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State Senate Passes Bill to Automatically Enroll Residents in Emergency Alerts

The California State Senate passed a bill Thursday allowing counties to automatically enroll residents in emergency alerts.

Prompted by the destructive and deadly wildfires last year, the legislation won Senate approval with unanimous support.

The bill gives counties the option to automatically enroll every resident in a location-based emergency notification program while preserving residents’ ability to choose to opt-out of alerts.

Many public warning systems in California can deliver notifications to residents based on the location of their home, but people must sign up for the cell phone and email alert, according to a statement issued by State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, who introduced the legislation.

When the Thomas Fire erupted on Dec. 4, less than 30 percent of residents living near the blaze had signed up to receive county cell phone and email emergency alerts, according to her office.

“In the Northern California wildfires, which caused the death of 44 people, notification of residents has also been scrutinized as inadequate,” the statement said.

In contrast, a federal Wireless Emergency Alerts system does not require residents to sign up, but “lacks the ability to precisely target specific neighborhoods, potentially undermining efficient evacuation efforts,” Jackson said in a release. 

The bill now moves to the State Assembly.

Jackson said in a statement that the bill “will improve our emergency notification system by ensuring more residents are notified quickly and effectively when they are in harm’s way.”

Santa Barbara County launched a new emergency website in February with the outreach campaign focused on signing up for notifications.

The county Office of Emergency Management uses different systems to notify individuals about disaster information, weather warnings and evacuation orders.

County Emergency Management officials use Aware & Prepare and Nixle to send information over phone calls, text messages, emails and social media posts.

Only 7,000 people were signed up for Aware & Prepare alerts last year, which jumped to more than 41,000 as of February, according to the county.

Santa Barbara County, and departments including the Office of Emergency Management, also post evacuation orders, weather alerts, and other incident updates on their social media pages.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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