Ojai Valley

It is rewarding to reflect on consistent efforts where prior community activism reached a tangible desired outcome. These thoughts triggered yesterday at a Commission on Aging meeting where San Luis Obispo County’s Kelly Van Buren and her staff presented on what individuals can do to prepare for a future disaster.

After relocating to Ojai in 2007, I approached Ventura County District 1 Supervisor Steve Bennett with an idea to integrate the “OK Drill” (concept borrowed from Culver City) with his recent adoption of CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) for the Ojai Valley.

Over time, comprehensive collaboration occurred between CERT, Ham Radio and Ojai’s Red Cross chapter.  As each grassroots volunteer group worked together, expanded and matured, the relationship between the community and professional first responders and agencies (Fire, Sheriff, OES, Public Health, Cities, County) deepened.

Here’s an example of a web article I wrote in 2010 which outlines the outcome of the 3rd Annual Ojai Valley OK Drill and highlights all the partners.  Before the proclamation was read I requested the City of Ojai to modify the language to include the OK Drill recurring on the “3rd Wednesday of September at 7PM”.

By 2017, the valley had completed 10 annual Ojai Valley OK Drills.

Then, the Thomas Fire burned 287,000 acres and encircled the entire valley.  While our emergency preparedness had focused on earthquakes, the training material and awareness translated to any emergency.

While any loss of life is tragic, the outcome was two deaths.  A professional firefighter from Moorpark and an automobile driver attempting egress in Santa Paula.

Much credit goes to the last citizens out before 100% evacuation — Ojai Valley Amateur Radio Club; Ojai Chapter of American Red Cross; Ojai Valley CERT.

The community activism was consistently focused on, “neighbor helping neighbor”,  establishing ongoing awareness of personal responsibility, and forming strategic relationships of trust between grassroots volunteer organizations and professional first responders.