Orange County Supes & Sheriff Finally Respond to Grand Jury Report on Potential EOC Safety Hazards

The Orange County EOC. Photo courtesy OC Grand Jury

The Orange County Board of Supervisors and Sheriff’s Department have finally responded to the OC Grand Jury’s June 20 report on potential safety hazards at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), located atop Loma Ridge. Unsurprisingly, both response letters say basically the same thing: thank you for your report but the EOC is fine as it is.

To recap, the Grand Jury–following in the footsteps of three previous panels–reported a number of troubling findings on the EOC, which is designed to coordinate the county’s response to a wide variety of emergency situations (click here for my previous story on the report). The Grand Jury said the access road was a bit too narrow and windy for its tastes; there was so much overgrown brush around the road and the center that it posed a fire hazard (the EOC was nearly destroyed in the first hours of the 2007 Santiago fire, which also marked the first time the EOC actually became operational); and it looked like a lot of shelves within the EOC itself weren’t properly secured to prevent damage in an earthquake.

These are pretty damning findings, but the county and Sheriff’s Department (abbreviated to OCSD in the two responses) say not to worry because, according to them, everything’s mostly fine at the EOC. Though the county did say admit that, yeah, the EOC access road isn’t that great.

“The safety of the emergency personnel who are critical to addressing major county-wide emergencies are of utmost priority for the Board; therefore, it will work with OCSD to ensure the road is accessible to those who need to be there,” states the Board of Supervisors’ response to the Grand Jury report. While the county says it “has not received any reports of safety issues with the road,” it did tell the Grand Jury that it would study the idea of making the access road wider.

As for all that brush around the EOC, the Sheriff says any concern is poppycock because it’s already getting cleared twice a year.

“The Sheriff’s Department currently contracts with a private contractor for weed abatement,” states the OCSD response to the report. “The scope of the current contract is to clear brush 15 feet along both sides of the access road to ensure the access road remains clear. Additionally the scope includes brush clearing for 100 feet around the EOC facility and 50 feet around the helicopter pad.

According to the Sheriff’s Department response, such clearing took place in April and December 2017. The Sheriff’s Department also took great issue with the notion that its EOC cabinets aren’t properly locked down. In fact, the sheriff says the Grand Jury just didn’t look hard enough at the cabinets when they inspected the facility.

EOC interior. Photo courtesy OC Grand Jury

“From the vantage point that is shown in the photo included in the report, ‘Can the Emergency Operations Center Survive a Catastrophic Event?’ the earthquake strapping is not visible,” states the Sheriff’s Department response (the photo is above). “The Grand Jury members did not request a ladder to validate that the bookcases were strapped… Please note that the strapping has been painted to match the walls of the facility. Additionally, the entire Emergency Operations Center has recently undergone facility enhancements which have included the re-inspection for proper earthquake securing of office furniture and equipment.”

So everything’s good, right? The EOC is a veritable Rock of Gibraltar that stands ready in the event of any emergency?

Sure, says the county, though it also admitted in its response that it might move the EOC to a better place: “[T]he County has initiated a study of whether or not to relocate the EOC to a new location within the County where access is not restricted due to poor road conditions.”

The Board of Supervisors will vote on approving its response to the Grand Jury report at its Aug. 28 meeting.

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