As we turn the page on 2023, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) reflects on another year of helping Californians prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters. Read on for a recap of the work Cal OES accomplished in communities statewide in 2023 and resources for keeping yourself and loved ones safe in 2024.
CALIFORNIA’S LEAD EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY
- New Era of Emergency Management: Nancy Ward took the helm to lead the state into a new era of emergency management and homeland security. A seasoned emergency response professional and the first woman to hold the position, Director Ward previously served as chief deputy director and department of homeland security advisor for Cal OES from 2014 to 2017, after 14 years with FEMA.
- Ongoing Accreditation: Ensuring the highest standards of emergency management programs, Cal OES received its third consecutive emergency management accreditation. California is one of only four states to receive this accreditation since 2021, as part of the commitment by Cal OES to ensure California is the most resilient state in the country.
- Building Regional Disaster Readiness Statewide: Working to build community resilience during Emergency Preparedness Month, Cal OES brought together over 650 individuals from community-based organizations, local governments, state partners and other stakeholders through eight Regional Disaster Ready Summits statewide.
- Bringing All Emergency Managers Together: In an ongoing effort to continue strengthening relationships to enhance disaster resiliency, Cal OES invited all 58 county emergency management leaders from across the state to an Emergency Management Summit. The summit allowed emergency managers to openly discuss lessons learned and how they can prepare for future emergencies.
- APEC Summit: As the biggest political event hosted in San Francisco in decades, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit brought nearly 20,000 industry, government and thought leaders together. Cal OES led the coordination between local, state and federal partners to ensure the safety of event participants and surrounding communities.
- Enhancing Hazmat Training: Working to prepare California’s first responders for any scenario, Cal OES brought together agencies from across the state for the Weapons of Mass Destruction Summit. This summit allowed participants to train for something big—with scenarios ranging from hazmat situations, to working drug labs to IEDs.
- Identifying and Addressing Natural Hazards: Cal OES released the 2023 State Hazard Mitigation Plan, detailing California’s historical and current hazards and identifying strategies and actions to address them. California is one of only 14 states in the country with an Enhanced State Hazard Mitigation Plan, which has resulted in the allocation of more than $2 billion for FEMA Hazard Mitigation Assistance Programs since 2019.
ATMOSPHERIC RIVERS AND WINTER STORMS
- Whole of State Government Response: As winter storms hit California in the new year, Cal OES worked around the clock harnessing the resources from the whole of state government to prepare California communities for these winter storms, while also responding to rain, flooding and high winds by delivering comfort kits, blankets and cots to shelters, deploying all available mutual aid assets like swift water teams and coordinating with local and state partners to keep Californians safe.
- Federal Disaster Aid Approved: Governor Gavin Newsom secured a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration to support the state’s storm response and recovery efforts throughout California. This step helped Californians in impacted counties receive individual aid for families and made public assistance available to local governments to help clean up any damaged infrastructure.
- Responding and Recovering from Winter Storms: As another round of atmospheric rivers hit California, Cal OES worked day and night supporting county-led emergency response efforts, while simultaneously helping communities recover from earlier storms, to coordinate mutual aid from neighboring regions. Governor Gavin Newsom secured a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration to support the state’s all-of-government emergency response and recovery efforts amid severe storm impacts.
- Recovery in Pajaro: After California weathered more than a dozen atmospheric rivers through the first few months of the year, Cal OES began the process of recovery in the Monterey County town of Pajaro. Cal OES worked with local authorities, state agencies and non-profits to address local needs by providing necessities such as food, water and shelter, assisting with debris and hazardous waste removal and connecting them with local resources.
RESPONDING SWIFTLY TO OTHER NATURAL DISASTERS
- Plumas County Earthquake Response: After a 5.5 magnitude earthquake (and a 5.2 magnitude aftershock) struck the Lake Almanor area in Plumas County, Cal OES, along with local, state and federal partners, swiftly jumped into action to inspect and monitor key infrastructure sites and public services such as healthcare facilities, dams and area roadways.
- Extreme Heat Response: As a dangerous and widespread heat event was expected to impact much of California, Cal OES, along with state agency partners, launched a comprehensive preparedness and response effort to inform Californians of extreme heat and resources available to keep them safe.
- Responding to Tropical Storm Impacts on California Communities: As California braced for the arrival of Tropical Storm Hilary, Cal OES worked proactively to preposition swiftwater resources in high-risk areas. After the storm hit, Cal OES worked to assist counties as they assessed and validated damages to public and private property and infrastructure and identified and addressed unmet needs across the state.
- Federal Aid Approved for Tropical Storm: Governor Gavin Newsom secured a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration to further support the state’s continued recovery efforts following Tropical Storm Hilary. The declaration made federal public assistance funding available to the affected counties.
RECOVERING FROM WILDFIRES
- 2022 Wildfire Hazardous Waste Removal Complete: Continuing the state’s commitment to helping communities affected by 2022 wildfires in their recovery, Cal OES and its partners reached a major milestone in debris removal efforts. Crews completed the removal of burned metal, concrete, ash and contaminated soil generated by the Mountain, McKinney and Mill fires in Siskiyou County for all 183 properties whose owners chose to take part in the full debris removal program.
- 2022 Wildfire Debris Removal Complete: To aid Californians recovering from the 2022 Mill, McKinney and Mountain fires in Siskiyou County, Cal OES, along with state and local partners, completed wildfire debris removal on affected residential properties in less than a year. The state offered a no-cost homeowner program to assist in the massive cleanup and help community members get back on their feet.
- Camp Fire Anniversary: This year on November 8, Cal OES recognized the five years since the Camp Fire ignited and quickly spread throughout Butte County. Since then, Cal OES has worked with local, state and national partners to help the community recover. More than 1,400 homes have been rebuilt and now nearly 10,000 call Paradise home again.
AIDING OUR NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL PARTNERS
- Aiding International Partners: Cal OES helped coordinate the deployment of a California Urban Search and Rescue Team from the Los Angeles County Fire Department to assist in lifesaving search and rescue operations following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria. The team, which is one of two teams in the nation qualified for this international response, consisted of 81 personnel, six K9 teams and three structural engineers.
- Neighbors Helping Neighbors, Maui Response: In a show of interstate solidarity and expertise, Cal OES dispatched a team of wildfire debris removal specialists to aid in the recovery efforts following the devastating Lahaina wildfire on Maui. The team, renowned as one of the nation’s best in the debris removal field, deployed to provide vital technical assistance for debris removal in the fire-affected areas of the island.
- Tribal Nation Joins the Mutual Aid System: Working to fortify state and local resources to keep Californians safe from all-hazard disasters, Cal OES created a first-in-the-state partnership with a Tribal Nation. Through an agreement with the state, the Pala Band of Mission Indians and the Pala Fire Department became a partner of the California Fire and Rescue Mutual Aid System.
- California Experts Return Home: After a month of lending aid in the immediate aftermath of the Lahaina wildfire response, Cal OES personnel, including state anthropologists and fire and rescue specialists, returned home to California. These personnel helped to expedite the recovery mission and provide closure for those with missing loved ones, bringing deep experience and knowledge learned from navigating California’s own disasters at home.
- International Humanitarian Aid: Building on California’s commitment to provide civilians in Israel and Gaza with medical aid and assistance, Cal OES assisted with the coordination of humanitarian aid delivered to civilians in Israel and Gaza. The shipments included a 50-bed field hospital, support equipment, wound and IV kits, defibrillators, wheelchairs, personal protective equipment and other emergency response items.
PARTNERING WITH COMMUNITY TO INCREASE AWARENESS AND OUTREACH
- Millions in Community Partner Grants: Building upon California’s nation-leading efforts to protect vulnerable communities from natural disasters, Cal OES, through the Listos California program, released over $15 million in local resilience grants, ultimately being awarded to 73 community partners.
- Awards to Stop Hate: Reinforcing efforts to protect Californians from hate-motivated violence, Cal OES awarded $47.5 million to 285 community groups and nonprofits across the state through the State Nonprofit Security Grant Program. This grant assisted organizations with security enhancements, such as reinforced doors, gates and security personnel.
- Being Earthquake Resilient: Cal OES recognized April as Earthquake Preparedness Month, reminding Californians of the importance of being ready for an earthquake by dropping, covering and holding. When shaking starts, seconds matter, so receiving advanced notification of shaking can save lives.
- Wildfire Resiliency: As part of Wildfire Awareness Month, Cal OES recognized May 1 as Wildfire Preparedness Week. Cal OES, in collaboration with CAL FIRE, toured the state to talk to community partners about the importance of being prepared for wildfire, also highlighting the state’s recent investments in enhanced technology, more personnel and additional equipment to keep Californians safe.
- Gun Safety Awareness: Coinciding with the recognition of National Gun Violence Awareness Month, California launched GunSafety.ca.gov, a new website that provides critical information and multilingual, culturally competent materials on how Californians can use Gun Violence Restraining Orders to help protect their loved ones and communities. The launch was part of an $11 million statewide campaign, administered by Cal OES, to educate the public and prevent gun violence with equity at the forefront.
- Quakes Partnership: Enhancing California’s enduring efforts to keep communities safe from earthquakes, Cal OES teamed up with the San Jose Earthquakes soccer team. Cal OES and the Earthquakes launched their partnership to promote the state’s Early Earthquake Warning System, in addition to community engagement programs and educational activations for fans.
- People-Powered Community Efforts: Proactively working to protect Californians from flooding amid snowpack melting into local waterways, Cal OES completed its people-powered phone banking effort of calling more than 2 million California households. Through Listos California, the state mobilized teams of community members to make personalized phone calls, which led to more than 48,000 Californians signing up for local emergency alerts and receiving preparedness tips.
- Preparing Californians for next ‘Big One’: Cal OES hosted the Great California ShakeOut Tour, traveling to seven locations around the Golden State to educate people about earthquake preparedness and safety. The tour even included the opportunity to experience simulated shaking intensity akin to a magnitude 7.0 earthquake. Cal OES also teamed up with local, state and federal partners to emphasize the importance of earthquake preparedness through the annual Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drill on October 19 at 10:19 a.m.
- Flood Preparedness: As every county in California has experienced a federally declared flood disaster area at least once within the last 20 years, each October, Cal OES recognizes Flood Preparedness Week, ensuring Californians know what to do before, during and after a flood.
- Cybersecurity as a year-Round Effort: Cal OES is home to the California Cybersecurity Integration Center, whose job is to reduce the number of cyber threats and attacks in the state. Recognizing Cybersecurity Month, Cal OES reminded Californians of important steps to take to protect themselves and shared more about what we do each day to protect California’s digital assets.
PREPARING FOR 2024
- Storm Season Safety: Leading into the 2024 storm season, Cal OES worked with local, state and community partners to ensure California is prepared for impacts and ready to respond to communities in need. Cal OES created a suite of resources, housed on news.caloes.ca.gov/stormseason, to help Californians navigate inclement weather.
- First Winter Storm: As the first major December storm hit, Cal OES monitored the heavy rainfall, snow, scattered thunderstorms, high winds and flooding. Cal OES urged Californians to prepare for the weather and shared resources for doing so, helping Californians keep themselves and their loved ones safe.
Staying Safe in 2024
And lastly, as you kick off 2024 and begin making plans for the new year, add emergency preparedness to your list of resolutions. Cal OES has numerous resources to ensure you and your family are prepared for anything the year may bring. Visit news.caloes.ca.gov and listoscalifornia.org/resources to learn more.