Sutter, Yuba, and Butte counties brief Japanese delegation on Oroville Dam spillway emergency

Sutter County Fire Chief John Shalowitz (right) discusses Sutter County’s emergency response to the February, 2017 Oroville Dam spillway crisis, which led to the largest evacuation in United States history for other than a hurricane, with a delegation of emergency management officials from Japan.

In a session arranged by the California Office of Emergency Services, emergency management officials from Sutter, Yuba, and Butte counties responded to questions from six emergency management officials from Japan about last year’s Oroville Dam spillway crisis.

The session was conducted on Tuesday, February 6, one day short of the anniversary of the day a gaping hole developed in the main spillway at Oroville Dam, the country’s tallest dam. Yuba County hosted the event at its Government Center, and provided the delegation with a tour of its Emergency Operations Center.

Last year’s emergency generated attention from various quarters. When a team of researchers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security visited Butte and Sutter counties last year to study how news of the crisis was communicated to the public, its members said there would be continued interest in the Oroville event because the evacuation it sparked was the largest in United States history for other than a hurricane. Later this month, representatives of Sutter County and Butte County will make presentations about the impact of the Oroville Dam spillway crisis on downstream communities at a technical seminar for dam operators from across the United States at FEMA’s National Emergency Management Academy in Maryland.

The Japanese delegation on Tuesday was particularly interested in the Incident Command System practiced in California, and who is responsible for calling evacuations. In Japan, they said, mayors call the evacuations. In California, however, sheriff’s have the authority to call for an evacuation, and most counties adopt an ordinance establishing who else may call an evacuation.

The delegation was also interested in the concept of inundation maps. In Japan, they said, there is a belief dams will not fail, so inundation maps do not exist.

Five members of Sutter County’s Emergency Management team attended the session: Fire Chief John Shalowitz, Emergency Manager Brenna Howell, Health and Human Services Director Nancy O’Hara, Deputy Director of Health and Human Services Amerjit Bhattal, and Public Information Officer Chuck Smith.