The Kenwood Press
News: 09/01/2019

Mayacamas residents experience first-ever county evacuation drill

Alec Peters

It was only a drill, but for residents of the Cavedale/Trinity area, evacuating their homes in a hurry must have brought back frightening flashbacks from the fire nearly two years ago.

In October of 2017, the Nuns Fire burned over 90 percent of the mountainous area, destroying close to 50 homes.

Fast forward to 2019, when the area was picked for the county’s first-ever community evacuation drill, part of a program aimed at preparing 24 communities in the county considered at high risk for wildfire.

The practice drill took place on Saturday, Aug. 24, with a scenario that there was an emergency in Oakville, over the hill in Napa County.

First, around 8 a.m., a sheriff’s cruiser drove around Cavedale and Trinity roads using a special high/low siren, which sounds like a European first responder siren.

Then, a simulated SoCo Alert evacuation message was delivered over the phones and emails of those residents who signed up for the drill, and instructed people to leave via Cavedale Road.

After reaching Sonoma Highway, county and California Highway Patrol personnel directed cars to Hanna Boys Center.

The American Red Cross, HALTER (which trains the community and first responders on handling animals in an emergency), and Sonoma Department of Emergency Management staff were there to hand out information and receive feedback from drill participants.

It’s estimated that about 30 residents participated in the exercise. There are currently about 90 homes in the Cavedale/Trinity area.

While still going over the feedback he’s gotten about the drill, Sam Wallis, Emergency Coordinator for Sonoma County Department of Emergency Management, said he was cautiously optimistic about how things went, and is eager to know where the process can be improved.

Someone pointed out to Wallis that the evacuation map handed out to participants had the exit route in red, a color some thought meant danger. The maps will show a route in green in the future.

Wallis calculated that about 25 percent of participants reported that they did not hear the patrol car siren, but, according to information he has so far, everyone received an evacuation message via their phones and email.

For future drills, Wallis would like more robust public outreach to areas so communities can have plenty of time to plan to participate. In the case of Mayacamas, residents were contacted 3-4 weeks ahead of time. Wallis feels that’s too short a time period to get the word out.

“Our goal is to get as many people as possible to participate,” said Wallis.

Mayacamas resident Kristen Drummond said she felt the drill went very well, especially given that this was the first time her community has done anything like this.

Drummond, who has two young boys and a husband who volunteers for the Mayacamas Volunteer Fire Department, said there was some anxiety ahead of the exercise.

“Things are still very fresh in our community,” she said.

The family wanted to act as if the drill was the real thing, so her husband headed up to the fire station, and the rest had their go-bags all ready as they awaited the alert.

Drummond said it was a productive experience, and made her more confident for when a real emergency might occur.

“It helps take the fear out of things for when it’s a real-life situation. You won’t be as frantic, and you’ll make the right choices.”