Grand Jury: Solano needs Department of Emergency Management, better plans

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By Todd R. Hansen
McNaughton Media

Emergency response in Solano County should be under one roof.

“. . . The Solano County Civil Grand Jury has recommended that Solano County consolidate all existing emergency management, planning and prevention services into one Department of Emergency Management,” the 2021-22 Civil Grand Jury stated. “This new department would provide an umbrella to coordinate existing county and city functions related to emergency and disaster events.”

The report further states that “in interviews with fire chiefs, the Solano County Civil Grand Jury heard ‘Predictable is preventable’ and ‘Someone has to be the parent.’”

There were two findings listed in the report titled “Solano County is Not Prepared for Future Emergencies.” It was issued on June 3 and recently posted to the civil grand jury link on the Superior Court website.

However, the grand jury also states that because the “economy was badly damaged by the Covid pandemic, those searching for solutions to address the emergency needs of our community need to look beyond new taxes, which could exacerbate the already fragile personal financial health of many Solano County residents.”

Supervisors John Vasquez and Jim Spering have proposed a one-eighth cent general sales tax increase, generating about $9 million a year for wildfire prevention and protection needs. The Board of Supervisors will have to decide whether to place the matter on the November ballot.

The grand jury concluded there are “state and national financial sources for emergency prevention and preparedness which the county must thoroughly explore and implement first. Solano County must seriously consider hiring dedicated grant writers to provide the necessary funding to address emergency needs.”

The report states that Sonoma County, facing similar issues, “hired grant writers whose work has since been instrumental in funding most of the changes and improvements to its emergency safety measures.”

That last statement is part of three specific comments added beyond the findings and recommendations.

Finding One: Solano County needs a countywide approach to Emergency Management to coordinate emergency planning and response activities before, during and after a major disaster or emergency incident.

The recommendation is to consolidate emergency response services into a new Department of Emergency Management.

Finding Two: There is a need for a coordinated city and countywide evacuation plan for Solano County.

The first recommendation is to “develop compatible evacuation zones and routes throughout the county,” and the second recommendation is to “create public awareness of evacuation zones and routes.”

The county is working on a plan for evacuation routes and signage for the Vacaville foothill area, including an alert system to residents.

The report notes that these emergencies, and particularly wildfires, affect the whole of the county no matter where they occur. Moreover, as rural fire districts lose funding due to annexations and other reasons, the grand jury concludes “a Solano County Department of Emergency Management, including dedicated grant writers, would take the lead in clarifying responsibilities between agencies and look for a long-term solution, using grant funds as appropriate to support the process.”

The report’s final comment again addresses the issue of evacuation routes, particularly in light of new developments.

“As the region moves to improve evacuation plans, jurisdictions should pay increased attention to deadlines for completion of these impacted roadways so the routes can handle traffic during an emergency,” the report states.

The grand jury requires responses on one or both of the findings from Solano County and the seven cities. As of Friday, no responses had been posted on the grand jury webpage.

The full report is available at Solano.courts.ca.gov, and clicking on the Civil Grand Jury link.

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