Draft  #2: After Action Report

Heat Wave 2006

 

Jurisdiction: San Luis Obispo County Operational Area

Agency Point of Contact: San Luis Obispo County OES

 

 

1.         Summary

 

1.1       Scope of the Report

 

This After Action Report (AAR) has been prepared using information provided by event records and input by individuals from participating local agencies.  The AAR process allows all jurisdictions and agencies in the Operational Area to improve preparedness, response, and recovery activities related to future events.

 

1.2.      Introduction   

 

As temperatures continued near or above record highs, electrical load demand statewide was projected to be 15% higher than ever on July 24, 2006.  In addition to system-wide demands, capacity and heat related issues with local equipment was also being troublesome.  One result of these issues was actual or anticipated loss of power during the heat wave which would have resulted in a loss of electricity for air conditioning use.   

 

There was also the potential for areas which generally do not have or need air conditioning to become uncomfortably hot, and face possible threats to public health.  As a result of an initial inquiry from PG&E and follow up discussion with County Public Health, and with the concurrence of the County Health Officer, a cooling center was opened, in the city of Paso Robles. 

 

While the overall response went well there were some issues which could ensure a more effective coordination and response effort in the future.  It needs to be pointed out that the American Red Cross - and other involved agencies - did a commendable job of very quickly opening a cooling center and serving the needs of the public.

 

1.3       Background

 

On July 24, 2006 at approximately 7:50 AM Tom Jones of Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) contacted Ron Alsop of San Luis Obispo County OES.  Mr. Jones informed Mr. Alsop that statewide electrical load was expected to be 15% higher than ever, which would be the equivalent of 3.5 million people moving into California.  The California Independent System Operator (ISO) anticipated a load of about 52,000 megawatts of electricity.  

 

Mr. Jones went on to note 700 transformers have been lost system wide. Locally hard hit areas include the Templeton/Paso Robles area; actually, essentially all areas north of Atascadero.

 

Mr. Jones inquired if we would consider opening a cooling center, perhaps the Paso Robles Inn ballroom or the Paso Robles city library.

 

County OES then contacted County Public Health Officer Greg Thomas, M.D. who concurred with opening a cooling center.  Dr. Thomas contacted Public Health (PH) staff requesting they survey for EMS load related to heat issues.  PH also began coordinating with County OES and both agencies began coordinating with other entities, including the American Red Cross, regarding opening a cooling center.

 

Using their standard procedures for shelter opening for any time of emergency need, the ARC arranged for the opening of Daniel Lewis Middle School in Paso Robles for use as a cooling center.

 

2.         Response Activities

 

2.1       Cooling Center – Planning for Activation

 

County OES had informed PG&E they would contact and coordinate this request with the city of Paso Robles.  This would be necessary for two primary reasons:  first, to advise them of an event or incident that was going to occur in and/or affect their jurisdiction; and second to request their assistance with the logistics of obtaining a suitable facility. 

 

Concurrently County OES staff began contacting agencies such as the Tri Counties Regional Center and Long Term Care Ombudsmen Office to advise them of the situation.

 

Upon making contact with the ARC they stated they would find a location. 

 

Not surprising (due to their past experience and standing readiness for such situations) the ARC found the noted suitable location at Daniel Flamson Middle School. Once the ARC found a location and began the logistical work of staffing and opening the location, County OES became tied up with other tasks and failed to contact the city of Paso Robles.  Thus, the jurisdiction which was to be affected the most was not notified of the establishment of a cooling center in their jurisdiction prior to it actually occurring.

 

In the meantime, County OES - working with PH – coordinated other logistical needs including lining up potential alternate transportation options for those who may need a cooling center but did not have the resources to get there on their own. 

 

The American Red Cross did a commendable job of actually activating, staffing, and operating the shelter.  County Public Health did a commendable job of providing information to the public, through the media and their Web site, regarding the public health aspects of heat issues and with passing on information related to the cooling center being available.  PG&E committed a 300kw generator for use at the cooling center in case of power loss.

 

Individuals needing transportation were to be directed to contacting Paso Robles Dial-A-Ride; Dial-A-Ride would contact County OES if they became overwhelmed.  The Regional Transit Authority was willing to work on a plan should other transportation assistance be needed.

 

2.2       Cooling Center Actual Use

 

County OES was notified about 1:30 P.M. that the cooling center had opened at Daniel Lewis Middle School, using a teacher’s lounge and music room. The intent was that the cooling center being open until 7:00 P.M.  PG&E was onsite with a generator for back up power should the need arise.

 

Paso Robles Emergency Services (Taylor) noted that city call takers (emergency and non-emergency call takers) would be provide a copy of the news release produced by County Public Health.

 

The center was used by three people, all of whom arrived near the end of the day, following power outages in the East side of Paso Robles, resulting in the center actually staying open to serve them, until 7:20 PM.

 

2.3       Residential Hotel Health Check

 

In addition to issues related to a cooling center, other coordination activities related to excess heat occurred, including a request - actually the request was issued as an order by the State Department of Health Services - to check on the occupants of residential hotels.  County Public Health and OES determined the only known residential hotel in the county is located in downtown San Luis Obispo.  Public Health nurses went door-to-door in that facility checking on occupants.  None were found to need special health attention due to the heat.

 

3.         Recovery Activities

 

Due to the relatively limited resources necessary to respond to this event, recovery activities were not a notable part of this event for public agencies.  County OES did remain in contact with PG&E regarding the status of bringing power back on line in various areas.

 

4.         Lessons Learned

 

Below is a summary of four key “lessons learned”.  Section 5, Issues and Recommendations, included information on addressing these lessons.

 

4.1. Identify thresholds for the commitment of resources to this type of event.

 

While the concept of a cooling center has merit in certain situations, there is also a concern of using resources in place for the overall good of the community during a time when resources may well be needed elsewhere. 

 

4.2. Utilize existing communication methods identified in NIMS and SEMS.

 

 

 

4.3. Avoid appointing lead agencies to command roles when they possess no jurisdictional authority.  Instead, insist they communicate with the liaison as articulated in NIMS.

 

4.4. Be proactive, but avoid being inappropriately influenced by utilities

and/or events that are occurring in other parts of the State. 

 

While it is common knowledge that a widespread heat wave occurred throughout most areas of the state, we need to remember that high heat is not unusual for San Luis Obispo County, particular the North County areas.  As such, ... 

 

5.         Issues and Recommendations Related to Lessons Learned

 

5.1       Determining the Actual Need for a Cooling Center

 

The report mentions communication concerns, but seems to fall short of

identifying what I saw as the underlying problem--that being the opening

of a cooling center without having established need.  Item 1.3 indicates

that PG&E thought it might be necessary, states that OES contacted PH

who stated it was necessary but would survey local EMS response load

relative to heat.  The outcome of this survey is not listed. 

 

Conversations with the EMSA during the "event" (overall, 4-6 days)

revealed that call volume did not indicate a heat emergency existed.

Our call volume didn't indicate an event worthy of special notice.

 

5.2       Issue: Operational Area Coordination

 

While each event generally has a “lessons learned” component to it, perhaps the only significant issue related to this incident is the failure of the general emergency management Operational Area Coordinator (County OES) to timely notify the city of Paso Robles, through their Department of Emergency Services.  This is not due to a “system” or planning failure, but rather was simply an oversight by a member of County OES staff. 

 

In addition, there was a somewhat related issue within the city of Paso Robles related to having their Emergency Services as a “one point of contact” for the jurisdiction.  There was a point during which – due to positive, ongoing commendable and professional interagency relationships – during which the ARC was working directly with the City’s Library and Recreation Department regarding the potential use of Centennial Park as a shelter location versus coordinating through the city’s emergency management agency, which is the Department of Emergency Services.  The Recreation Department did initially work with the City Manager’s Office.

 

However, in both of the above cases once the communications were made and began through appropriate channels (in the case of the City, their Department of Emergency Services and for the Op Area with and between County OES and Paso Robles Emergency Services), effective coordination both by the Op Area with the City and communications within the City organization were efficient and effective.

 

Recommendation related to 5.2:  It is generally acknowledged that the initial miscommunication from the Operational Area to the city of Paso Robles was a one time oversight, which did not affect the public health and safety. 

 

Local governments within the San Luis Obispo County Operational Area – including the city of Paso Robles and County OES – use both the State’s Standardized Emergency Management System (SEMS) and the federal National Incident Management System (NIMS).   Both systems include good processes related to interagency coordination.  Since there is a system in place – which has worked well in the past with other events - the single recommendation is to note this is a good opportunity to remind all involved of the need for prompt notification and follow up interagency coordination with any jurisdiction impacted by and/or involved with an incident. 

 

5.3            Issue: No Single Lead Agency

 

 

The report mentions future need for direct contact with Paso's

Department of Emergency Services.  Department contact, for me, is not as

important as determining/predicting an actual event, utilizing normal

channels for the communication of information, and coordination of an

organized and effective response (if necessary).  While extremely high

temperatures may have been considered an unusual occurrence, the

management of the response needn't have been.

 

While this was not truly an issue per se, it should be noted that for certain events there is no one lead agency that has complete incident command oversight.  While each jurisdiction certainly retains its IC jurisdictional authority and the city and county both retain overall command and

control of an event in their jurisdiction through their emergency management system, response to an event such as extreme cold (or heat, flooding, and other emergencies with a wide ranging responsibilities, needs, and response efforts) can only be taken using a cooperative approach.  This is an emergency management level response that is similar to a unified command approach with a field incident.

 

Thus the use of SEMS and NIMS at the overall jurisdictional emergency management level is extremely important.  This is especially relevant to Interagency Coordination as described in SEMS.   In fact, once established interagency coordination between agencies including Public Health, County OES, the American Red Cross, and the city of Paso Robles worked well.

 

Recommendation 1 of 2 related to 5.3:  While each involved agency performed its roles as expected, development of at least basic Standard Operating Guidelines (SOG) may be helpful for guidance by appropriate agencies for responding to heat related primary events.  This will need to be both jurisdiction specific, or – for the County – a guide that serves for both its own local government role and that of Operational Area Coordinator.  At the least, a very basic guide will be drafted by County OES to be inserted as part of the County’s Emergency Operations Plan.  The need for a stand alone “heat event” response plan can be discussed outside of the context of this AAR.

 

Recommendation 2 of 2 related to 5.3:  As with past heat related issues, the primary threat is to public health.  As they did during this heat event, it is suggested that Public Health continue as the lead agency for providing public information and coordination related to direct health issues.  County OES should continue its role as general Op Area Coordinator, and the since the roles as filled by the American Red Cross, the city of Paso Robles, and other agencies were appropriate, once the proper communications channels were established, it is recommended that each agency retain their own jurisdictional and other designated roles with the understanding the proper, prompt interagency coordination is essential to an effective response. 

 

6.         Emergency Management Software Use

 

An emergency management software system for coordinating Operational Area response activities has been under development for about the past two years.  A system under development by a particular vendor was used to post situation status information by the County and Paso Robles.  Having this information in a common place to reference was very useful and resulted in positive feedback by all users.

 

Since the heat event, a new vendor has been chosen to implement the actual emergency management software system that will be used by the Operational Area.  This software – called WebEOC – is anticipated to be useful for future interagency coordination activities and continued use of emergency management software at least for situation status information is strongly encouraged for future events.  Although County OES has purchased the software and training is under way, it can still be immediately used by any jurisdiction in the Op Area even before full implementation and is anticipated to be just as beneficial with future events.