PG&E Commitment: Latest Updates on Wildfire Response and Recovery Effort

Posted on April 19, 2013

San Luis Obispo County: Coordinated Emergency Training Includes PG&E Employees

By John Lindsey

Dave Mathe, emergency planning coordinator for the Five Cities Fire Authority, and Tracey Vardas of PG&E’s emergency planning department, discuss operations during a large-scale exercises at FEMA's Emergency Management Institute in Maryland. (Photos by John Lindsey.)

Because of San Luis Obispo County’s idyllic conditions, Central Coast residents are often lulled into a false sense of security about the possibility of a natural disaster, but they do occur from time to time.

In 1969, nearly 40 inches of rain fell in San Luis Obispo during January and February. Those heavy rains caused extensive flooding.

The magnitude of this and other events puts into sharp focus the need for all of us to prepare for natural disasters. The canard that an ounce of prevention is worth many pounds of cure certainly rings true. However, the real trick is bringing community members with different experiences and skill sets together and having them work as a team to prepare, execute and recover from a variety of emergencies that can occur simultaneously.

I witnessed the importance of this type of preparedness firsthand when I attended a training event this month at FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute in Emmitsburg Md. San Luis Obispo County law enforcement, fire, medical, education, county and city officials and PG&E employees came together to learn how to work as an integrated team.

This group of first responders began each training day with lectures taught by knowledgeable instructors with years of first-hand, at-the-scene experience, such as the 9/11 attacks, the Oakland Hills fire and hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.

These classes progressed into scenario-related, large-scale exercises of increasing complexity and threat that required participants to work as a team to be successful. In other words, the FEMA instructors tossed various scenarios to the students, from wildfires to tsunamis and everything in between. The results were stunning.

As Tracey Vardas, emergency planning coordinator at PG&E’s Diablo Canyon Power Plant, told me, “It was some of the most comprehensive and coordinated training evolutions I’ve been involved with. This type of community-based interaction will certainly help all of us prepare for future emergencies.”

San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson, who attended the training, agreed.

“There was great value in working with other Central Coast first responders — to know the best methods to organize and strengthen their assets and abilities during emergencies,” he said.

Representatives from PG&E, the Red Cross, FEMA and local government and agencies in San Luis Obispo County all took emergency-response training together.

Paul Deis, the emergency service manager for the Red Cross San Luis Obispo County, was one of those who helped during the relief activities after Hurricane Sandy.

“This type of training brought home the need to work as a team to preserve our precious community during trying times,” he said.

Perhaps County Supervisor Paul Teixeira said it best: “You can’t put a price on getting to know our fellow first responders and learn their needs before an emergency actually occurs. This knowledge will drastically reduce the time to respond and recover from emergencies.”

The Red Cross’ website is a great place to start when it comes to preparing your family for an emergency or natural disaster.

John Lindsey works for PG&E in San Luis Obispo County and is a longtime local meteorologist. His columns regularly appear in the San Luis Obispo Tribune. Email Currents at




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