Thomas Fire: Communications Outreach
With flood hazards becoming an elevated risk for homeowners, it was imperative messaging about these new dangers be shared with the public and encourage homeowners to seek information on flood insurance options as soon as possible. Information on flood insurance was published to the County of Ventura’s new website www.venturacountyrecovers.org, social media posts as well as press releases which were sent to targeted media outlets.
VCPWA continued to share its flood message through speaking engagements and hosting the events including the County of Ventura Hosts Flood and Mud Preparedness Event and Expo, Feb. 3 at the Poinsettia Pavilion.
Experts from Ventura County Public Works Agency, including VCPWA Director Jeff Pratt, OES Manager Kevin McGowan, VCPWA Watershed Protection District Director Glenn Shephard, VCPWA Hydrologist Scott Holder, VCPWA Geologist Jim O’Tousa and VCPWA Hydrologist Bruce Rindahl, discussed regional flood dangers and evacuation strategies for the public.
The free, public event shared information about how homeowners living below or near fire damaged burn areas, hillsides, creeks and storm drains, can keep their properties safe from potential mud and debris flows. Flood and erosion protection experts discussed the heightened flood dangers following the Thomas Fire, evacuation strategies and ongoing efforts being conducted to protect the community, as well as preparedness measures, such as sandbagging and waddles.
Even as the Thomas Fire still raged in Ventura County, VCPWA’s Water and Sanitation Department management coordinated meetings between state agencies, local city representatives and the County’s Environmental Health Division (EHD), the County’s lead agency for the fire debris cleanup phase during this locally declared disaster. These meetings yielded two important results: first, the opening of Local Assistance Centers (LAC) comprised of County staff, non-profits and other organizations to provide assistance to Ventura county residents affected by the fire; and second, the implementation of a state program by which residents, whose homes had been completely destroyed by the fire, could register to have their properties completely cleared of all fire-related debris for free.
Two VCPWA staff members, namely IWMD’s Gloria Silvestri-Whitcomb and Tobie Mitchell, enthusiastically accepted the opportunity to assist within this process, often doing so after normal work hours and on the weekends, by providing both general recovery information as well as ensuring eligible residents were enrolled in the free debris cleanup program, the critical first step for residents to begin to rebuild lives. In total, Gloria and Tobie contributed more than 160 man hours in a four- week period during the County’s assistance to many hundreds of property owners.