Evacuation orders will no longer be called mandatory or voluntary. Here’s why

21 June 2020

Published by https://www.vcstar.com

USA – Authorities say the best time to prepare for a wildfire is before one starts. Ventura County Star

Local authorities will no longer issue mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders during wildfires, debris flows and other emergencies.

The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services has adopted new state guidelines intended to create a California standard in evacuations and eliminate any confusion or conflicting messages.

The move comes after several years of massive fires and deadly debris flows – disasters that often straddled multiple jurisdictions and sent first responders county to county.

Instead of voluntary and mandatory, authorities will issue evacuation warnings and orders. While the terminology is changing, the overall message is not, said OES Director Patrick Maynard.

Like a voluntary order, an evacuation warning means the threat is not yet imminent.

“Take that as an early warning to pack up and get out of their home or ranch or wherever they are,” Maynard said. “If it’s an evacuation order, that means the threat is imminent. That means you get out immediately.”

Sometimes a warning will come before an order, but that’s not always possible, he said.

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Why change evacuation orders?

Typically, terminology would be handled by each local jurisdiction. Ventura County, for example, may do it one way and a neighboring county may do it another.

But after 2017 and 2018 – back to back years of large-scale emergencies – California’s Office of Emergency Services met with local jurisdictions to talk about ways to improve evacuation orders. Using the same terminology statewide potentially could save lives by eliminating conflicting messages, the group said.

Its recommendations include:

  • Evacuation Order: Immediate threat to life. This is a lawful order to leave now. The area is lawfully closed to public access.
  • Evacuation Warning: Potential threat to life and/or property. Those who require additional time to evacuate, and those with pets and livestock should leave now.
  • Shelter in Place: Go indoors. Shut and lock doors and windows. Prepare to self-sustain until further notice and/or contacted by emergency personnel for additional direction. 

When will the orders change?

While adoption isn’t mandatory, Maynard said the county opted to switch to the new terminology after the guidance was released last month.

“We’ve always had very good compliance with evacuations in Ventura County,” he said. “We haven’t really noted any specific shortfalls related to the messaging.”

But the county welcomed a consistent standard throughout the state.

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OES has updated vcemergency.com with the new terms and what they mean, as well as its digital mapping system. When the Lime Fire broke out near Lake Piru on June 10, they issued an evacuation warning for several properties in the area.

“We define what the level of danger is, so I’m not too worried about people not understanding the new terminology,” Maynard said. “It’s pretty straightforward.”

To sign up for VC Alert, go to https://www.readyventuracounty.org/vc-alert/.

Cheri Carlson covers the environment for the Ventura County Star. Reach her at cheri.carlson@vcstar.com or 805-437-0260.

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