After six years as Santa Barbara County’s chief of Emergency Management, Michael Harris’ last official day will be April 7. He took the opportunity to discuss his observations of local preparedness efforts and residents’ efforts to be better prepared.
According to Harris, while many advances have been made throughout the county, emergency managers see that much more needs to be done.
The vast majority of residents and businesses are not prepared for the next disaster. In the event of a large local earthquake, most people and businesses lack a plan, they don’t have the needed one gallon of water per-person-per-day for five days, they don’t have enough food and they don’t have a hand-crank radio to receive emergency information.
During the last four years, local philanthropic organizations have joined together to invest millions of dollars into nonprofit, government and resident preparedness. When more residents are prepared, it lessens the dependence on emergency resources after a disaster; resources that may take days to arrive.
Both English- and Spanish-language classes help local residents with their preparedness. Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) have become enormously popular in Santa Barbara County with thousands being trained to help their neighborhoods after a disaster.
The Board of Supervisors saw the vulnerability of having the county’s emergency management center in retrofitted trailers in the middle of earthquake country.
“Despite financial challenges, the board partnered with the Aware & Prepare Initiative, a cooperative effort of local philanthropic agencies, and invested in a new emergency operations center,” Harris said. “This one courageous decision, given the financial times facing the county, did more to prepare Santa Barbara County than any previous action taken.”
The EOC is now regarded as one of the finest in the state.
As Harris leaves the Office of Emergency Management, he reminds residents that there will be another disaster and taking the easy steps to prepare for that disaster is critical.
“Preparedness is a personal responsibility,” Harris said. “Emergency responders will be immediately overwhelmed and unable to meet the demand surge. In the end, you must make sure that you and your family are ready.”