Santa Barbara- S County

Direct Relief CEO says lessons to be learned from Montecito flooding

Disaster expert talks about flood

MONTECITO, Calif. - It couldn't have been prevented, but there are lessons to be learned from the deadly floods in Montecito. 

That's the message from Direct Relief CEO Thomas Tighe who is a globally known disaster response expert. Direct Relief is a humanitarian aid organization based in Santa Barbara which provides medial relief with the mission to improve health and provide aid to people impacted by poverty and emergencies. 

Tighe and his family were trapped in his Montecito home as flood waters and boulders rushed down his street. 

Tighe, who is accustomed to responding to disasters around the world, was now watching one unfold in his neighborhood early Tuesday morning. A body washed up near his home and his neighbor's family scrambled to their roof for safety. 

He said reports that people refused to leave his neighborhood, which was under a voluntary evacuation, are not true. 

"The suggestion that people did not adhere to an evacuation order is flat out wrong," he said. 

A mandatory evacuation order means there is imminent, life threatening danger. People are told to leave, but cannot be forced out. A voluntary evacuation warning means to be ready to go at a moment's notice. 

Tighe is concerned about how the delineation was made to evacuate everyone above the 192, but not below. 

"In retrospect, stuff flows downhill so the notion that those were only at risk in higher elevations turned out to be inaccurate," he said. "To me it's pretty simple, there is an evacuation order or there is not."

Tighe and his family sustained damage to their home, and their cars washed away in the floodwaters, but they were able to get out safely. 

Tighe also worries about the text alert system and whether its effective enough to alert residents.

"How it's done, what the content is, whether its received and read, and whether the signal is going to be available when it's sent," he said.

Having experienced the disaster firsthand, Tighe felt compelled to speak out and wonders if more could have been done.  

"You can't say everything that could have been done was done if this is the result. If that's true you have to look at what the assumptions were clearly."

Tighe heaped praise upon firefighters and first responders dealing with the difficult task of rescuing people and recovering bodies. 

He said the imminent priority is recovery and honoring the dead. 

"My heart goes out to those who lost people they love and I know a few of them," he said. But, later he hopes for an 'unbiased' review of the early warning system and evacuation orders. 

Tighe said he is also focused on the recovery efforts and is committed to providing supplies to first responders. 

Direct Relief purchased an ATV for the Montecito Fire Department which was put to use immediately for search and rescue. 

Two more ATV's will be delivered to the Santa Barbara City fire department and the Santa Barbara County's Search and Rescue team. 



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