Public agencies are preparing for what scientists and weather experts anticipate to be a wet El Niño season for Santa Monica and the rest of Los Angeles County.
Lifeguards, firefighters and law enforcement officials are training for the rainy season and making plans as they assess the potential impacts of the well-known weather system on residents, buildings and infrastructure.
Area lifeguards and firefighters have swiftwater rescue teams stationed throughout the county, according to lifeguard spokeswoman Lidia Barillas, who said annual training is scheduled for November.
The swiftwater rescues teams typically include lifeguards and firefighters, and they are called to action when it’s raining more than an inch per hour or at the discretion of department executives.
“We are lifeguards and we have a strong background in water safety, and we love being a part of things like that,” Barillas said. “It gets us more involved in the community.”
There are also lifeguard-specific swiftwater rescue units that can respond to flooding issues, Barillas said, including one stationed in Santa Monica.
County lifeguards expect to collaborate with the local police and fire departments on El Niño issues, as they do on a regular basis, Barillas said.
El Niño figures to keep lifeguards on alert after a busy summer that included thousands of ocean rescues and other operations as beachgoers flocked to the coast for relief amid sustained periods of hot weather.
About 9.3 million people visited Santa Monica beaches from Venice to Pacific Palisades between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day this year, Barillas said. Santa Monica lifeguards made 1,159 rescues during that span.
Local beach lifeguards also took 160,000 preventive measures during that peak summer period, such as informing members of the public about rip tides and other dangers. They were also responsible for some 48,000 ordinance enforcements, 332 major medical incidents and 1,400 first-aid responses.
In addition, Barillas said, 484 kids with were reunited with their parents or guardians on Santa Monica beaches with the help of local lifeguards. That amounts to nearly five reunions per day.
Meanwhile, the county sheriff’s department is also getting ready for potential El Niño storms.
The department recently trained 36 specialists in swiftwater rescues and is working to identify flood-prone areas.
“The focus was land-based operations which primarily deal with how to rescue a victim safely out of a fast-flowing river or channel without having to enter the water,” a press release reads.
Rescuers make up one-third of victims in swiftwater deaths, according to the release. These responses “are the highest level of risk to the public safety agencies who respond,” the release reads.
The county sheriff’s eight search-and-rescue teams are made up of 200 certified reserves and volunteers. Supervised by full-time deputies, they were responsible for nearly 600 missions last year.
For more information about El Niño preparedness, visit the county’s website at www.lacounty.gov/elnino.