Press Release: Jackson and Limón to Introduce Legislation in Response to the Thomas Fire

Wednesday, January 3, 2018



Three bills will create an opt-out emergency alert system; ensure that translated emergency information is available for immigrant communities; and help ensure that new housing is safe from wildfires 


SACRAMENTO – Following a year ravaged by wildfires, including the Thomas Fire, the largest wildfire in California history, Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) and Assemblymember Monique Limón (D-Santa Barbara) have announced plans to introduce bills to create an opt-out emergency alert system, improve emergency communications to non-English speaking immigrant communities, and reduce wildfire risk to new homes.


Creating an opt-out emergency alert system: Senate Bill 821 (Jackson), once amended, will give counties the option of automatically enrolling every resident in a location-based emergency notification program, while preserving residents’ ability to opt-out of alerts. Many of California’s public warning systems have the ability to deliver notifications to residents based on the location of their homes, but require residents to sign up before they receive these critical cell phone and email alerts.

In contrast, a federal Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system does not require residents to sign up, but lacks the ability to precisely target specific neighborhoods, potentially undermining efficient evacuation efforts. 

When the Thomas Fire broke out, less than 30 percent of residents had signed up to receive county cell phone and email alerts. In the Northern California wildfires, which caused the death of 44 people, notification of residents has also been scrutinized as inadequate.

“Recent California wildfires have driven home how important it is that we have a way to notify people quickly and effectively, so they can leave burning neighborhoods, check in on loved ones, and make the best choices for their safety at any hour of the day or night,” said Jackson. “With climate change creating the potential for longer and more severe fire seasons, we must strengthen our emergency alert systems and allow officials to effectively target alerts to specific areas or neighborhoods under threat.”


Emergency communications to non-English speakers: A second bill, to be introduced by Limón in response to a lack of adequate communications to Spanish-speakers during the Thomas Fire, will require that state and county Office of Emergency Services emergency communications are made available in the second most spoken language in a county. This measure will mandate that translation for the second most spoken language be made available during OES emergency communications such as broadcasts, emergency hearings and press conferences.

“Accurate, updated information is absolutely vital in an emergency—this can be even more challenging for the communities where a significant percentage of the population speaks another language,” said Limón. “In a dynamic emergency like the Thomas Fire, timing is everything. Real time translated emergency information is essential to alleviate confusion and ensure the safety of everyone.”


Reducing wildfire risk for new development: A third bill authored by Jackson will strengthen CalFIRE’s ability to weigh in on local development plans in order to reduce wildfire risk to new homes and neighborhoods.

Hearings for these bills have not yet been set.

Monique Limón represents the 37th Assembly District which includes Santa Barbara, Ventura, Goleta, Carpinteria, Ojai, Santa Paula, Fillmore, Buellton, Solvang, Summerland, Isla Vista, Montecito and parts of Oxnard. She currently serves as an Assembly Assistant Majority Whip.



CONTACT: Denise Tugade