San Mateo County residents will likely recall the CZU Lightning Complex Fire that struck our county in August and September of 2020 the Edgewood Fire in 2022, as well as the severe weather experienced throughout the Bay Area this past Winter. In San Mateo County, emergency management officials use several alert and warning platforms to notify those living, working, or simply visiting in San Mateo County of emergency-related information and potentially life-saving directions. This article will both describe the multiple systems used by county officials as well as information on how to sign up for each to ensure you will be informed when the next disaster strikes. 

Following the recent fires that destroyed parts of Maui, local emergency managers and their alert and warning plans and systems were criticized for not providing residents with enough warning and direction to safely evacuate. San Mateo County’s Department of Emergency Management’s Alert and Warning strategy is to always utilize multiple alerting tools whenever issuing public emergency notifications. This article will describe those channels. 

This leads to our first emergency preparedness recommendation: take steps now to become situationally aware. Here’s a suggested three-step assessment process to develop disaster situational awareness: 

  • Information Gathering: Before the emergency, know the hazards in your area. This also is simply paying attention to what’s happening in your area. What are the current weather conditions?  

  • Understanding Information: Is there a Red Flag Warning in your area? Have you lost power at your location? Do you smell smoke? This combination of events may be telling you that you shouldn’t wait around for an evacuation order, and should leave the area immediately.  

  • Anticipation: Leave early to ensure you can get to safety. Anywhere you live, roadways will be congested with evacuees once the order is given. No Bay Area roadway is designed to accommodate everyone all at once. Leave early. One of our recently retired senior emergency managers, Jeff Norris, likes to use the acronym PLEASE - Plan to Leave Early And Save Everyone, to encourage residents to not wait for governmental alerts or warnings, but to take action early to protect themselves and those they care for. 

Let’s assume for the moment then, that you’re unaware of the coming emergency and are reliant on government alerts and warnings. Let’s take a look at the alert and warning tools used by San Mateo County’s Department of Emergency Management to notify residents during emergencies, and why you may — or may not be — receiving them. 
Emergency response agencies across the nation are urging people to sign up for emergency alerts if they haven’t done so already. That way, no matter your location — whether in your neighborhood or visiting another state — you’ll be notified about urgent events in the area, like severe weather situations or evacuations due to wildfire or an active crime. As well as important information after an incident such as road closures, sandbag availability, and shelter openings. Those living, working, or visiting in San Mateo County are encouraged to sign up for SMCAlert
Here's a breakdown of tools San Mateo County Emergency Managers use to issue alerts and warnings and what you need to know about each one:

SMC Alert Genasys / Zonehaven (Evacuation Zone Maps) Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) Emergency Alert System (EAS) Tsunami Sirens Reverse 911 NOAA Non-Weather Emergency Message (NWEM) NOAA Weather Radio Police and Fire Vehicle Sirens and Public Address Systems