On August 16, 2016, I wrote Community Warning System - A Failed Concept. It was followed by several media articles, two of which are copied below.
Why is the Community Warning System fatally flawed? Look no further than its bizarre organizational structure. You would think something this important would be a function of some level of government, ultimately responsible to the people. But no, the Contra Costa Community Awareness and Emergency Response (CAER); is a private, non-profit corporation run by a board dominated by the industries that it is intended to protect us from. The official name is “Contra Costs County CAER Group, Inc.” CAER has a 13-member board, seven members of which represent industries that put the public at risk. Richmond has no representative on the board!
According to the CAER website, the last time the board met was nearly a year ago on September 24, 2015., and the matters they took up were not exactly weight, such as cancellation of the Safety Summit and salary increases for staff. According to the CAER 2014 IRS Form 990, the annual budget is $192,098, that among other things, supports two full-time employees.
Actual operation of the Community Warning System, however, resides with the Contra Costa Sheriff-Coroner in the Office of Emergency Services, which has a $1.2 million annual budget for the Community Warning System, all of which is funded “…entirely from private industry funds and/or fines.” The decision about how and when to communicate a warning to the public resides with the Contra Costa Health Services Department. The relationship among the Contra Costa County Sheriff-Coroner, the Contra Costs Department of Health Services and Contra Costs County CAER Group, Inc. is murky, at best, making it difficult to ascertain who actually is in charge.
I have several recommendations that I intend to pursue in the next year:
1. Change the system to a joint powers authority governed by the jurisdictions at risk. If industries want a non-profit, they can form one, but it should not have any responsibility for the community warning system.
2. Consider detaching Richmond from the failed Contra Costa County system and operating our own system where we can have transparency and accountability.
3. Build in a penalty for any industry that causes an alert. The magnitude of the penalty would be a function of the number of people affected and the length of time they are under alert.
Tom Butt, Mayor, City of Richmond
Richmond Mayor Wants Compensation For Residents Disturbed By Misleading Alarms
Source: sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com — August 22, 2016, at 10:41 PM
“The bottom line is it’s never worked as intended,” Richmond Mayor Tom Butt told KCBS. The Contra Costa County warning system is certified each month, but even when it went off for a half hr on a random day earlier this month, most residents went about their business.
RICHMOND (KCBS) &#eight thousand two hundred twelve; Emergency sirens have nearly become a portion of life in Richmond, where the community warning system keeps sounding off misleading alarms. Now, the city’s mayor says the county owes his residents for the mistakes.
“The bottom line is it’s never worked as intended,” Richmond Mayor Tom Butt told KCBS.
The Contra Costa County warning system is certified each month, but even when it went off for a half hr on a random day earlier this month, most residents went about their business.
Richmond Mayor Tom Butt says it's a never cry wolf effect when the faulty siren goes off on accident &#eight thousand two hundred eleven; residents just ignore it if they can.
“Everybody kind of jumps,” Mayor Butt said.
Butt has introduced the idea of fines for false alarms, but didn’t gain traction. Presently he says that if the county is asking people to miss work by sheltering in space for an emergency that turns out to be fake, they should've to pay.
“Somebody should pay for it. There really should be compensation,” Butt said.
Richmond residents fed up with flawed county warning system
By Katrina Cameron, firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted: 08/20/2016 02:27:36 PM PDT | Updated: 2 days ago
RICHMOND -- The county's Community Warning System is flawed, said the mayor and residents, who have become all too familiar with the frequent false alarms.
They expressed their frustration last week when a contractor updating the county system accidentally set off warning sirens Tuesday afternoon.
The sirens sounded for about three minutes while testing the recently upgraded system, according to the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office, which manages the system. When officials confirmed there was no emergency, an advisory alert was sent via telephone, Facebook, Twitter and online.
But some residents said they did not receive the notification quickly enough.
Richmond mayor Tom Butt, seen at Salute E Vita Ristorante in Richmond, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016, says said halting the city for a false alarm cost blue-collar workers. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)
Ellen Seskin said she heard the blaring siren loud and clear but did not know it was a false alarm until 30 minutes later. Like many Richmond residents, she ignores the alarm if she does not see anything dangerous.
"I assumed it was a false alarm," said Seskin, who has lived in the city for 32 years.
She learned about the accidental activation when she read the mayor's blog while she waited for a call from the county.
Mayor Tom Butt has written about the county's Community Warning System several times over the years. In his most recent "E-forum," he noted about 30,000 residents and employees in Richmond and San Pablo should have "sheltered in place" while waiting for instructions from authorities.
He said halting the city for a false alarm cost blue-collar workers.
"Who is going to pay for this? No one," he wrote in his blog. "It's the cost of doing business or the price for living in an industrial community. If each of these persons' time is worth minimum wage, that's $165,000!"
When the system's alarms blare signaling an emergency, residents are instructed to shelter in place, close windows and doors, shut off air conditioners and fans and wait for notification from the agency or updates via telephone, TV and radio.
The Sheriff's Office did not respond to requests about the system from this newspaper but released a statement about Tuesday's false alarm.
"The errant hardware setting has been adjusted to only recognize alerts from our live system and Community Warning System staff is working with the primary vendor for the Community Warning System to develop procedures to avoid this type of error in the future," according to the statement. The office "understands the impact of an accidental siren activation on those affected in the community and is working diligently to prevent errant alarms from occurring."
Like most Richmond residents, Butt remembers the massive Chevron refinery fire that sent more than 560 people to hospitals in 2012. On that day, he received an automated call three hours after the fire started.
Smoke billows from a crude oil unit at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, Calif., on Monday, Aug. 6, 2012. (D. Ross Cameron/Bay Area News Group Archives)
"I truly cannot recall a single time that the warning system has worked the way it was intended to work," Butt said.
Seskin said she never received a call when she could clearly see the smoke and fire at the refinery in 2012.
"We saw the flames before hearing the sirens," she said.
Chevron spokeswoman Leah Casey said the company does not operate the county's Community Warning System.
However, Chevron does have an on-site warning alarm system for its workforce, Casey said. The refinery's internal alarm is tested every Wednesday at 11 a.m.
Richmond resident Carol Teltschick said the weekly tests still startle her, even though she has lived in the community for about 15 years. She's heard the tests every week for as long as she's lived there, but she still feels anxious when they go off.
"It's extremely intrusive and jarring," Teltschick said. "There's no way to get away from it, you just have to tough it out."
The false alarms and constant warning tests may also impact children's mental and physical health.
The sound of sirens may trigger a stress response in the nervous system, activating adrenaline in people because they fear they might be in a dangerous situation, said Alameda-based therapist Shauna Castro-McDaniel. Children living in environments where they constantly feel fear may have mood symptoms like depression, fatigue and low energy.
The therapist saw this firsthand when she worked at Community Health for Asian-Americans, a nonprofit organization in Richmond.
"I witnessed different responses -- some youth were numb to sounds of sirens, bells and lockdowns at schools because it happened often," Castro-McDaniel said. "While they may be used to it, it doesn't mean that their nervous system, psychology and bodies aren't impacted."
Children aren't the only ones who ignore the sirens, as many residents have become desensitized to the alerts.
The mayor believes that many people choose to ignore the alarms because they're used to hearing weekly tests from the Chevron refinery and monthly tests from the county, he said. This could be problematic if something hazardous happened in the city.
"It's like the legend of the boy who called wolf," Butt said. "The system has so many malfunctions that people don't believe it anymore."
Contact Katrina Cameron at 925-945-4782. Follow her at Twitter.com/KatCameron91.