[Shasta County] Some Mountain Fire evacuees didn't get the phone alerts from CodeRed that they expected

Blog note: this article references a grand jury report.

As the Mountain Fire closed in on homes near Jones Valley east of Redding, some residents say they never received the emergency evacuation alerts they had signed up for. 

Rodger Parker lives two miles away from where the now-600-acre fire was first reported Thursday at the corner of Bear Mountain and Dry Creek roads. 

Parker, 56, said he never received an evacuation warning on his phone. He learned he was in danger when a plane dropped retardant by his home off Highview Trail. 

"I was laying down, heard the bomber fly over and then a few minutes later I started smelling smoke," Parker said. "There was already fire coming up the hillside."

While Parker received emergency alerts via CodeRed — a third-party service that works with Shasta Area Safety Communications Agency (SHASCOM) — on his phone for fires last year, he said no one in his household got the message this time around. Within minutes, he learned that there was a fire, his house was in danger and that he wouldn't have time to gather all of his pets, according to the nearby firefighters who urged him to leave immediately. 

Later, a family member behind the evacuation lines told him his house had been destroyed, one of at least seven homes that were leveled by the fire, according to numbers from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. 

It is not clear why Parker and others didn't receive alerts. While cell service in the area can be spotty, he said he typically gets decent coverage at his house with AT&T. More than five evacuees told the Record Searchlight they never received alerts despite having signed up. 

Heather Godfrey, who lives off Intermountain Road, said she received her alert well in time to evacuate, but another woman who lives off the same street said her alerts never came through, adding that she found out she was being evacuated when a sheriff's deputy came to her house and told her to start packing. 

On the whole, many residents reported the evacuation messages working well, coming through texts, emails and phone calls. And another promising factor, as of Saturday morning, was that no major injuries had been reported as a result of the blaze. 

But in the days immediately after the fire, it remains unclear how successful the messaging from CodeRed and SHASCOM was. Figures that would show the percentage of how many residents who were signed up for alerts actually received them have not been available to inquiring reporters. 

Meanwhile, the sparse numbers that are available raise questions about enrollment and effectiveness of the emergency alerts.

While more than 3,800 people live in areas that were under mandatory evacuation, only about 2,000 evacuation notifications were sent out by SHASCOM via CodeRed, said Jennifer Cogle, administrative supervisor of SHASCOM. 

Some of those notifications may have gone to both a person's landline and cellphone, meaning that the number of people who received alerts is likely under 2,000. 

On Friday, Cogle said she was waiting for CodeRed to tell her how many of the people who signed up for the alerts received them. She said SHASCOM had yet to receive the figures from a CodeRed test on June 28. 

"They're not extremely quick about getting back to us," Cogle said. 

Around that time in late June, a Shasta County grand report emerged that said SHASCOM is understaffed and should be doing more to enroll people in CodeRed. The jury recommended a new management consultant be brought in to address existing issues and improve transparency. 

In the chaos of the 2018 Camp Fire, only about 60% of those enrolled for the CodeRed alerts received them, according to Troy Harper, a spokesperson for OnSolve, the company in charge of the CodeRed service.

At the time, Harper said a number of factors can delay the alerts, including high-call traffic and a lack of infrastructure. Harper could not be reached for comment on the Mountain Fire. 

And like the Camp Fire, not all residents in the danger area have the technology to receive emergency alerts. Michael Sperry, 62, who lives by Bear Mountain Resort, said he doesn't have a landline and only purchased his cellphone on Wednesday. It hadn't been set up by the time the fire struck Thursday morning. 

"If they hadn't come with a bullhorn, I'd still be there," Sperry said Friday from an evacuation center. 

August 24, 2019

Redding Record Searchlight

By Matt Brannon

 

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