Alert Services!

2019.10.24: a Calfire firefighter confronts a vortex created by the Kincade Fire.

Recently, Magdalena Valderrama Hurwitz sent out some information about local emergency alert services that I is useful to the community. I’m amplifying her email here with some additional info… ~Dav

Dear Neighbors,

October and November are peak fire months —the 2018 Camp Fire happened just last November— so please do pay attention to emergency alerts from sources like PG&E, announcements from local groups like CAVERN* as well as news from local newspapers, and everywhere else you get your news so that you can stay informed. In the meantime, with Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) looming over Lake County, a lot of you have been wondering about where to get the best emergency alerts.

Nixle

Many of you may already be signed up for alert texts (SMS) from the Nixle system. However, if you haven’t updated since last year when the notification went out, you are not getting much of what’s going on in Lake County. Check your old text messages to find and update your account, do a search for “nixle alert” online (DuckDuckGo.com does not track your searches!) or just visit the Nixle website for more information.

LakeCoAlerts

For the most useful local alerts, make sure you are signed up to receive LakeCoAlerts and weather alerts. Back in Fall 2018, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office became aware that some LakeCoAlerts subscribers have been receiving weather alerts in the early morning hours. The Sheriff’s Office has disabled the National Weather Service alerts feature from our LakeCoAlerts system because the Sheriff’s Office was not able to control the times the alerts went out from the National Weather Service system. The Sheriff’s Office encourages all Lake County residents to sign up for LakeCoAlerts by going to LakeSheriff.com. In the event of an emergency critical notifications will be sent out through the LakeCoAlerts system.

If you have any problems signing up with LakeCoAlerts, please contact Teresa Stewart at lakesheriff@lakecountyca.gov, or 707 263 3450. She can confirm if you are in the system.

PG&E Alerts

PG&E alerts are separate, even though PG&E works with the the County OES (Office of Emergency Services) to alert them ahead of the public. To sign up, go to:
https://www.pge.com/en_US/residential/outages/alerts/alerts.page
Be aware that PG&E website pages may be overwhelmed by traffic. Unfortunately this service is for PG&E account holders only, so if you live in any kind of institutional setting such as a retreat center or volunteer dormitory, work with your managers to stay on top of news. If you are off-grid, you may be able to get a neighbor with PG&E service to keep you informed.

National Weather Service

The National Weather Service at NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) helps the public keep track of Fire Weather through zones. That information is one set of data that PG&E and others use to declare fire watches:
https://www.weather.gov/pimar/FireZones
For Lake County, our fire zone is 264.
Here’s a map.

CAVERN
Cobb Area Volunteer Emergency Radio Network

The CryptoRights Foundation (a local 501c3 led by Dav) and the CAC’s Communications Committee (chaired by Mel) are coordinating efforts to organize amateur GMRS and FRS radio operators all around the Cobb Mountain area into (Firewise-compatible) groups that can pass along extremely up-to-date information during an emergency.

CAVERN, which is a CryptoRights public benefit project you can donate support to, is working with the CAC CommsComm to start growing the numbers of both unlicensed FRS (Family Radio Service) and FCC-licensed GMRS radio operators (General Mobile Radio Service) who can access CAVERN radio repeaters (one now exists on Hoberg’s hill courtesy of Larry). CAVERN (Cobb Area Volunteer Emergency Radio Network) welcomes new members regardless of their experience (training is available on this website and through Mel and Dave). LCARS (Lake County Amateur Radio Society) is another good source for HAM radio information, in case you want to go deeper and get a more involved and expensive FCC license. Two-way radio can be the only way to communicate when celltowers and internet connections are down, and CAVERN can help you learn the protocols and be ready to talk to your neighbors and the larger community.

For the future, CryptoRights is developing a mesh radio network that will connect everyone’s smartphones on/around the mountains, even when line-of-sight is unavailable and even when celltowers and internet connectivity fails! For more info on their VERN project, which is part of their Harmless Little Project, get in touch with Dav directly (CAVERN is the prototype community).

NOTE: CAVERN’s Mel McMurrin is giving away several pre–programmed 2-Watt FRS radios as door prizes at the Cobb Resilient event on 19 October 2019. These radios come in pairs (so neighbors can each have one) and they have the various CAVERN channels already set up for you.

Subscribe to the (low-volume) CAVERN Announcements list for email updates on local emergency preparedness, disaster responses and community recovery efforts. Details on the Cobb Resilient Radio Giveaway will be sent out through this mailing list!

Other Community Options

Some local churches, community and neighborhood groups have established phone trees for their members. My own parish has already held a phone tree drill recently. Check around, and make sure you are connected. It’s important to have several layers of communication and information that you know you can rely on to be accurate because a rapid response can be critical to saving yourself. But remember: phone trees currently work only when the celltowers are not down!

_________________________________________________________
Magdalena Valderrama Hurwitz is the Firewise Communities® Community Regional Coordinator, Board member, South Lake Fire Safe Council, director of the Seigler Springs Community Redevelopment Association and a contributor to the CAVERN project.

Konocti Fire Lookout Closed

State Inspector shuts down Mt Konocti Tower on Wright Peak.

“Saint Helena, this is Konocti Tower… out of service.”

2019.10.04 • I may never again get to say that… at the end of a long shift, after looking out over all of Lake County’s green and blue magnificence, to keep my fellow citizens safer from fires and other disasters. It is with concern for the safety of Lake County’s people, animals and natural splendor, that I must report sad news to you. Today, a CA State Inspector has shut down the Mt Konocti Fire Lookout Tower on nearby Wright Peak. Mark your calendars, friends. It might be a long wait. 🙁

The details will be available through the local Forest Fire Lookout Association (where I volunteer for shifts on the tower), but the preliminary information is that the Inspector locked us out —well before the end of Fire Season— for what he deemed to be unsafe conditions related the tower’s physical state (dry rot, weakened steel, cracking concrete). At first, I wondered if they were talking about me. 😉

Personally, as a volunteer lookout, I don’t mind an appropriate level of risk — if it saves lives and property. Sure the tower is old and worn (who isn’t?), but it’s not statistically likely to fall down until after fire season 2019. To add some perspective, I’m pretty sure the firefighters who go and actually put out the fires are willing to accept a similar class of risks (to a higher degree, of course) and for the same reasons.

As a community, we are suddenly less safe, but a few dozen volunteers will be safer, so… consider that logic. On the bright side, we could now become more dependent on one PTZ (pan-tilt-zoom) Security Camera mounted by CalFire on the northeast corner of the tower. You can see the images here. As you will see, the difference between those PTZ cameras and human beings with brains and powerful binoculars is… significant. Peripheral vision, a human brain and way better magnification will beat a camera any day.

Now, we as a community must find a way to compensate for this loss. The tower closure could last somewhere between “a fairly long time” and “never coming back online”. We’ve been metaphorically poked in the eye with a stick and left half-blind as a community to eruptions of smoke, flames and human foibles all around Lake County and beyond. We need more than ever to focus our collective energy on keeping each other safe. That starts with talking to each other, as do many other solutions to what ails our society. Talk. Get to know people. Feel comfy calling them for help or going to help when they call. Learn the emergency protocols, like our “directed net”. Join a FireWise group (we have SIX all around Cobb!). Know where the places people talk about are located (yes, we need better maps on this website!).

So, if you’ve been sitting on the fence, waiting to see how this whole “volunteer emergency radio network” thing works out… well, it’s time now for you to step up, for your own safety and that of others too, including your loved ones and friendly neighbors. Get a radio and join us on the radio checks. There was talk of going back to one radio check per week, but now that Konocti Tower is going “out of service” indefinitely… I think we might go to three radio checks a week. Vigilance plus readiness equals life.

It’s easy to get involved and be part of the solution

 

CAVERN on KPFZ

  Mon 30 Sept 2019
  1:00-3:00pm
  KPFZ 88.1 FM
   (Lake County public radio)

Episode 186 from http://lionslair.com/hamradio/ Thank you Ben!

CAVERN’s organizers were live on the air with radio host Ben Weiss on public radio station KPFZ, chatting about the CAVERN project and its roots, RF radio topics, organizing your community to be prepared for emergencies and the future convergence of software-defined radio (SDR) and terrestrial radio mesh networks, including the mothership VERN project’s development happening at a small nonprofit tech thinktank right here in Lake County.