Supervisors Hear Report on County's Response to COVID-19 Crisis

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Source: Santa Barbara County Public Health Department

The Office of Emergency Management (OEM) in conjunction with Hagerty Consulting presented the Santa Barbara County Operational Area COVID-19 After-Action Report and Improvement Plan (AAR) to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, June 29. The AAR was significantly positive in its analysis of the response activity associated with the County’s Emergency Operations Center and Operational Area response during the period of March 2020 to May 2021.

Katie Freeman of Hagerty Consulting noted the pandemic was an unprecedented event for disaster agencies because of its expansive geographic nature and long duration. County preemptive response planning began in February 2020, with the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) officially activated in March 2020, and remaining activated for 442 consecutive days. Activation of the EOC allows the County to bring staff from county departments and local government together to coordinate all aspects of a disaster that impacts the County.

In the case of COVID-19, the EOC was activated to ensure a county-wide coordinated response of all partner agencies in support to the Public Health specific response. This included performing functions and services, such as public information, RISE and business outreach, identifying potential alternative care sites, call center operations, financial oversight, homeless services and sheltering, continuity of essential county services, and employees assigned to staff appropriate response efforts, to name a few.

County Assistant Executive Officer Terri Nisich was encouraged by the AAR’s positive feedback while noting areas of improvement. “I am proud of how our County employees responded to the pandemic– with more than 2,200 County staff from every department serving in their role as Disaster Service Workers,” she said. “An after-action report is required for local emergencies that are also proclaimed by the Governor. These reviews are very much welcomed and is our regular practice so that we can improve where needed, reinforce our strengths, and be ready for what’s next, because there is always a ‘next’ in Santa Barbara County.”

The AAR recognized the numerous strengths exhibited by the EOC and assigned county employees during the COVID-19 response operation, including access to multilingual and culturally-informed public information and timely communication to the community with a focus on vulnerable communities, dedication of key operational personnel to critical needs, expansive call center operations, homeless outreach and sheltering services, numerous partnerships with local agencies and businesses, early efforts on economic recovery support, and long-term recovery planning.

Board Chair and 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann praised the response, stating: “Having worked alongside staff during multiple large-scale incidents, I am consistently impressed by the professionalism and dedication of County staff. Their ability to respond to frequent activations–in this case a prolonged activation–and adapt to the complexities of each incident is remarkable. I commend all of the staff for their commitment to strengthening our emergency processes and to keeping our residents safe and thriving.”

The Improvement Plan portion of the AAR summarizes the recommended actions for improvement and identifies the responsible party to address action taken and a suggested timeline to complete the improvement.

The areas targeted for improvement are clarifying decision making structures to ensure consistency across emergencies, enhancing the County’s readiness for long-term response operations through County Code and policy revisions, and implementing lessons learned from COVID-19 and previous disasters into the County’s readiness activities, including planning, training, and exercise activities to support future response operations.

The OEM will develop a recommended work plan that takes these concepts and integrates them with previous recommendations to inform prioritization and future updates to plans, building local capabilities, enhancing training and improving policies.

Freeman shared that “the County has a great opportunity to invest in readiness activities, such as plans, policies and training, to capture the lessons learned from COVID-19 and carry best practices forward for future incidents.”

It is noted that the AAR does not address the Public Health Department specific Operations Center, or the overall medical health response coordination conducted by the County Public Health Department (PHD). At the time of this analysis, the PHD was still in the height of response activities, including disease monitoring and control, vaccination and testing efforts, and public education. The PHD has started to work on its own After-Action Report and Implementation Plan. The report is expected to be completed in late fall 2022.

Additional information regarding the Santa Barbara County After Actions Report and Improvement Plan can be accessed at: 8-13CF-4CC4-9EB7-3AD0E6C089A7&Options=&Search=

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