Behind the scenes: See how City departments worked together to keep Sacramento safe during the storms

Relentless rain. Dangerous winds. Toppled trees. Blocked roads.

For three weeks, a series of powerful storms battered the Sacramento region, delivering nearly a foot of rain, high winds and other conditions that tested the City’s planning and infrastructure.

The storms wreaked considerable havoc, downing more than 1,500 trees and damaging homes and other buildings. In addition, some neighborhoods saw temporary localized street flooding.

Overall, however, Sacramento’s levee system was able to manage the massive amount of water that coursed through its creeks and rivers.

As forecasts for the storms began arriving in late December, the City of Sacramento, led by its Office of Emergency Management, quickly assembled a Crisis Action Team for citywide readiness and to support a Department Operations Center, which was staffed 24 hours a day to respond to emergencies and calls for service.

Now, as Sacramento continues its recovery, here is a behind-the-scenes look at how City departments and their dedicated staff worked together to keep communities safe during the severe weather.

Office of Emergency Management

Before the arrival of the storms, and throughout the duration of the weather events, the City’s Office of Emergency Management served as the primary coordinating force among departments and allied agencies, helping to identify, establish and deploy resources throughout the city and region.

In addition to assembling a Crisis Action Team and participating in the Department Operations Center at City’s South Area Corporation Yard, OEM also tied into the County of Sacramento’s Emergency Operations Center to share information and provide mutual aid and support.

OEM, in coordination with the City’s Youth, Parks and Community Enrichment Department, the County of Sacramento and the American Red Cross, opened the Sam & Bonnie Pannell Community Center to help people from south Sacramento County who had to evacuate their homes because of the storm. The City’s Hart Senior Center also was activated to support evacuees.

OEM also played a critical role in bringing in Team Rubicon — an international non-government organization that specializes in emergency response – to assist in the cutting and clearing downed trees. OEM also coordinated with Public Works to operate multiple free sandbag locations.

Public Works

For the past three weeks, Public Works crews largely have been focused three activities: addressing downed trees, reopening streets and fixing potholes.

The City’s Urban Forestry division has received more than 2,800 requests for service since Dec. 31, which is equivalent to the number of requests they would typically receive in a six-month period.

For tree debris, crews focused first on life safety issues before addressing mobility issues, such as blocked roads. As of Jan. 18, all major arterial streets have been reopened to traffic and all City trees that fell on houses have been removed.

Storm-related cleanup work is expected to take two to six months to be fully completed. Staff estimate approximately 1,500 trees fell across Sacramento during the storms.

Along with tree cleanup and removals, PW staff have responded to 165 pothole work-order requests. All but two of these requests were completed within 48 hours, totaling more than 5,000 potholes filled.

Residents should continue to report any storm-related issues to 311. For potholes, please provide size and location to the best of your ability.

Department of Utilities

Preparation for any storm starts months or years in advance for the City’s Department of Utilities, which delivers storm water, waste water and drinking water services to residents and businesses.

Sacramento is surrounded by a system of levees — which means that rain that falls in the city must be pumped out – and DOU staff work year-round to repair and maintain the many pipes and pumping stations that prevent flooding.

Critical maintenance is also performed during the year on ditches, creeks, canals and levees that move storm water safety to rivers.

During the most recent series of storms, hundreds of DOU staffers, organized in up to 18-hour shifts, worked around the clock to prevent flooding in neighborhoods. Recently built infrastructure, such as the McKinley Water Vault in East Sacramento, helped with this endeavor.

Management and operations staff worked in the Department Operations Center to help respond efficiently to issues caused by the storm and deploy field crews.

These DOU crews responded to more than 1,100 calls from the public, clearing storm drains of debris more than 12,000 times and keeping nearly 100 pump stations working during power outages.

DOU crews also monitored City-maintained levees 24 hours a day during the storms to check and respond to damage that could occur.

It’s estimated that the storms cost the Department of Utilities about $2.2 million, which includes expenses for generators, services and supplies that helped keep residents and businesses safe.

311 Customer Service

The numbers speak for themselves: In the three weeks of storms, the City’s 311 Customer Service received more than 25,000 requests for service, with the majority of calls related to urban forestry, clogged drains and damaged traffic signals.

Since Dec. 31, 311 operators have worked hundreds of hours in overtime to handle the increase in call volume.

Department of Community Response

At the onset of the storms, the City’s Department of Community Response activated weather-respite centers to support unsheltered residents.

Since then, it has provided more than 900 bed nights to those in need of a safe and warm place to stay.

Outreach workers from DCR were out in the field daily during the storms, notifying people about the inclement conditions and reiterating the value of accessing weather-respite centers, moving to higher ground and being cautious near trees.

DCR staff also played a pivotal role in coordinating with the County of Sacramento and supporting its weather-respite activities. They also worked with Sacramento Regional Transit to provide free transportation to all weather-respite centers.

Youth, Parks, and Community Enrichment

In addition to collaborating with OEM and others to open evacuee locations at City community centers, staff from the Youth, Parks and Community Enrichment Department assisted in tree removals at parks and operated equipment to clear roadways.

YPCE staff estimate around 140 trees fell within City parks, and cleanup is ongoing.

At William Land Park, debris from downed trees will be made into wood chips, which will be used for ground cover at parks across Sacramento.

Visitors will continue to see downed trees at parks as crews continue to make progress on removal. The Old City Cemetery (1000 Broadway) remains closed until further notice due to downed trees.

Sacramento Police Department

When the heavy rain and wind first arrived, the Sacramento Police Department was inundated with calls of hazards such as flooded roadways, downed trees in streets, trees falling onto houses and cars, downed telephone poles, downed electrical wires and inoperable traffic signals.

SPD officers responded to public safety hazards until other City staff could arrive to address the issues. Additionally, officers deployed in the community relayed information about other hazards they encountered while on patrol to the Department Operations Center.

As part of the Department Operations Center, SPD facilitated information flow and time-sensitive status reports with other City departments, including Public Work and Utilities, as well as other organizations, including SMUD.

The timely sharing of information led to mitigating a high volume of hazards and freeing up resources.

Sacramento Fire Department

Like other City departments, the Sacramento Fire Department took a proactive approach for the recent storm activity.

As forecasts for the storm came in, SFD command staff prepositioned resources and support teams, so they were ready for immediate response.

SFD deployed a Swift Water Team to assist with evacuations and removal of people from a mobile home park in Woodbridge, Calif. The team removed 52 residents from the flood waters in that area.

Swift Water Teams also responded to assist people experiencing homelessness in inundated areas near rivers.

At the height of the storms, SFD was receiving 650 to 700 calls a day. A typical daily call volume is around 300 calls for service.

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