A full-scale run-thru of Malibu’s Disaster Mass Notification System will be conducted Wednesday, allowing officials to test an upgrade expected to dramatically increase the city’s ability to reach residents via their cellphones.
“We are already applying lessons learned from the devastating Woolsey Fire, as well as the historic wildfires that have ravaged California in recent years, to keep improving our emergency communications for future disasters,” Mayor Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner said. “This test will help us refine the system and raise awareness among the community of this important tool so that we are all better prepared.”
Everbridge, a 17-year-old Massachusetts-based company that supplies communications services for emergency notifications, recently reached an agreement with cellphone companies to provide government agencies, including Malibu, with the cellphone numbers of account holders with addresses in the city so they can be entered into the system database. Previously, only landline numbers were provided, and the only way the city had access to residents’ cellphone numbers was if they registered themselves on the Everbridge system and added their number, according to Malibu officials.
The change will allow the city to increase the number of cellphones in the Everbridge database from about 3,600 to about 12,000, according to Susan Duenas, Malibu’s public safety manager. All information will be kept strictly confidential and will not be shared with third parties, according to the city.
“While there are still major challenges that were revealed by the Woolsey Fire, such as cellphone infrastructure being destroyed and widespread power outages, the expansion of cellphone numbers in the Disaster Notification System is a major improvement in the city’s ability to get timely, relevant, actionable information out to the public during emergencies,” according to the city.
The 96,949-acre Woolsey Fire — which broke out last Nov. 8 in Ventura County and quickly spread into Los Angeles County — killed three civilians, injured three firefighters, destroyed 1,643 structures and damaged 364 others. The blaze was not 100 percent contained until Nov. 21.
Although an official cause of the fire has not been determined, multiple lawsuits have been filed blaming Edison power equipment for sparking the blaze and contending the utility failed to de-energize its electrical lines during severe wind gusts that prompted wildfire warnings.
Malibu officials said they are exploring ways to overcome the issues of power outages and the vulnerability of cellphone infrastructure, including installing repeaters for handheld radios that Community Emergency Response Team and Sheriff’s Volunteers on Patrol members, staff and other volunteers can use to distribute information to the community in the event of an emergency.
The city is also considering loudspeaker siren towers, which can be solar or battery powered and can be programmed remotely to broadcast audio messages when other methods are down, according to officials, who said a system of information distribution points is also being planned.
“Pop-up booths with bulletin boards displaying printed material would be placed at logical gathering places such as shopping centers and gas stations, across the length of the city, and near the city’s emergency supplies storage containers. Printed public information would be brought out to the boards one or more times a day, and the city would conduct public outreach so that community members would know to go there to find public information when electronic communications have been knocked out,” according to the city’s statement.
The Everbridge mass notification system is used in case of major disasters or evacuations to send urgent information via landline and cellphone calls, text messages and emails. It is a separate system from the city’s website Alert Center, which is regularly used to send out traffic, weather, utility and minor emergency alerts by text message and email to subscribers.
When activated, the Everbridge system sends a recorded voice and/or text message, and cycles through every device that is registered, until the recipient clicks a “message received” confirmation. If no confirmation is received, the system will start over and cycle back through all of the devices/contacts until a confirmation is given.
Users can download a free Everbridge mobile app for use on Android or Apple devices, but the system will work without the app, which can be found by searching for “ContactBridge” in the app store or iTunes.
To sign up for the city’s disaster and evacuation alerts through Everbridge, visit www.MalibuCity.org/DisasterNotifications.
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