The Montecito Emergency Response and Recovery Action Group invites the public to celebrate its 25th anniversary from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Montecito Union School, 385 San Ysidro Road in Montecito. Parking will be available at Lower Manning Park.
MERRAG was formed in 1987 when Montecito Fire Chief Herb McElwee recognized that the Montecito community could be easily isolated in the event of a disaster, especially an earthquake. McElwee contacted the general managers of the Montecito Water District and the Montecito Sanitary District to enlist their support for a cooperative effort in disaster preparedness.
The community benefits of working together in disaster preparation were immediately evident, so the three special districts began development of a coordinated plan for Montecito.
The initial goal of the special districts was to organize and structure a disaster preparation plan that would minimize property damage, restore basic services as quickly as possible and expand the pool of resources available during an emergency, especially for the critical first 72-hour period. The coordinated planning that was undertaken by the districts led to the establishment of a communication system, the development of a resources list of equipment, materials and personnel.
The program developed an identity of its own with its community volunteers, and became the Montecito Emergency Response & Recovery Action Group. The group now includes more than 60 organizational members from the public and private agencies in the community as well as individual emergency response volunteers.
The basic goals of MERRAG included reliable communication between members, and a significant effort was directed towards expanding the communication network for the community. MERRAG now maintains a dedicated radio frequency, with radios distributed to schools, churches, hotels, response team volunteers and organized homeowner groups. This radio network ensures communications throughout the community in the event that phone systems are taken down by disaster. Residents can go to the nearest radio location to report their situations, which in turn, can be relayed to emergency responders for prioritization.
Saturday’s event is free to the public, and will include hands-only CPR instruction, fire extinguisher use instruction, and preparedness activities for young children. Off-duty fire personnel will barbecue hot dogs and chili for participants.
— Geri Ventura represents the Montecito Emergency Response and Recovery Action Group.