Heating up

Last month at newsletter time we were talking about how slow things were in terms of callouts. What a difference a month makes. We had several out of county searches, a metal detector call, and we threw in an OES activation last week for good measure.

Last Monday night when the Chevron Refinery incident happened, I had came in to prepare for an activation of the County's Emergency Operations Center. Early in an incident of this type, it is difficult to predict how big of an operational area the response might need to cover. Activating the EOC requires personnel to come in and operate under the incident Command System to mitigate the situation. I am always a little worried that when the balloon goes up, the people who staff these positions will be overwhelmed by the incident and unable to show up. The EOC staff is made up of County employees from a variety of departments. This is standard practice in the industry. They bring government expertise and fill roles needed when fire and law enforecement are fully engaged in the field. Most of the staff have no direct emergency response experience. It's no reflection on them; it's just an infrastructure weakness. They have training, but little first-hand experience. The more stressful the incident, the harder it is for non-first responders to deal with.

When I arrived at OES to get the EOC ready, I was happy to find two dozen SAR members at OES for a scheduled training. While I didn't immediately have a role for them, I knew we'd be in good shape if this event turned into a full scale activation. The training, experience, and overall attitude of our membership gave me peace of mind and I knew we'd be able to staff and manage the operations center if needed. It is one more example of how special the SAR program is.

The event was timely. I have been discussing with my chain of command new initiatives I'd like to implement at OES and volunteer services.  These will increase our overall capability and provide new and interesting opportunities for the Sheriff's volunteer programs.

One of these programs is to create an EOC Support Team. This group would prepare and be trained to work in the EOC in time of activation. There are many moving parts and functions for these operations, and I need an in-house resource we can count on in an emergency. An EOC is much like a SAR command post, only inside a building. The SAR Team would do great in this role. While not a traditional SAR mission, this new group would be of great service to the citizens of Contra Costa County. We'll have more information on this—and a couple of other exciting things—over the next few months.

There are a number of things going on with the Team right now. Among other things, we're about to start a new Type III Academy. The Command Staff is in the midst of carrying out strategic planning for next year. We will be hammering out the budget the first week in September. Now is the time to raise the issue if a resource has needs that are unaddressed. Talk to your resource sergeant or division lieutenant. We can't promise to accommodate every request, but it can't hurt to submit an idea up through the management chain.

We had a very eventful month. I hope the calls continue. The Team trains hard in order to be prepared, and when responding, consistently brings world-class skills to bear. Thank you for your service!