San Mateo County first to embrace statewide law for emergency alerts

In wake of deadly wildfire season, new state law provides counties greater opportunity to notify residents about natural disasters and emergencies 

REDWOOD CITY – San Mateo County Supervisor David J. Canepa in partnership with San Mateo County Sheriff Carlos Bolanos and the Office of Emergency Services will introduce a resolution Tuesday, Nov. 13 that will allow OES to further expand upon its existing alert notification system, to send emergency alerts to a greater number of residents in the county. Currently, only about 10 percent of San Mateo County residents are signed up for SMC Alert.

“I’m proud that San Mateo County will be the first in the state to adopt this protocol. During the state’s deadly wildfire season, we heard too many times that residents felt they did not have adequate access to information that could have saved lives,” Canepa said. “With the San Andreas Fault running right through the middle of the county, we know another big quake is looming. Being on the same page as a community during any natural disaster is the greatest way to preserve public safety.”

Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 821 into law Sept. 21, 2018. It allows counties to work with public utilities, for the sole purpose of emergency notifications, to provide their customers with important information in the event of a major disaster. While the intent is to garner a greater audience for notifications, customers will still have the ability to decline the service.

“We know natural disasters or other emergencies can strike at any time,” Sheriff Bolanos said. “During these events, emergency alerts and timely information can save lives. SB 821 improves our ability to connect with the community whether it’s a major fire, earthquake, tsunami or other threat. We may not know when Mother Nature will strike, but this resolution will improve how we communicate when she does.”

SMCAlert is San Mateo County’s alert and warning notification system for first responders and emergency management agencies to send emergency alerts to the community. For individuals who live and/or work in San Mateo County, they may go to sign up and register for this free service.

San Mateo County resolution:



RESOLVED, by the Board of Supervisors of the County of San Mateo, State of California, that

WHEREAS, On Sept. 21, 2018, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 821 which provides a tool for a local jurisdiction to improve communication with its citizens in the event of a disaster; and

WHEREAS, SB 821 would authorize each county, including a city and county, to develop a mechanism to access the contact information of resident accountholders through the records of a public utility or other agency responsible for water service, waste and recycling services, or other property-related services for the sole purpose of enrolling county residents in a county-operated public emergency warning system; and

WHEREAS, SB821 would also specify that any county that develops such a mechanism would be required to include a procedure to enable a resident to opt out of the warning system and not use the information gathered for any purpose other than for emergency notification; and

WHEREAS, California has experienced 6,906 wildfires in 2018, damaging over 1.5 million acres of land and resulting in 14 deaths and dozens of non-fatal injuries; and

WHEREAS, in many cases, residents affected by the wildfires felt that they did not have adequate access to informative and life-saving information; and

WHEREAS, in 2008, San Mateo County launched SMC Alert which is a free, opt-in and county-wide emergency alert notification system via email, cell phones, tablets or voice messages to landlines in order to inform residents in the case of natural disasters and emergencies; and

SMC alert which means over 690,000 SMC residents do not have direct and immediate information coming from informed local government entities during regional crises or threats of emergency; and

WHEREAS, SMC Alert is administered by the San Mateo County Office of Emergency Services; and

WHEREAS, The Office of Emergency Services is a joint powers authority overseen by the Emergency Services Council, a board comprised of representatives of the county and each of its 20 cities; and

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Board of Supervisors encourage the Office of Emergency Services to adopt the statewide protocol for emergency notifications as allowed under SB 821 and to develop an opt-out system for residents who do not want to receive the alerts.