In a practice drill, over 200 Mission Canyon residents evacuated their homes on Saturday morning, urged on by public advisory warnings broadcast from police car speakers and Search and Rescue teams traveling door to door.

The evacuation was part of the Santa Barbara County Fire Dept.’s first annual Operation Safe Canyon, a drill designed to prepare residents of Mission Canyon and coordinate emergency response teams in case a fire should occur. SB County Office of Emergency Services planner Joe Guzzardi said the Mission Canyon Homeowner’s Association requested that the Fire Dept. host the drill in the neighborhood, which is highly susceptible to fire due to the high concentration of flammable vegetation and housing in the area.

Police cars and Search and Rescue vehicles patrolled the street during the drill while a helicopter surveyed the scene from the air. Evacuated residents were taken to the Earl Warren Showgrounds, where the Fire Dept. asked for input regarding any problems people experienced while leaving the area.

At 9 a.m., emergency services issued a warning message over the reverse 9-1-1 system, which contacts residents in a given area by phone and delivers a recorded warning message, followed by an evacuation announcement at 9:30. Over the next half hour, fire engines and Sheriff’s Dept. patrol cars passed through each neighborhood while Search and Rescue workers spread word of the evacuation door to door, and residents eventually returned to their homes by 11:30 a.m.

Guzzardi said the Fire Dept. experienced minor communication problems with the reverse 9-1-1 system, as well as with noise from the helicopters drowning out the sound of the squad car-mounted PA systems. Residents also complained that they were unsure of what to do with their pets. Guzzardi said the Fire Dept. is also currently working to create a more efficient escape plan for elderly and disabled residents.

The Fire Dept. will report the outcome of the evacuation at a future meeting of the SB County Board of Supervisors.