Public Health Protects Community After Natural Disasters
Source: County of Santa Barbara
With the goal of protecting and promoting health, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department provides a diverse set of services and interventions which have helped countless community members over the past several months.
Protecting health through the land, water and air
Many damaged and destroyed buildings had hazardous materials (paint, petroleum products, pesticides, etc.) that had to be removed separately from other debris and disposed of in ways that would not impact our groundwater, ocean water or landfills. More than 10,000 pounds of these products were removed by Hazardous Material Specialists.
Ocean water, a precious element in this community, was tested regularly to alert the public of when bacterial levels were not safe for entry. The Health Officer closed ocean water at a number of beaches due to high bacterial levels, which occurs regularly following winter storms and rains.
Air quality was very poor and even dangerous at various times during the Thomas Fire. Public Health and partners including Direct Relief and the Medical Reserve Corp distributed approximately 350,000 N95 masks when the air quality was poor over an extended period of time.
Protecting the health of residents
Assistance was provided to support evacuations of a number of skilled nursing facilities and facilities with vulnerable populations who were in harm’s way. There was intensive planning to relocate individuals who are most at risk and to get them home safely after the risk was diminished. Carpinteria residents who were isolated due to road closures were able to receive primary health care services through our Carpinteria Health Care Center.
Health guidance was provided by the Health Officer on many topics. Information on cleaning up mud was given to first responders and residents and businesses who were sometimes in unsafe environments. Aid and escorts were provided for individuals with special health needs in the evacuation areas, such as getting medication and obtaining dialysis. Nurses made daily visits to individuals staying at Red Cross evacuations center and shelters to assure their medications were available and their medical needs were met.
Protecting animals and their health
As thousands of residents were evacuated, their animals were also directly impacted. County Animal Services employees in partnership with many local organizations, including ASAP, the Santa Barbara Humane Society and Equine Evac, rescued and provided shelter for animals in evacuated areas. More than 1,800 animals were cared for during the fire and about 1,000 animals rescued with the 1/9 Debris Flow. Animal Control Officers provided care for animals in homes that were vacated.