Santa Clarita communications specialist lends a hand during Thomas Fire

Santa Clarita Communications Specialist Kevin Strauss works to help get information out to Santa Barbara County during the Thomas Fire in December 2017. Courtesy of Kevin Strauss.

As the Thomas Fire continues to engulf parts of Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties, people from surrounding areas are being recruited to lend their help and ease the burden on locals.

The City of Santa Clarita’s own Communications Specialist Kevin Strauss made his way up to Santa Barbara County this week and is helping in the Joint Information Center to send out up-to-date information to residents through social media and videos.

Santa Barbara County put out a request for half a dozen public information officers two weeks ago when the fire first started, so Strauss has had his bags packed and has been ready to join the effort since.

Strauss and other guest PIOs are helping to alleviate some of the pressure on County staff, many who are in the middle of evacuating their own homes.

“The community really does drop everything,” Strauss said. “Everybody here has been 100 percent supportive of everyone else. People understand this is an emergency and are staying out of everyone’s way.”

From about 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day, Strauss’ primary job is to monitor Facebook and Twitter to post updates and respond to locals’ questions.

“It’s a lot of customer service and information dissemination,” he said.

Wednesday, the team expects to work through the night when the wind dangerously kicks back up after sunset in what locals call “sundowners.”

As the winds die down, the public information officers can work on more human interest feature stories. Strauss did a video interview with the Santa Barbara Zoo about two reindeer who were visiting for the season but had to be sent back to their home because of the fires.

Later this week, Strauss will work on a story featuring the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department and the work they are doing in evacuation zones.

When Strauss returns to Santa Clarita, he said he feels prepared to handle an emergency situation that might arise locally.

“I’m bringing that experience to strengthen our processes back home,” Strauss said. “We have people in City Hall that if this were to happen, we’re ready to go.”

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