City Emergency Operation Centers operate at Level 3 in the coronavirus pandemic

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With the coronavirus declared a national emergency by President Donald Trump, March 11, cities across the nation have scrambled to warn residents.

The cities of Temecula, Murrieta, Wildomar, Lake Elsinore, Menifee, Hemet and San Jacinto in the Valley News coverage area have for the most part closed their city offices, while keeping their telephone lines, cell systems and social media open to residents in need of services, to pay their bills or for information on local event and meeting closures or postponements.

When a national emergency is called, whether war, natural disaster, civil disorder and pandemic, city officials and their public safety teams and community health representatives are called to activate the emergency operations centers to advise residents and coordinate their efforts to save lives and to continue public services that are necessary for life. The EOCs, once activated, are led by the acting police or fire chief or whatever department head is closest to the emergency situation.

Such is the case in southwest Riverside County, cities are ready to activate or have already set up their EOCs in a level 3 status. Level 3 is the lowest level of activation with the experts from county, local and federal agencies leading. Most of the southwest Riverside cities are already in contact with the county Emergency Management Department which coordinates the city EOCs during an emergency. If the experts call for it, the coordination will involve a large number of the city staffs who will begin manning the operation centers, including the city fire and police chiefs, public facility supervisors and other key personnel.

Helping to finance the EOCs across the state is California Proposition Q, which voters passed in 2002. Proposition Q is a $600 million citywide public safety bond measure to improve, renovate, expand and construct public safety facilities. Approximately $107 million of that bond measure was earmarked for the site/land acquisition, design and construction of the new Emergency Operation Center in California, according to information from the state’s Office of Emergency Services.

The EOCs are the focal point for coordination of the city’s emergency planning, training, response and recovery efforts. EOC processes follow the National All-Hazards approach to major disasters such as fires, floods, earthquakes, acts of terrorism and large-scale events in the city, now such as the COVID-19 pandemic that require involvement by multiple city departments.

Murrieta was one of the first cities to move toward activating its EOC plan.

City manager Kim Sommers alerted all department heads calling for a “management watch.” That alert to their department heads went out March 7, immediately after the first cases of the disease were reported in the nation and the Riverside County Emergency Management Department announced several cases of the virus reported in the county.

That is where we are at at this time,” Robin Godfrey, public information officer for Murrieta, said. “When we get our first case (of COVID-19), we may go to the next step in activation.”

She said the city manager, Kim Sommers, would take charge in the current emergency.

Rob Johnson, San Jacinto’s city manager, said after hearing from the county EMD officials placed all the city department managers on “management watch,” or Level 3.

“We are tied into the county here,” Johnson said. “Our direction here (in the COVID) is with the experts in this case.”

He said on the request of the county medical chief, all city offices, while being staffed, will not be open to walk-ins. Residents will be able to call in to offices still and pay their bills online.

Menifee city officials are also following county instructions on responding to the COVID-19 threat and are staffing its departments but without walk-ins. Menifee’s newly appointed police Chief Pat Walsh who will put the city’s own officers out in the field July 1, recently announced the new city police headquarters at the former headquarters of the Menifee Chamber of Commerce and former city hall on Hahn Street has a room setup in the old council chambers for a fully functional EOC if the need arises.

The new EOC will have large screen televisions, phones and other up-to-date information systems all tied into county, state and federal EOCs ready to go in the event of the COVID crisis strengthens the threat to more Menifee residents or in the event of any other major emergency.

Menifee raised the EOC to level 3, March 18, giving the city manager the directorship of the city’s emergency services for the duration of the crisis. Samantha Rodriquez was named the EOC coordinator.

The Valley’s newest city, Wildomar, does not have a designated EOC but would meet in the current city hall.

Mayor Dustin Nigg of Wildomar said on the phone, “We declared and emergency situation on Tuesday night (March 17) which activated the Wildomar Disaster Council where we meet daily, but as of now (March 19) our EOC is not activated and is a part of our daily discussions as to activation.”

Clay James, Hemet’s public information officer, said the Hemet EOC was activated to “management watch” by the city council March 16, following the county’s alert on COVID-19. Hemet’s EOC is in a dedicated room inside of the Covell Building on Florida and Buena Vista avenues, which is the location of the city’s fire administration and city engineer.

Cathi Henderson has been designated as the city’s community safety liaison and noted the city’s newest community webpage will keep residents aware of the rapidly changing COVID-19 situation. The Community Emergency Response Team training for April has been canceled. CERT resident volunteers are trained to help first responders during emergencies only in an advisory capacity. Other cities also have CERT programs.

The Temecula EOC is operating at level 3 as the other cities in the area as well.

Temecula announced on its city website, “The coronavirus, or COVID-19, continues to generate concern globally, domestically and locally. The city of Temecula is integrated into the emergency management functions and oversight of the county of Riverside Emergency Management Department.

“The city of Temecula as a local government agency remains closely engaged with our county health and emergency management partners. The city encourages residents to monitor Riverside County Public Health for the latest updates in our region, https://rivcoph.org/coronavirus, which also includes informational videos and links to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for national and international updates,” according to the city of Temecula.

Its EOC is operating at level 3 as the other cities in the area as well.

Lake Elsinore’s EOC was activated and brought online by the city council, during its March 10 meeting and announced a local emergency due to the coronavirus Tuesday, March 24. The city ratified city manager Grant Yates as the city’s disaster director.

“The city has been fully engaged and proactively preparing for COVID-19 for the last three months,” Lake Elsinore Mayor Brian Tisdale said. “I can assure our residents that we are prepared, we have a plan, and, following the lead of Riverside County, we will do everything we need to do to ensure the health and safety of our residents.

“In any public health emergency, the Riverside University Health System Public Health Department is the lead agency with the city serving in a supportive role. As such, the city has been responding by implementing existing emergency management protocols and procedures to best address emerging concerns and demands related to COVID-19, which includes regular, ongoing conversations and calls with public health and related departments. The city remains fully engaged and is making decisions guided by local, state, and federal orders related to COVID-19,” Tisdale said.

The California state-of-the-art, 84,000-square-foot, two-story, seismically base-isolated facility includes a Fire Dispatch Center, Fire Department Operations Center and the Police Department Real-Time Analysis and Critical Response Division and Operations Center.

California state EOC features are main coordination room; media center; training room; management section room; public information officer room; executive conference room; six flexible-use break out rooms, including business operations center; amateur radio operations room and two storage rooms.

Communications in the state EOC provide local and a wide area information management network, city, countywide and amateur radio systems; primary, backup and satellite telephone systems; fully integrated audio-video display systems; video-conferencing facilities; connection to external video systems, airborne video units; access to NC4, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather information, Caltech seismic event information and the state of California’s operational area satellite information system and response information.

Tony Ault can be reached by email at tault@reedermedia.com.