Mill Valley hasn’t had a major disaster occur in a long time (knock on wood).
But residents need not look far and wide for stark, frightening reminders of how critical it is to be prepared to evacuate on a moment’s notice. Less than three months ago, more than 160,000 Northern California residents were ordered to evacuate from the north Sacramento Valley area because the crumbling emergency spillway at Oroville Dam was threatening to fail. The order sent “tens of thousands of cars simultaneously onto undersized roads, creating hours-long backups that left residents wondering if they would get to high ground before floodwaters overtook them,” according to the Sacramento Bee.
With that in mind, the City of Mill Valley is holding its annual Evacuation Drill in the Edgewood and Homestead Valley neighborhoods – home to a plethora of narrow, winding roads.
The voluntary evacuation event is set for Saturday, May 20 from 9am to 12pm with an activation of the Alert Marin Telephone Emergency Notification System (TENS), is a reverse 9-1-1 dialing system that can be used to alert residents in the event of an emergency. Once the system is activated, residents should proceed by foot, bike or vehicle to the Drill Command Center at Tam High’s parking lot at 700 Miller Avenue between 10am and 12pm. All Mill Valley residents are invited to the Drill Command Center at Tamalpais High to learn how they can prepare for emergencies and watch demonstrations from local agencies.
“The Oroville incident, as well as the Valley Fire in Lake County in 2015, really drive home the point that our community needs to be ready at a moment’s notice to evacuate efficiently and safely in the event of a disaster,” Mill Valley Fire Chief Tom Welch said. “Wildfires, earthquakes, winter storms, landslides, flash floods and tidal flooding are all real risks here and we strongly encourage residents to be aware and stay informed. This drill will go a long way toward making that happen.”
Welch said that one of the goals of the drill is to get residents and business owners to be able to answer two important questions: what do I need to have to evacuate myself and my family, and what are alternative exit routes from the area in case the primary route is impassable. The drill is an opportunity for residents to familiarize themselves with evacuation routes including Mill Valley’s unique network of Steps, Lanes, and Paths that offer a reliable evacuation path for residents living in the hills.
Emergency information and demonstrations will be provided by an array of organizations, including Pacific Gas & Electric, Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), the Red Cross, Marin Humane Society, Whistlestop Wheels, Marin Medical Reserve Corps, Emergency Preparedness Commission and the Salvation Army.
In addition to helping residents and business owners learn about how to get prepared for an evacuation, it also helps first responders at the Mill Valley fire and police departments assess the issues that may arise if such an evacuation becomes necessary. And in a first, City officials are teaming up on the drill with the Southern Marin Fire Protection District, which handles fire service for unincorporated parts of Mill Valley in places like Homestead Valley.
The evacuation drill coincides with a wildland skills training for local public safety agencies simulating a fire impacting both the City and unincorporated Mill Valley, with Mill Valley Fire and Southern Marin Fire personnel practicing skills in complex scenarios in a strike team/task force configuration, including: hose laying, simulated spot fires, GPS/mapping skills, and simulations along Tamalpais Ridge. Welch said he is anticipating up to 15 engines and 4 agencies participating.
“We were struck by how similar the Lake County topography was to Mill Valley – lots of steep, wooded canyons and narrow roads,” Battalion Chief Mike St. John said. “The amount of fire fuel on Mount Tam has tripled from what it was in 1929, when we experienced the last catastrophic wildland fire. This is why it is so important for us to prepare the community for the potential for a wildland fire."
The City of Mill Valley’s Municipal Service Tax (MST) funds services essential for public safety including the creation and maintenance of our network of evacuation routes, fuel reduction along our streets, fuel breaks along Open Space, and a designated parking program that maintains 11’ road clearance for emergency responders to access our community. First adopted by voters in 1987, the MST was renewed in 1997, 2006 and again in 2016. It generates $1.2 million in revenue annually.
Go here for more info on the Evacuation Drill. And click here to access a "Caregiver Emergency Preparedness Checklist" in both English and Spanish and review it with those who care for your family in your absence.