In Mendocino County, emergency staffers waited for a supervisor to show up before they warned residents of a growing fire siege in 2017.
In Santa Barbara County, officials hesitated to issue blanket evacuation orders before mudslides ripped through Montecito in 2018 because they worried they might trigger a panic.
And in Butte County in November, whole neighborhoods in Paradise were never told to evacuate as the Camp fire swept toward town.
In each case, local emergency preparedness agencies failed to adequately warn communities that death was approaching.
Experts say the failures point to an approach to emergency management – administered by individual counties – that has proved outdated in an era of massive, fast-moving wildfires and other extreme weather events.
“People imagine that all this public warning stuff has been handled. That somebody somewhere is in charge of it and it’s all getting done. . . . It isn’t,” said Art Botterell, who was an emergency services coordinator with the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services before retiring last year.