million to support community efforts to build resiliency and respond to disasters by dispatching expert disaster teams to key regions and expanding citizen emergency response teams (CERT).
- $13.15 million to assist community groups in the development of a linguistically and culturally appropriate public awareness and outreach campaign, directed specifically at the most vulnerable California communities.
Funding for this campaign through AB 72 was approved by the Legislature, and the bill was signed by the Governor last month.
In addition to the funding for preparedness communications, the California Natural Resources Agency and Department of Conservation have announced the award of $20 million in block grants for regional projects that improve forest health and increase fire resiliency. This Regional Forest and Fire Capacity Program helps communities prioritize, develop and implement projects that strengthen fire resiliency.
Finally, the administration announced today that it is publishing Emergency Alert and Warning Guidelines. The guidelines, which were mandated as a result of SB 833 (McGuire), aim to help cities, counties and the state get on the same page when it comes to communicating with Californians in an emergency.