Volunteers prepare for emergencies


The scenario is not unfamiliar: a busy weekend with beautiful weather, loads of folks in Muir Woods, Stinson Beach parking lots full and the beaches awash with folks soaking up the sun. Palomarin parking lot is overflowing and the Bear Valley Visitor Center parking lot has just a few spaces left. Drakes Beach, Chimney Rock, the lighthouse and Tomales Point are alive with visitors. The towns are busy with lines at the markets and folks waiting for tables at restaurants and for restrooms. Cyclists are rolling through town. Then it happens. 

It’s not “if,” it’s “when.”

An earthquake, near or far, could cause a tsunami along our coastal area or a wildfire the magnitude of the Mount Vision Fire or larger. We all know the drill; we live on a fault and we love our wildlands. What you may not know is the number of people who are thinking (and planning) about these scenarios all the time. 

Meet the West Marin Disaster Council, organized for logistical purposes and composed of first responders, including Marin County fire and volunteer fire departments at Muir Beach, Stinson Beach, Bolinas, Inverness, Nicasio and Bodega Bay. Add the National Park Service, Marin County Sheriff’s Office and its Office of Emergency Services, Marin County CERT, the Red Cross, Marin Medical Reserve Corps, State Parks, United States Coast Guard, RACES radio operators and KWMR community radio. 

In addition, there are 16 communities in West Marin, organized into nine neighborhood disaster councils, each represented at W.M.D.C. meetings. The councils work within their communities and neighborhoods to ensure there are eyes in the field to provide initial assessments and to help support the limited number of first responders on duty. The number of neighborhood council volunteers who are ready to step up in the event of an emergency is over 250 at any given time.

Folks who have taken a Community Emergency Response Training, or CERT, have skills to help out when first responders are activated. Currently there are over 100 CERTs in West Marin. Our next two-day training is May 14 and 21 in Nicasio. You may register at ReadyMarin.org or by calling (415) 485.3409. Join your friends and neighbors in becoming prepared!

With over 300 square miles of terrain, hundreds of miles of roadways, many bridges and several dams, professional disaster responders and 911 will be committed to the most critical situations when a regional disaster occurs. It may be several days or weeks before we can expect help from agencies; your friends and neighbors volunteering in CERT and neighborhood disaster councils are critical to this response before, during and after a disaster. 


Communication is key 

West Marin is fortunate to have its very own West Marin Disaster Council radio system in place for such an event. With eight repeaters, the system covers Bodega to Muir Beach and out to the San Geronimo Valley and Nicasio. In fact, using the Mount Barnabe repeater, a participant can reach into West Marin from as far away as San Francisco. 

This system, designed and maintained by Richard Dillman, is the lifeline for neighborhoods and residents to send vital information back to the fire stations to help first responders prioritize response.

KWMR is a vital link in the communication chain by broadcasting emergency alerts and road information to the greater population. The station, working with the Marin County Sheriff’s Office, will announce road closures, shelter and medical aid locations and evacuation routes. In addition to the FM airwaves, KWMR now uses Twitter and Facebook to notify the public about incidents in West Marin. Check our website for more information. 

If you are interested in getting involved with the disaster councils, please contact your local fire department. Whether you are a full-time or part-time resident, connecting with your local disaster council representatives is critical to being sure that those in West Marin know where to get information and help.

On Tuesday, April 19, the Marin County Board of Supervisors will pass a resolution recognizing the work of both the visible, uniformed responders who collaborate for regional response and the invisible residents and merchants that will come to the aid of potentially thousands of people in West Marin when a disaster strikes. 

Please join us at 9 a.m. to celebrate the work of so many that will make a difference to all of us, whether residents or visitors.


Amanda Eichstaedt is the executive director and station manager at KWMR. She and her husband, Ken, own and operate the Bear Valley Inn in Olema.