Ryan McDonald

EPAC will shift focus to public outreach 

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by Ryan McDonald

Members of Hermosa Beach’s Emergency Preparedness Advisory Commission will continue to help the city prepare for disasters, allaying fears circulating in recent weeks that the commission would be eliminated.

The commissioners and the City Council agreed in a study session earlier this week that in the future the commission should increase its focus on public outreach while moving away from some of the functions it was originally assigned, such as assisting in grant writing, when it was created in 2007.

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“Getting people involved, that can be the defining part of EPAC: making citizens aware of the possibility of disaster, and telling them things that can be done to mitigate the impacts,” said Vice Chair Dave Buckland.

The meeting had been called following council requests to reconsider the role of the commission in light of changing state and federal emergency preparedness mandates, which staff said impose greater duties on sworn employees while limiting the role for volunteers. But both during the meeting and in conversations leading up to it, several commissioners described tension between the commission and staff, including City Manager Suja Lowenthal and Emergency Management Coordinator Brandy Villanueva. The commissioners entered the meeting convinced their jobs were on the line.

In response, council members acknowledged the experience and dedication of those on the commission, and staff blamed miscommunication.

“We have heard the term ‘disbanded’ a lot. That’s certainly not a term staff has used, and it’s not a recommendation from staff that we would ask you to consider,” Lowenthal told the council.

But although the meeting appeared to settle the bureaucratic status of the commission, some residents and commissioners remained worried that one of the commission’s enduring contributions, the city’s Emergency Operations Center, was in jeopardy. Commissioner Al Benson entered the center, located in the Community Center, over the weekend and took photos and video showing radios unplugged or not connected to antennas. Benson and some residents seemed incredulous at staff’s assertion that the room was functional.

The dispute appears to turn on what is needed for a “functional” center. Jeff Robinson, the Los Angeles County disaster management coordinator for Area G, which includes the South Bay, said that although some radios may have been unplugged, the center passed its most recent readiness test in December. When an Easy Reader reporter visited the center Tuesday, radios linked to the city Police Department, and to county Fire and Emergency Management departments, were operational.

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