During a recent Healdsburg City Council meeting, a resolution was approved to update the Healdsburg Emergency Operations Plan (EOP). The update is meant to create a plan that will reflect increased community engagement as well as address new forms of emergency circumstances. The resolution received positive feedback and was successfully approved unanimously.
The pre-existing EOP was adopted in 2013. It is a living document, meaning it can be continually changed and modified. These past few years Healdsburg has faced great changes in risks and vulnerabilities on a local scale, making it clear that the EOP was in need of an update. Among the challenges the community has faced are fires, floods, drought and the ever pressing COVID-19 pandemic that continues to plague the community.
The role of the city council in the revision of the EOP is strategic planning, meaning their main role is to set a larger base policy. It is a programmatic and legal document, not meant to be operational.
“The EOP really is an umbrella plan. There are then function-specific and incident-specific plans that are under that umbrella, and they become annexes to the EOP,” explained Jason Gwaltney, a consultant for the city.
The EOP incorporates standards from the Standardized Management System (SEMS) and National Incident Management System (NIMS). This revised EOP overall focuses on four main areas: preparation, response, recovery and mitigation.
The goals of the EOP include saving lives, protecting health and safety, property and protecting the environment, however one of the main priorities of the revised plan is engagement of the whole community. This in particular includes serving vulnerable and culturally diverse populations. Healdsburg is a diverse community, so meeting the needs of all groups was at the forefront of issues that needed to be addressed in the EOP revision.
“Engaging and empowering all parts of the community is very important, including an emphasis on diversity of the emergency management team … including not just staff, but also social and community groups,” said former Police Chief Kevin Burke, in reference to the details of this whole community approach. Burke retired from the Healdsburg Police Department at the end of May.
Although it takes a broad approach, the plan prioritizes people with access and functional needs as well as culturally diverse communities. This includes but is not limited to those with disabilities, people without transportation, citizens at an economic disadvantage, immigrant and refugee communities, sexual and gender minorities and many more.
The plan recognizes the hazards most prevalent in Healdsburg to be drought, earthquakes, flooding, landslides and wildfires.
“This list isn’t meant to be all inclusive, it's just the largest risks that we have in our community,” said Burke during the May 17 council meeting. In addition, two new hazards were added to the plan that were non-existent in the original EOP established in 2013 — disease outbreaks, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and public safety power shutoffs, in response to recent wildfires.
In order to address emergency response with a community-based approach, the new EOP aims to first implement a large overarching policy that would serve to pursue additional opportunities for engagement. Partnerships with other local organizations such as COPE, Reach for Home and Corazón Healdsburg will also be fundamental in the success of the revised EOP. Inclusion will feature social media outreach and collaboration in both English and Spanish.
The new proposition also includes the creation of a new position, an EOC cultural liaison officer.
“This is not a new paid staff position, it is a role that would be assigned in the EOC setting … It is something that we would fill during an actual EOC activation,” said Burke.
The EOC director, or city manager, would be responsible for determining who would fill this role. Although the position is generally open to any individual, examples of likely candidates include licenced clinical social workers, staff from the community services department or even someone from a private organization like Corazón Healdsburg. The sole purpose of the individual in this position would be to ensure that the needs of all groups are being met in the event of an emergency.
Another main component of the EOC addresses policies regarding alerts and warnings that would be used in the event of an emergency. “We have a layered approach for alerts and warnings,” said Burke.
Outreach includes using a variety of different messaging systems, the most common being Nixle. Others include wireless emergency alerts, SoCoAlerts and door-to-door notifications. Social media outreach is also very prevalent, as is information provided through the news media.
Financial logistics are also modified and focused upon in the EOC. It stresses the importance of documentation as well as effective time tracking. This organization is especially important in an emergency in order to facilitate the easiest recovery period possible.
The adoption of the revised EOP received positive feedback from council members.
“I read through this and felt immediately safer. It is extremely important that we have an outline for how to proceed forward in these instances, of fire specifically. I think that it serves as a template for other cities as well,” voiced Vice Mayor Ozzy Jimenez.