Richmond mayor upset with emergency alert process during Sims Metal fire

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A spokesperson for Richmond's Sims Metal Management says company workers called 911 at 5:08 Tuesday afternoon when a fire started in a pile of metal debris at the company's South 4th Street, but an official shelter in place alert wasn't sent out to the larger community until nearly an hour later. (KGO-TV)

A spokesperson for Richmond's Sims Metal Management says company workers called 911 at 5:08 Tuesday afternoon when a fire started in a pile of metal debris at the company's South 4th Street, but an official shelter in place alert wasn't sent out to the larger community until nearly an hour later.

RELATED: Firefighters battle toxic smoke from Richmond scrap metal fire

"People did not know what was going on," said Andres Soto with the Richmond chapter of Communities for a Better Environment, "when you see a big black cloud like that it's quite a fantastic thing to see."
"I literally couldn't breathe," said Richmond Mayor Tom Butt, who complained he was choking on the smoke long before he received an emergency alert on his cell phone. "This whole warning system thing is an absolute total joke. It's been around now for about 25 years. It's never worked, not one time."

Richmond Fire Captain Rico Rincon says it's his department's responsibility to notify Contra Costa County when it's time to activate the emergency alert system.

"The way the system is designed, it initially notifies the most emergent neighborhoods," explained Rincon, "Or the most immediate people that we need to shelter in place as affected by the incident," Rincon said that warning didn't go out until about 6 p.m., nearly an hour into the fire.

RELATED: Shelter-in-place lifted for residents near scrap metal fire in Richmond

Rincon says these sirens were activated in some neighborhoods, but many people we talked with said they didn't hear them.

"How do people find out, how do seniors find out who is living in the area, if they don't have internet," asked Reverend Dale Weatherspoon, with the Easter Hill United Methodist Church.

A Sims spokesperson disputed Mayor Butt's assertion that the company hasn't been a good neighbor.

"Sims has been here since 1985, so I don't know where he's coming off that we're a bad neighbor," said Jill Rodby, a company spokesperson. "You have to think about what recycling does. Without our type of industry, I would hate to think what would happen to all the metal products."

The Contra Costa County Sheriff's Department has released this statement:

The mission of the Community Warning System (CWS) is to ensure the public gets emergency alerts as quickly and completely as possible once we receive the proper information from the requesting agency. CWS is not an internal notification system for a city or affected jurisdic-tions.
In regards to yesterday's fire at a metal shop in Richmond, CWS received all of the necessary information from Richmond Fire for an alert at 5:55 PM. There was no request to activate the sirens. The first alert was sent at 6:08 PM through the Telephone Emergency Notification Sys-tem (TENS), which includes phone, text, and email alerts. It is also posted on social media and websites.

As the fire continued to burn and produce smoke, and due to a shift in winds, the shelter-in-place needed to be expanded. CWS worked to get updates to additional shelter-in-place areas as they were requested by Richmond Fire and Contra Costa Hazardous Materials Program.
The second alert went out at 6:44 PM, the third alert went out at 7:57 PM, and the last one went out at 8:50 PM. These alerts went to expanded areas at the request of Richmond Fire and the Contra Costa Hazardous Materials Program.

After the situation became somewhat stabilized and it was believed no additional shelter-in-place areas would be needed, a comprehensive map was created that included all affected are-as and was posted in on our website and Facebook page and sent directly to the media.

"In yesterday's incident, the CWS worked as designed -- alerts were sent once all the infor-mation was received from the requesting agency," said Assistant Sheriff Mark Williams. "Mayor Butt's statement that it took an hour to get out the first alert after receiving the necessary infor-mation from Richmond Fire is totally inaccurate, misleading, and presumptuous."

CWS continually reviews it system and procedures in an effort to improve delivery of alerts. CWS encourages all county residents to receive alerts by registering at www.cococws.us and to follow CWS on Twitter and Facebook at CoCoCWS.
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