Topanga Emergency Task Force—Preparing for the Next Crisis

Annemarie DonkinBy Annemarie Donkin      August 21, 2020

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Topanga Emergency Task Force—Preparing for the Next Crisis
SCE’s Community Crew Vehicles are often deployed during a Public Safety Power Shutoff.
A well-attended Zoom meeting brought together members of the Topanga Emergency Management Task Force and Topanga residents to work through ideas and concerns in preparation for the next fire, flood or earthquake.
Seeking solutions, solving issues, and working to protect the Canyon, the Topanga Emergency Management Task Force (TEMTF) met online on August 12 to determine how to keep Topanga safe during an emergency. Co-chaired by Jeanne O’Donnell, CEO-Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and James Grasso of the Topanga Coalition for Emergency Preparedness (T-CEP) the meeting was joined by members of the public and representatives of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors; Los Angeles County Fire; the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department; CHP, Southern California Edison (SCE) and Spectrum. New Evacuation Terminology: During the start of the meeting, Grasso announced that official evacuation terminology has changed. “What used to be “Voluntary Evacuations” and “Mandatory Evacuations,” are now “Evacuation Warning” and “Evacuation Order,” he said. Representatives of the Los Angeles Fire Department and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Departments during the meeting emphasized that “if you see smoke, evacuate.” Powering Off for Wildfire Safety: When there are potentially dangerous weather conditions in fire-prone areas, such as a “Red Flag” alerts, SCE may need to call a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS). For the Topanga residents at the meeting, this became the subject of overriding concern. According to SCE’s website, “During these events, we will proactively turn off power in high-fire risk areas to reduce the threat of wildfires. Turning off our customers’ power is not something we take lightly, but PSPS events are one of the ways we can better ensure the safety of the public, our customers, and our employees.”   Edison is required to notify its customers days ahead of time a for a pending PSPS event. “Since the PSPS activation program, there have been no events in Topanga, this year or last; most will get notifications for the L.A. County area,” said David Ford, Senior Government Relations Manager at Southern California Edison. There are many valuable online resources at, including the role the weather plays in the PSPS decision-making. Community Resource Centers During a PSPS: During a PSPS, SCE will deploy Community Crew Vehicles in an area where the power has been deactivated. Additionally, they will staff “brick-and- mortar” or mobile Community Resource Centers (CRCs) to support customers during a PSPS event. At a CRC, customers will receive resiliency kits that include a pre-charged solar-powered charger, flashlight/LED lightbulb, personal protective equipment, ice, bulk water, snacks and PSPS pamphlets. When there is an active wildfire and SCE crews are deployed, the utility may also send its Mobile Command Center, which is a fully functioning support center, including satellite, Wi-Fi, computer stations, and rest area for its staff. “The purpose of the Community Crew Vehicles and the CRCs is to provide customers with information and resources to manage the event and to reduce the impact of PSPS,” said Senior Advisor Janice Wang, who helps oversee SCE’s resource centers. “When they see us, they can ask their questions.” More information is available on Will there be a CRC in Topanga? Some Topanga residents called into the Task Force Zoom meeting and asked whether there will be a CRC center in Topanga during a power shutoff event. Currently, SCE’s website said it has identified about 40 centers that could be activated during a PSPS in areas including Inyo, Kern, Tulare, Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, Riverside, San Bernardino, and Santa Barbara counties. According to Wang, some criteria to operate as a brick-and-mortar Community Resource Center in Topanga would be to determine an open area with sufficient parking that can support at least 50 people while socially distancing, that has power and is able to be open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. “Regarding opening a CRC in Topanga, there are several [electrical] circuits that run through the Canyon,” Wang said. “In the event of a PSPS, it presents a safety issue. Evacuation is the most primary and important factor. We will not set up a CRC in the event of a fire if our teams go to a site and it has to be changed or relocated, and/or is not safe for our crews. Also, it would have to be ADA- compliant, accommodate up to 50 people, strong cell reception, and needs to have two egress routes. With a brick-and-mortar facility, we would have bathrooms and shelter from the weather. To the extent there is a PSPS event, with no evacuation, we could place a mobile CRC in town to charge devices. During an evacuation, mobile vans can be set up in a park or an open space that everyone can go to.” About the Office of Emergency Management (OEM): Regarding Topanga and the aftermath of fires and disasters, the OEM has the responsibility of comprehensively planning for, responding to, and recovering from large-scale emergencies and disasters that impact Los Angeles County. OEM’s work is accomplished in partnership and collaboration with first-response agencies, as well as non-profit, private sector, and government partners. Los Angeles County has established various disaster preparedness programs to assist individuals and businesses to prepare for emergencies. For more For inquires specific to County education programs, e-mail Los Angeles County Chief Executive Office, Office of Emergency Management: TEMTF Mission Statement: The mission of the all-volunteer Topanga Emergency Management Task Force, a partnership of designated public agencies, non-governmental organizations, and community organizations, is to ensure the sustainability of emergency management efforts and strategies for the Los Angeles County unincorporated area of Topanga. The Task Force oversees the coordination and communication among governmental agencies, non-governmental organizations, and the community to improve preparedness, prevention, response, and recovery. It will develop, review, and monitor community-based emergency plans, facilitate emergency planning exercises, ensure community involvement and educational outreach, evaluate and update emergency plans after a disaster.
Annemarie Donkin
      August 21, 2020

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