Solano County not prepared for large-scale disaster, grand jury report says


Damage from the LNU Lightning Complex wildfire in rural Vacaville as it appeared in August 2020. (File photo by Matthew Keys for Solano NewsNet)

The lightning-sparked wildfire that destroyed more than 200 homes when it tore through rural portions of Solano County in 2020 served as a warning that local public safety agencies were not well-equipped to handle a disaster of that magnitude.

Two years later, the county still is not prepared to handle a large-scale catastrophe.

That was the finding of a civil grand jury report released earlier this month that said public safety agencies still have a long way to go before Solano County is adequately prepared to handle a wildfire, earthquake or a similar disaster.

“When a significant portion of a community experiences a large-scale disaster, residents trust that emergency responders have systems in place to coordinate their actions,” a statement by the empaneled county grand jury read in the report.

The grand jury said local agencies in Solano County “have approved emergency response plans to support people within a specific jurisdiction,” but those agencies still have work to do to ensure a coordinated plan of action can be smoothly carried out in the event of a disaster that transcends city limit lines.

Over the past decade, the grand jury has made a number of requests to local agencies and the county in general regarding coordinated emergency response measures, including the need to consolidate communications and increase funding for rural fire protection districts.

The county has been responsive to some of those suggestions, the grand jury said in its report, but the county still lacks a central authority to monitor and resolve the issues it has identified over the last 10 years.

The grand jury is now recommending Solano County consolidate its emergency response into a single Department of Emergency Management. The move would be similar to one taken in other jurisdictions, including Sonoma County, after large-scale emergency situations there.

The county is also urged to create a unified evacuation plan that covers all of Solano County, including incorporated cities, and “create public awareness of evacuation zones and routes.” The report pointed to congestion along Vanden Road and Peabody Road in Vacaville as residents were attempting to flee the LNU Lightning Complex wildfire in 2020, which jumped the freeway and threatened a significant portion of western Vacaville.

The grand jury urged the county to implement and raise awareness of evacuation routes without the need to impose additional taxes. Instead, officials should look toward state and federal funds earmarked for emergency awareness campaigns, the grand jury said.

The Solano County Board of Supervisors and the Solano County Administrator’s Office are now required to file responses to its recommendations, while city managers and their councils in all seven incorporated cities are required to provide a response to the grand jury’s evacuation route suggestion.

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