Santa Monica is preparing for a potential El Nino year and while everyone is hoping for enough rain to help the ongoing drought, officials are preparing for the possible problems of a very wet winter.
According to the Office of Emergency Management (OEM), preparations include waterproofing buildings, equipping employees with wet-weather gear, cleaning drains, conducting preventative maintenance on important equipment and establishing a system for sand bag distribution.
The El Nino weather system is a pattern of warm and cool temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. The El Nino portion refers to the warming of the water while La Nina is the cooling cycle. Both systems change temperatures and rainfall across the world and experts are predicting the current El Nino cycle will increase storms, and therefore rain, across the state.
During his City Manager’s report last week, Manager Rick Cole said the city is hopeful the rain will restock reservoirs, but said if significant rain does reach Santa Monica, the City needs to have a plan in place. Cole said a large amount of rain falling on very dry ground has the potential to cause flooding.
“We want to acquaint Santa Monica residents with what to look for and how to prepare and what the situation might be,” he said.
Santa Monica Emergency Services Manager Lieutenant Robert Almada said the analysis suggests this El Nino has a high probability of creating rain. He said the most significant danger is flooding of the low lying areas. According to Almada, Santa Monica can construct sand berms along beaches if necessary and sandbags will be available for residents who want them.
“For folks who may have some low lying spots in domiciles or businesses, they can use sandbags to block doorway so water doesn’t run into their residence or business,” he said. “It’s meant more to block portals into the structure versus an entire boundary line shall we say.”
Free sandbags are available from any fire station in the city (Station 1 – 1444 7th St., Station 2 – 222 Hollister Ave., Station 3 – 1302 19th St., Station 5 – 2450 Ashland Ave.).
Bags are also available from the Street Maintenance division at 2500 Michigan Avenue, Building #8.
The City is outreaching to residents to discuss preparation. Information is being added to a variety of City websites, including santamonicafire.org and https://www.smgov.net/Departments/OEM/default.aspx, included in the City’s Seascape newsletter, broadcast on social media accounts and through door-to-door campaigns where necessary. OEM has also created an El Nino specific preparedness guide. OEM is asking residents to sign up for emergency alerts at smalerts.net to receive additional emergency updates.
Ongoing training is also being provided to staff to facilitate response times if an emergency occurs and to lay the foundation for any cost recovery programs if necessary.
In their El Nino guide, OEM warns residents to stay away from flood channels and flowing water. The guide says moving water can sweep away people, vehicles and even buildings. Floodwater can become contaminated with chemicals or sewage so flooded areas should be thoroughly cleaned immediately.
Residents should be aware of trees, poles, fences or walls that develop a tilt and should stay away from slopes that may become unstable when saturated. Officials said small problems should be reported right away to hopefully prevent them from becoming large problems.
OEM always recommends residents have an emergency plan, including an evacuation route and an emergency kit.
A basic kit should include:
o Food and water to last three days to a week. Don’t forget the pets.
o Radio (and extra batteries)
o Medications (over-the-counter and prescription)
o Cash and important documents
o Clothing and sturdy shoes
o Tools (wrench, duct tape, fire extinguisher, sturdy gloves, whistle)
o Sanitation and hygiene supplies
o First aid kit
o Flashlights (and extra batteries)
Mayor Kevin McKeown, apparently a man with no fear of superstition, illustrated his opinion by opening an umbrella inside the council chamber.
“It’s reassuring to know that Santa Monica is prepared,” he said. “I think we have to be.”