City of South Lake Tahoe unveils new emergency evacuation plan
South Lake Tahoe’s public safety officials were constantly urged in the aftermath of California’s most destructive wildfire season on record to update the city’s emergency preparedness plan to help protect the community against a catastrophic blaze.
In response, officials got to work on beefing up the city’s emergency response capabilities with the creation of an interactive evacuation map and updated alert system.
Wednesday, officials revealed the new evacuation strategy, which they say is a critical tool to have during any emergency, especially a fire.
“After the Camp Fire in Paradise last year and after action reports started to come in, we realized that every community needs to prepare for evacuation,” Police Chief Brian Uhler said during a press conference. “Unfortunately, in that event about half the people who lost their lives lost their lives when they were in a vehicle trying to leave.”
The city’s new website outlines the evacuation routes available to residents and visitors from various neighborhoods around South Lake Tahoe, with several primary and secondary evacuation routes identified.
Uhler admitted vehicle congestion along South Lake Tahoe’s main traffic arteries is anticipated, one of the reasons past leaders resisted creating an evacuation plan. However, he further detailed a recently formed partnership between the city and various marina operators that allows the city to expand its evacuation capacity.
“We have provided information about seeking alternatives to vehicle evacuations where marinas and boat operators will assist us in getting people to safe parts of the lake,” he said. “The roadways will be overwhelmed so we have also established temporary refuge areas.”
Bruce Martin, interim fire chief for South Lake Tahoe Fire Rescue, said officials explored several options when considering how to safely move people out of the area during an emergency. It is estimated that in addition to the city’s full-time residents, as many as 100,000 visitors are in the area on any given holiday weekend.
“Studying the Camp Fire and other tragedies, and knowing how California burns every year, we know there is no one perfect answer,” Martin said. “But, we have done our best to put a palate of options together.”
Martin said the concern for a deadly fire is “very serious and the threat is always there.” The Tahoe Basin is preparing to enter peak wildfire season.
Officials say the plan was created with other jurisdictions in mind to ensure it coincides with other regional plans.
The city plans to share the document with hotels and local business to help spread the information throughout the community, along with a door-to-door campaign. A Spanish version of the evacuation materials will also be disseminated.
Chris Fiore, the city’s communications manager, said the city’s emergency plan is a living document that requires consistent review to stay relevant.
“City staff has been working and is constantly trying to update what we are doing to come up with new and innovative techniques for emergency preparedness and evacuation preparedness just in the event something happens in South Lake Tahoe,” he said.
Uhler said the 2018 wildfire season caught the attention of public safety officials across the state, prompting a critical look at the various measures communities have in place for dealing with large-scale emergency.
“The Camp Fire and the fire in Santa Rosa demonstrated that there is a new paradigm and our community has to adjust to the new paradigm and be prepared for that,” he said.