The city of Morro Bay isn’t unique in its move to drastically shift normal operations to adapt to life during a pandemic, but the city did enact its Morro Bay Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to support the city, San Luis Obispo County, and State Public Health Emergency Declarations starting March 16.
Morro Bay Fire Chief Steven Knuckles said the city didn’t have an emergency plan in place for the global pandemic but it had a foundation to build from. Plans to aid the Morro Bay community were well underway before local impacts were felt as the city prepared a Draft Pandemic Continuity of Operations Annex in 2019. The plan is in concert with the format of the city’s basic plan and other hazard-specific annexes.
IMAGE COURTESY OF THE CITY OF MORRO BAY
PREPAREDNESS The city of Morro Bay locked in its COVID-19 emergency management guidelines for present and future use.
“An annex is just a tool for us to use to give us brain teasers to address issues that are well thought out...I’ve been on incident management teams up and down the state of California. We use the same process for earthquakes to fires,” he said.
The plan has been largely successful in providing a safe environment for the city’s workforce, connecting those in need with assistance programs, and aiding the business community. The city of Morro Bay has one of the lowest infection rates in SLO County and no deaths, and that’s the end result, Knuckles said.
“That didn’t happen by accident. That took a lot of work for a lot of people,” he said.
City staff and volunteers have been able to address and respond to issues caused by the pandemic and state implemented safety guidelines. This includes creating safer working environments for employees, maintaining the readiness to handle increased emergency services demands, supplying personal protection equipment to the city workforce, and developing programs to support the community’s vulnerable populations. Morro Bay’s Community Emergency Response Team worked in partnership with SLO County Public Health Department in interpreting and developing countywide policies, worked with the business community to enhance outdoor commerce and dining, and developed a drive-through point of distribution plan for future influenza and potential COVID inoculations—among other things.
According to a staff report, on March 23 the EOC became 100 percent virtual using available technology to assist in keeping Morro Bay’s EOC staff safe and healthy. To date, the EOC has been open for 226 days using the city’s emergency management plan and it is slated to stay open until the end of the Public Health Emergency.
In order to continue to be prepared, city staff recommended that the City Council approve an annual review and update of all emergency plans at the Oct. 27 council meeting. This includes regular field or tabletop exercises, automatic Emergency Operations Center activation, and incident management. The recommendation also called for the council to approve an additional annex for Pandemic Continuity of Operations Plan within the hazard-specific annexes. The council adopted both recommendations.
During the presentation, Knuckles said he believes the EOC and the local emergency declaration will continue well into next year, which is what the city is planning for. ∆