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Letter Raised Concerns About Emergency Alert System

The director of the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management wrote a letter Jan. 4, 2018, five days before the deadly Montecito mudslides, warning the chairman and commissioners at the Federal Communications Commission about concerns about the system.
The director said he and others have brought up concerns for years with the federal agency that oversees emergency notifications.
In the letter the Santa Barbara County emergency director talks about the fears of deadly flooding and within a week the mudslides happened.
At least 21 people lost their lives. Two others, including a 2 year old, remain missing after the heavy rains and mudslides in the Thomas Fire burn areas in Montecito.
The letter asks for help with a "serious problem" and is critical of the Wireless Emergency Alert system or WEA for its limitations.
A day after the mudslides happened, the NBC4 I-Team reported the WEA sent by the National Weather Service on Jan. 9 failed to reach certain cellphone users, so the county had to send out their own wireless emergency alert, an hour later.
These alerts are supposed to go out to people on their mobile phones, like an Amber Alert, no sign up needed, to reach people in an area that is under some type of imminent threat.
The letter also described an antiquated emergency alert system which works with radio and television stations to send out messages.
The director asks for an overhaul saying, "the issues with this system must be fixed or people's lives will continue to be in danger."
The FCC chairman has issued new action orders which include expanding the number of characters in a message and enhancing technology to make sure alerts go to the correct locations.

These will be voted on at the end of this month. But most of the changes would not go into affect until 2019.The FCC has not responded to questions about what happened in Montecito.

Santa Barbara County officials used opt-in systems, Nixle and "Aware and Prepare," to send out messages. The latter emphasizes, "If we can't reach you, we can't alert you."

As of Wednesday, around 40,000 people are signed up for each of those systems, just 9 percent of the County's population.

In Los Angeles, meanwhile, the LA Emergency Management Department says only 5 percent of city residents have opted into the city's "NotifyLA." These alerts detailed evacuation warnings for the La Tuna Canyon burn area two different times on Tuesday.

Here's where to go and how to sign up for alerts for Santa Barbara County. Here's more information about the NotifyLA system.

For alerts in Los Angeles County, go here.

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