Tom Butt
  E-Mail Forum – 2020  
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  Wildfire Preparedness
August 22, 2020

I have been getting a number of emails recently like the one copied below claiming that Richmond “does not have a disaster evacuation plan.”

Dear Mayor Butt,

I am writing to you to request your immediate attention to the urgent issue of wildfire danger in Richmond’s El Sobrante Hills. Currently, we are surrounded by wildfires in the Bay Area, though fortunate enough to not be in the path of fire … yet.

Fire Marshal Eric Govan states that the City of Richmond does not have a disaster evacuation plan. That is, in case of a fire/disaster there will be chaos as the authorities have no way of notifying the residents and implementing an orderly evacuation.

Marshal Govan stated that, “The price for Zonehaven (evacuation software) is roughly 100K to start and another 25K annual thereafter.”

I am asking you to please hold an emergency City Council Meeting to approve the time-critical purchase of this evacuation software. It is understandably not easy to act quickly to come up with $100K, but just consider the real and imminent possibility of a wildfire, the number of lives that might be lost, the likelihood of million-dollar losses in city infrastructure, and the fact that each home costs multiples of $100K.

Your leadership in this time of crisis is greatly appreciated!

Looking forward to hearing back from you,

Richmond resident in the 94803 area

cc: Vice mayor and City Council members

That assertion that Richmond is unprepared for a wildfire evacuation is not accurate, and I am concerned that “Fire Marshal Eric Govan states that the City of Richmond does not have a disaster evacuation plan.”

First of all, Richmond does have a Wildfire Preparedness and Evacuation Guide along with much additional information on the City’s website at

Fire Chief Adrian Sheppard responded:

I know that our community members may be concerned about evacuation routes in specific neighborhoods throughout Richmond. The heightened awareness because of the wildfires is undoubtedly warranted. I have also been made aware that a member of the fire department may have misstated the City's plan or lack thereof at a recent community meeting. I want to assure you; the City has an evacuation plan.

Two years ago, I requested Emergency Manager Genevieve Pastor-Cohen work with the Police Department to develop a viable evacuation plan. As a result, the Council adopted Emergency Support Function 16 (Evacuation) in 2019.

In the event of a large-scale fire, the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) will be activated and staffed. Emergency Operations will combine under a Unified Command that includes Police, Fire, and Public Works. The Fire Incident Commander will provide real-time conditions reports on the affected areas to guide our evacuation efforts.

Multiple means of egress in various directions have been identified. Also, refuge areas and transportation (buses) will be requested to move large numbers of people in the hub-and-spoke system. The evacuation plan includes a shelter-in-place plan, as this may be the best course of action.

Several media will alert our community of the need to evacuate. Nixle, Nextdoor, Facebook, Twitter, and KCRT, besides the door-to-door notification in some instances. The emergency manager uses the list of non-ambulatory persons gleaned from the PSPS program to ensure we provide these residents with particular attention.

We are required to exercise the plan and seek areas for improvement. City staff has met to discuss the plan, and exercises will take place in the coming month. A practice with residents will take place if the COVID threat ceases.

Coordination with neighboring agencies is imperative. The Emergency Manager and I have participated in Supervisor Gioia's wildfire facilitated discussions and continue our work to safeguard our community.  

I am available all hours to answer questions from the community. Please share my number, 510-458-0641.

City Manager Laura Snideman responded:

The City’s Emergency Operations Plan covers evacuations where Fire personnel protects life and property and Police assists with evacuations including activities such as use of police and/or fire vehicle light and sound systems, reverse-911 systems (calling landlines in a geographic area), directing traffic, and door knocking.  Coordination happens through our Emergency Operation Center (EOC) which is currently partially activated, and I am prepared to fully activate it at a moment’s notice. Additional resources are obtained as necessary through the EOC working in conjunction with the County’s and ultimately the State’s EOC.

Others on this message are likely to fill in additional details tomorrow, including how we plan to address shelter if the need arises.  I’ll see what we might be able to get out on social media over the weekend.

The current weather predictions specifically for Richmond do NOT include the highest heat and highest winds that cause the highest level of fire concern, although we need to remain vigilant, and continue to watch for updated predictions on lightning.  

And finally, Emergency Services Manager Genevieve Pastor-Cohen responded:

Dear Mayor Butt,

In reference to City Manager Snideman and Chief Sheppard’s responses to your request, I stand in support of what our community needs. The Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is ready to activate upon the City Manager’s direction to implement our ESF #16 – Evacuation Plan.

I wanted to add that last week, the Wildfire Preparedness and Evacuation Plan was sent via Nextdoor and Facebook emphasizing the importance of community members being prepared to either evacuate or shelter-in-place. Also, in July through August, residents in Pt. Richmond, May Valley, El Sobrante Hills, and Carriage Hills were hand-delivered hardcopies.

Our community members concern is understood considering their heighten awareness of the wildfires occurring around us. We continue to monitor the situation and are prepared to respond.