Jackson Bill to Create Opt-Out Emergency Alert System Passes Senate Floor

April 26, 2018

SACRAMENTO—Following the devastating fires last year, in which many residents were not signed up for their county alerts, a bill by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) to create an opt-out emergency alert system passed off the Senate floor with unanimous bipartisan support.

Senate Bill 821 (Jackson) will give counties the option of automatically enrolling every resident in a location-based emergency notification program, while preserving residents’ ability to opt-out of alerts. Many of California’s public warning systems have the ability to deliver notifications to residents based on the location of their homes, but require residents to sign up before they receive these critical cell phone and email alerts.

In contrast, a federal Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system does not require residents to sign up, but it lacks the ability to precisely target specific neighborhoods, potentially undermining efficient evacuation efforts. 

When the Thomas Fire broke out, fewer than 30 percent of residents had signed up to receive county cell phone and email alerts. In the Northern California wildfires, which caused the death of 44 people, notification of residents has also been scrutinized as inadequate.

“In the event of an emergency, timely information can be a matter of life or death,” said Senator Jackson. “SB 821 will improve our emergency notification system by ensuring more residents are notified quickly and effectively when they are in harm’s way.”

Senate Bill 821 now moves to the Assembly.

Jackson is Chair of the Joint Legislative Committee on Emergency Management. She represents the 19th Senate District, which includes all of Santa Barbara County and western Ventura County.