Fire evacuation report called for

LA CRESCENTA — Supervisor Mike Antonovich on Tuesday called for a review of Los Angeles County’s emergency notification efforts following what many residents have called an inadequate response to the fast-moving Station fire.

The review was prompted, in part, by numerous residential complaints to the supervisor’s office on the lack of timely and accurate updates on county websites notifying residents about evacuations, road and school closures and shelter information.

“We are getting calls from constituents, and they weren’t getting the information from the television media,” said Ali Navid, special assistant to the supervisor. “And the next step for them was to turn to their government and it wasn’t there.”

The county’s main website had no reference to the fire until Monday, Navid said.

And many residents complained that weekend television coverage of evacuations was also lacking — leaving residents with few avenues for information.

“We were supposed to be getting consistent updates on what was going on,” said Crescenta Valley Town Council President Steve Pierce. “That just wasn’t happening.”

The report will also examine a mistaken mandatory evacuation phone call sent by the county’s new mass emergency notification system to the majority of La Crescenta residents Monday in the early morning hours.

Pierce said the erroneous evacuation order created confusion among residents, who thought the fire didn’t look worse than it had earlier in the night. Many residents decided to stay, but a lot did heed the mistaken phone call, he said.

“A lot of people did evacuate and ended up going down to the high school,” he said.

“And I believe at that point people didn’t know what to do; there was no direction.”

The report, which will be overseen by the county’s chief executive, is due at the Sept. 15 county Board of Supervisors meeting. It will address the effectiveness of the emergency notification system, while evaluating procedures for real-time posting of information on natural disasters and other emergencies.

Antonovich has pointed to nearby cities also affected by the fire, such as Glendale and La Cañada Flintridge, as providing much more consistent updates to residents.

La Crescenta resident Christina Chu, who lives in a mandatory evacuation area but decided to stay at her house, said her family used La Cañada’s website to stay updated on the fire, even though they are county residents.

Anne Beglarian, who lives on the Glendale side of Lowell Avenue, said she used the city and Glendale Unified School District websites to stay updated on evacuations and school closures. She was also comforted by the mass of public safety personnel in her area, she added.

“We got calls really quickly, and the police were very friendly and told us what they knew,” Beglarian said.

Still, she said she wished there had been more information available to residents about which fires were tactical backfires in the Deukmejian Wilderness Park area.

For her friends who lived close to the backfires, the lack of information created a nerve-wracking situation, she said.

“We knew there were going to be backfires, but we didn’t know which ones were and which ones weren’t,” she said.

In La Crescenta, residents mainly relied on each other for up-to-date information, Pierce said.

The Crescenta Valley Fire Safe Council, Town Council and Chamber of Commerce also worked together to disseminate updates throughout the community.

Pierce said a fire evacuation drill at the beginning of August in the Briggs Terrace neighborhood served as helpful preparation.

“It made a huge difference because they didn’t panic, they knew what to do and it made all the difference in the world,” he said.

“It is almost like we knew exactly how to take care of ourselves.”


 MELANIE HICKEN covers City Hall. She may be reached at (818) 637-3235 or by e-mail at melanie.hicken@latimes.com.

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