A trip to Maryland for training took an ironic, real-world twist this week for Sgt. Riley Harwood, known locally as the face and voice of the Santa Barbara Police Department.
Harwood, 44, whose duties include serving as the department’s main spokesman, is attending an advanced public-information training session put on by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Harwood’s presence near the nation’s capital coincided with the arrival of Hurricane Sandy, a powerful “super storm” that has slammed the Atlantic Coast from Virginia up through New England.
“The rain was really coming down hard, and it was pretty windy overnight,” Harwood told Noozhawk, recalling the situation Monday night, as the eye of the storm passed just to the north of Emmitsburg. “There is kind of a feeling, as the storm is happening, of being pretty anxious. When we woke up this morning, there was a sense of relief, and folks were looking toward assessing the damage.”
Harwood noted that his instructors in the course were involved in the public-information process for the massive storm.
The center where he is situated “is pretty secure as far as being able to weather storms,” Harwood said. “But there was concern about the possibility of tornadoes (from the storm), and for me, being from California, that was kind of strange.”
The giant storm has affected the training in two ways, Harwood said. First, 12 of the 40 people scheduled to attend the course were unable to make it due to flight cancellations. That left them short of personnel for some of the exercises, he said.
“And my teachers here are staff who work on this kind of thing …” he said. “They brought us examples of the information that was going out. … It was kind of fascinating to have it happen in real life.”
Asked how the experts are assessing the scope of the disaster, Harwood said, “They’re saying it’s a big deal, especially in New York and New Jersey.”
“They’re also talking about how things have become somewhat politicized,” he said. “They felt that politics at the federal level were kind of drowning out some of the message that needs to be put out there.”
Harwood will wrap up his training on Thursday, when he expects to be joined by his wife and two young children for a few days of vacation in the nation’s capital.