FEMA, California Cities Prepare for El Niño With Dress Rehearsal

Anticipating a strong El Niño this winter, the regional Federal Emergency Management Agency in Oakland on Wednesday is conducting a dress rehearsal and releasing a disaster response plan for Northern California.

FEMA spokeswoman Mary Simms said a task force has been working on a plan to "prepare for, respond to, recover from and mitigate against" any El Niño-related disaster. And that on Wednesday, officials from many agencies will "rehearse" what would happen during an El Niño to make "intelligent decisions" when the storms hit. Other plans are similarly being developed in Arizona and Nevada, as well.

"California is at risk for many types of disasters," Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said in a statement. "These joint exercises with our partners allow us to prepare for and respond to emergencies."

Ahead of the storms, cities in California are preparing, too, especially in terms of the homeless. San Jose declared a "shelter crisis" on Tuesday and opened up four warming shelters.

San Francisco is also planning for a significant shelter bed expansion by Dec. 15, which Mayor Ed Lee announced on Wednesday.

Lee said 1,100 additional beds will open in response to El Niño, with ideally a couple hundred more set aside for overflow. These are in seven dedicated areas of the city where there are more homeless – Tenderloin, Civic Center, the Bayview and Golden Gate Park.

Trent Rhorer, executive director for San Francisco's Human Services Agency, said the shelters will operated on a 24/7 basis, but only for the duration of the storm.

The city has already held two "Sandbag Saturdays" for residents to pick up before the flooding begins.

El Niño preparations in San Francisco also include public utilities workers unclogging basins around the city to prevent flooding.

"If we're lucky, we'll be over prepared," Lee said. "When people plan for these disasters, it's less challenging for them."

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