Once standing-room-only for meetings, now no one is interested


Idyllwild Fire Battalion Chief Mark LaMont was the featured speaker at the Mountain Emergency Services Committee meeting last week. The once-popular meeting, held to inform residents about emergency preparation and response, is struggling to find an audience. LaMont spoke about fire abatement and hardening one’s home. Photo by Marshall Smith

Peter Lent, former deputy director of Riverside County’s Office of Emergency Services, once noted that people begin to prepare for disasters after they happen — and then, of course, it’s too late.

The Mountain Emergency Services Committee meets publicly in Idyllwild with one mission — to educate residents about real and present dangers confronting this community.

The challenges of living at the edge of a wilderness are far different from living in urban flatlands. Idyllwild is a wildland interface area with greater everyday risks new arrivals might not understand.

MEMSCOMM has historically brought together emergency responders, utility and water company representatives, volunteer disaster aid groups and the general public for interactive presentations and discussions.

There was a time when MEMSCOMM meetings were standing-room-only, as in 2011 when the community considered designating alternative Emergency Operations Centers because the present Idyllwild Fire Department building could suffer severe structural damage during a major quake. Also, when MEMSCOMM professional responders conducted real-time, table-top earthquake scenarios — where to go and what to do as the quake is happening, and after the quake — many people showed up.

Now, with the influx of many new residents with little or no knowledge of the unique demands of living on the Hill, the need for information about disaster readiness and post-disaster response is especially vital.

What would you do on a weekend crowded with tourists who do not know the Hill when a major earthquake hits or a major wildfire threatens evacuation routes?

If you don’t know, MEMSCOMM is a meeting that could be critically helpful in saving your life and the lives of your family.

Last Thursday’s MEMSCOMM meeting at the library had only one attendee — the press. Shane Reichardt, county emergency services coordinator, had made the trip up the Hill to coordinate the meeting. Said Reichardt, “With disaster readiness, people want to know, ‘What’s in it for me’? And people who are new to the Hill should be interested. It’s not like being in the city.”

The speaker, Idyllwild Fire Protection District Battalion Chief Mark LaMont, was prepared to discuss property abatement and fire readiness. With fire season year round, abatement becomes a year-round consideration. LaMont would have discussed latest regulations about defensible space and other protective measures for your home; protective measures for the forest to hinder the spread of wildfire (reduction of surface and ladder fuels); fire-fuel reduction projects (fuel-breaks and vegetation management).

Said LaMont, “Being a good steward of your property is your responsibility. In a city, with homeowner associations, much is taken care of for you. Here, that is not the case. There is no fire department on the planet that could mount a good defense to a fire if you have not been a good steward of your property.”

LaMont observed that people have short memories. “We have lessons but we don’t learn from them.” Reichardt agreed. “Preparation seems to fall off the further you are in time from the event,” he said. “It’s the ‘normalcy bias,’” said LaMont. “People can become numb to preparation because of the lack of incidents.”

The next MEMSCOMM meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 17, at the Idyllwild Library Community Room.

For disaster preparation information, visit www.rivcoready.org or stop by the Idyllwild Fire Department offices to pick up helpful brochures.