Tuolumne County Office of Emergency Services general disaster preparedness guides can be found at https://bit.ly/2PyjwGD and https://bit.ly/2TeXk2e.

Also worth reading and understanding are county OES pages titled “Evacuation Guidelines for Tuolumne County Residents” and “Public Education Information.”

They are at https://bit.ly/2PsO2BA and https://bit.ly/2RZiGiV, respectively.

Maps created by Laurie Sylwester are still available online at https://bit.ly/2qOVMiM.

Tuolumne County has voluminous planning documents online for how to deal with disasters, including fires, earthquakes, dam failures, floods and even volcanic activity, but the Emergency Operations Plan has not been updated since 2012 and therefore includes no information on lessons learned from the massive 2013 Rim Fire.

The county Office of Emergency Services is awaiting approval of a $100,000 state grant to update that plan, but there is no timetable for when that will happen.

In addition, no local taxpayer-funded agencies, including the City of Sonora, Sonora City Fire and Tuolumne County, create and distribute geographic-specific maps that show safe zones and evacuation options in individual neighborhoods and subdivisions.

“To my knowledge, we don’t have a handout to advise residents of what to do in different emergencies,” Tim Miller, Sonora city administrator, said Wednesday at City Hall. “Given what other communities have faced, like the city of Paradise, some type of information guide would be useful. It’s probably something we ought to develop.”

But the City of Sonora and Tuolumne County benefit from multiple people in law enforcement, fire and government with direct, firsthand knowledge of some of the most destructive disasters in Mother Lode history, including the 2013 Rim Fire and the 2015 Butte Fire in Calaveras County.

Local agencies also have personnel who have recent experience on some of the deadliest, most destructive incidents in state history, including last year’s Wine Country fires, the Thomas Fire and subsequent post-fire flash floods in Southern California.

Some Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit personnel are assigned now to the Camp Fire, 175 miles north of Sonora and the deadliest, most destructive fire on record in the Golden State.

So there’s no shortage of disaster-tested professionals among local decision makers who will be calling shots the next time a megablaze breaks out and hundreds of people, or thousands of people, will be ordered to get out and get out fast.

If you walk to City Hall or the Sonora City Fire Department or County Administration at 2 S. Green St. today and ask for handouts about what kind of disasters exist in your neighborhood, and where safe zones are, and what your evacuation options are, you are likely to come away empty-handed.

But the county Office of Emergency Services does have general disaster preparedness information online, including a Family Disaster Plan and a Family Disaster Kit. Also worth reading and understanding are county OES pages titled “Evacuation Guidelines for Tuolumne County Residents” and “Public Education Information.”

They each include detailed explanations of the differences between evacuation advisories, evacuation warnings and evacuation orders, as well as an evacuation checklist.

“The county does not offer geographic-specific evacuation routes and options,” Jason Terry, administrative analyst with the county Office of Emergency Services, said Wednesday in his office. “The county plans are written generally to be able to be applied in any scenario.”
Terry added that he is not aware of any local agency that supplies geographic-specific evacuation routes in the event of emergencies.

Central command

Depending on the nature and location of a disaster, the county’s primary Emergency Operations Center is located in the county administrator’s offices and conference room on the 4th floor at 2 S. Green St., Terry said.

When larger incidents that require multi-agency responses happen, the county EOC can be moved to its secondary location at the Cal Fire TCU base on Stryker Court, off Tuolumne Road.

At the beginning of any disaster or other emergency situation in Tuolumne County, the authority to evacuate lies with the Sheriff’s Office, Terry said. Asked for specifics about how the Sheriff’s Office determines when and where to call for evacuations, Terry said evacuation guidelines and emergency plans are flexible because every disaster is different.

“For example in a fire, multiple variables need to be taken into account and assessed and mapped before best evacuation plans can be verified,” Terry said. “The point of origin, winds, direction the fire appears to be moving, how much fuel exists along evacuation routes and between points, how many people, and how many evacuation routes are available to them.”

Obviously in closed environments, locations where there are only one or two ways out, evacuation procedures need to start as soon as possible.

Terry emphasized that when state grant funding is approved for updating the 2012 Emergency Operations Plan for Tuolumne County, the county will seek input at public meetings and via correspondence.

Some maps available

Laurie Sylwester, a former elected District 3 supervisor in Tuolumne County who ran for the same office and was defeated earlier this month, says she long ago recognized the public demand for more information about geographic-specific emergency plans and decided to do something about it.

Sylwester says she was a Tuolumne Fire Protection District board member for seven years.

She says she spent six weeks and thousands of dollars putting together emergency plan maps for Mi-Wuk Village and Sugar Pine, Twain Harte, Lakewood and Twain Harte Valley, Ponderosa Hills, Tuolumne, Pinecrest and Strawberry.

Each map includes advice, such as make a family plan, include evacuation of all animals, mark your address on the map, highlight multiple evacuation routes, make copies of the map, photograph it with your cell phone, post the map, designate a meeting location outside the emergency area, and put together an emergency backpack.

Some of the maps include arrows pointing to Highway 108, to Sonora and to Nevada.

“I wanted to raise awareness in each community so that families would scout out the alternative evacuation routes,” Sylwester said. “Of course, each emergency would dictate the route.”

She says she owns the rights to the maps, and businesses will have to work directly with her if they are interested in sponsoring printing with their promo in place of her election logo. She said she is not giving away her rights to the work.

Emergency Ops

The 292-page 2012 Tuolumne County emergency operations plan is an extension of the California Emergency Plan. The 2017 State of California Emergency Plan executive summary says the state emergency plan is a requirement of the California Emergency Services Act enacted in 1970 to supersede the California Disaster Act.

The 1970 California Emergency Services Act also established the governor’s Office of Emergency Services, charged with coordinating statewide emergency preparedness, post disaster recovery, mitigation efforts, and development, review, approval, and integration of emergency plans.

In both Calaveras and Tuolumne counties, local Office of Emergency Services staff emphasize their alert systems, designed to automatically text or call individuals when emergencies happen, are only as accurate as the contact information people put into the databases.

Both counties contract with the communications platform Everbridge. Residents are urged to sign up for alerts on web pages set up by each county. Do not assume county staff or Everbridge have your correct contact information.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.