Ever wonder how information gets disseminated to the public in an emergency?

The Santa Barbara County Emergency Public Information Communicators (EPIC) was created in 2004 to bring together professionals from multiple organizations who communicate information to the public quickly and effectively during an emergency.

EPIC has more than 140 members with expertise in public safety, government, utilities, academia, nonprofits, media, and health and human services in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.  

In an emergency, members of EPIC may work together around the clock to ensure the public is informed and receives accurate and timely information.

In today’s digital age, it is more important than ever to get the facts to people in a timely manner before misinformation can spread. Emergency communication occurs frequently as Santa Barbara County faces a year-round threat of wildfires as well as a myriad of other types of potential crises.

In the past nine months, the county experienced several fires, floods and mudslides. 

Members of EPIC meet bimonthly to network and build relationships, hone their skills, share information and best practices, and better prepare for emergency situations by participating in drills and exercises. Relationship-building is critical because EPIC members may be thrown together and rely upon each other in a community-wide or regional emergency. 

“When it comes to real-world preparedness, our ability to help our communities survive a crisis comes down to planning and training,” said EPIC Chair Gina DePinto, Santa Barbara County Communications Manager. “Throughout my career, I’ve planned and prepared for crisis communications, but I still learn something new with each drill, exercise and practice run.

“The essence of EPIC is to train and prepare those responsible for public outreach and communications who may not otherwise have opportunities to test their level of preparedness before an actual event.”

During a large emergency, EPIC members may work in the county’s Joint Information Center (JIC) located in the county Emergency Operation Center (EOC).

When activated, the EOC is the central command-and-control facility for carrying out the disaster response and management functions at a strategic level during an emergency.

Among other things, common functions of the EOC are to collect, gather and analyze data; make decisions that protect life and property, maintain continuity of the organizations and agencies affected, and disseminate information through the JIC.

The public information officers work together in the JIC to gather and disseminate public information through media relations, social media and other communication channels available, such as websites, government access TV, and reverse 9-11 alert systems. 

In Santa Barbara County, we benefit from the “Aware and Prepare” emergency notification initiative (www.awareandprepare.org), an invaluable resource during emergency situations.

Residents should also plan and be prepared, and know how to receive the information when disaster strikes.

The “Aware and Prepare” website offers helpful tips and information that will benefit residents and visitors alike.

Signing up for alerts at Aware and Prepare, emergency responders will notify you and your family about emergencies in your area. 

EPIC is a community resource that provides opportunities to learn and practice together so we don’t meet for the first time in the JIC during an emergency. 

Gina DePinto is the communications manager for Santa Barbara County.