Oakland Fire Department seems to have outdated monitoring systems. 10-15% of properties to be inspected have not turned up on inspection roles in the past. Additionally, a recent audit of OFD’s vegetation management found that in two fiscal years, OFD issued 1,369 invoices for vegetation code violations, totaling $419,386, but only collected $2,121 – because it had to void 98% of the fines due to input errors. Clearly OPD needs more inspectors and better data systems.
This recent audit also found that OFD still needs to improve its internal controls, its oversight of the inspection system, and needs to develop a better enforcement system for cars blocking ingress for emergency vehicles. Furthermore, OFD does not appear to have a system in place to track structure or wildfire deaths year over year. This type of data collection should be required.
OFD has been working for years on a new vegetation management plan, and we are told it should be ready by 2019. This plan will only be a scientific assessment of the vegetation in City parks and open space in the hills, and the best practices and standards for reducing the fire risk. Should the City Council adopt these future findings, we still need the City to commit resources to making sure robust prevention occurs.
OFD can also better protect residents by implementing technology solutions. San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) has invested in automatic electrical switch systems. They cut electricity to 12,000 customers in San Diego County in December during the recent wildfires after winds reached 88 mph in some rural areas. Meanwhile, PG&E is still struggling to develop a policy for whether to embrace automatic electrical shut-offs. The control of electrical lines is not OFD’s responsibility, but OFD could be an advocate for such a solution. SDG&E looks at red flag warnings the same as other utilities look at hurricane warnings – they have built an infrastructure and mind set that lets them and their clients prepare in advance. Oakland and PG&E should invest in the same infrastructure for Oakland as well as other Bay Area communities.
WUI residents are now starting to pay the cost – in addition to bearing greater fire risk. Residents are discovering insurance carriers will no longer cover fire risk (or offer only a small level of coverage, or require much higher premiums). Insurance companies are using more complex models to determine the fire risk in different areas – and the Oakland Hills fall into a high-risk profile. It’s not clear whether better preventive efforts will lead to better insurance policies, but the risk of wildfire, regardless of insurance concerns, demands better support from the City.
What do you think Oakland could do better to improve its wildfire prevention strategy? Comment below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.