Santa Monica’s Emergency Operations Center Series – Jay Aguilar
April 7, 2021 10:44 AM
by Jose "Jay" Aguilar
The COVID-19 Public Health Emergency was declared on March 13, 2020 – just about one year ago. Once a public health emergency is declared, cities activate an Emergency Operations Center to quickly mobilize staff and resources to best meet the immediate and then ongoing needs of the community throughout the emergency. For the COVID-19 emergency, staff have been reassigned from their day-to-day duties to critical roles to ensure the City prioritizes the community’s public health and minimizes the risks of COVID-19 exposures at every step. The team reviews the state, regional, and local situation status daily and pivots their focus regularly based on the highest community needs or new information received from LA County Department of Public Health or the State of California.
EOC efforts include proactive and reactive measures to ensure our community prevents as many COVID-19 infections as possible and reopens programs in a safe way. Examples of EOC outreach include:
- Outreach to residents and businesses to ensure the health order is implemented correctly
- Implementation of a COVID-19 Hotline throughout the pandemic to answer public questions
- Coordination with LA County on food distribution sites
- Creation of a health ambassador program to distribute face coverings and in-person health information, and
- Ongoing collaboration with non-profit and community partners to ensure they have the latest information.
The work is challenging but meaningful, and while we remain in the midst of hard times, we are now looking toward reopening including vaccination efforts and long-term economic recovery. For a look behind the scenes of the City of Santa Monica Emergency Operations Center and to meet some of our staff who have been supporting the entire community throughout this public health emergency, stay tuned to the City’s Blog all this week as we feature many of our staff who have played an important role throughout the public health emergency.
Jose “Jay” Aguilar, Logistics Section Chief/Custodial Services Administrator
What is your role in the City of Santa Monica Emergency Operations Center?
I’m the Logistics Chief for the Emergency Operations Center. Logistics ensures all supply needs are met from face coverings to health signage across the city. Through the support of 20 colleagues from various departments, the Logistics Section has facilitated thousands of PPE and other COVID-19 safety requests from traffic control equipment and fencing to signage and assisting unsheltered individuals find shelter indoors. With all these supplies, the Logistics section has been able to keep a vast majority of our staff and public safe. Without these individuals supporting the Logistics team none of this would be possible. My gratitude to Araceli Esparza, Michelle Richards, Mike Fitzgerald, Terese Toomey, Jason Baer, Ryan Kramer, Sylvester Mabry, Jennifer Yazzie, Shidan Alparvar, Jim Rivera, Matthew Wells, Rebecca Ortiz, Liseth Guizar, Adam Orland, Ericka Reinke, Sylvia Moreno, Neela Patel, Ralph Valencia, Jason Puklus, and Heidi Duran.
What is your background, and how have you prepared to take on this role?
I have been working for Public Works for the City of Santa Monica for 27 years in various Public Works Divisions. This includes Beach Maintenance, Resource, Recovery, and Recycling where I was a bin man, a side man and later was a able to operate the garbage trucks and run my own routes. I was also with Promenade Maintenance where I initially started as a line staff but was promoted and supervised all aspects of the City maintenance operations for the entire downtown district. I was a Groundskeeper and and Equipment Operator in our Parks Division where i cared for every park in the city. I am currently the Custodial Administrator for all custodial services as well as downtown maintenance operations. There's no real way to prepare for this type of worldwide emergency. I believe that my level headedness, tenacity, and drive help me give my best service to both our fellow City staff as well as our residents. These traits and my knowledge of City operations have assisted me as the Logistics Chief through this difficult yearlong battle.
What is a typical week for you in the Emergency Operations Center?
A typical week consist of trying to handle thousands of supply requests while trying to deliver the supplies to the various Divisions all over the city; from Public safety staff to non-sworn public safety staff, as well as thousands of unsheltered community members. We also replenish supplies throughout the week and keep a 2-month cache supply in stock.
What’s it like to play this critical role for over a year?
To put it lightly it has been the most stressful year that I have ever experienced. Not only did we we all have to deal with our family stress due to this pandemic, but we all also had to stay on top of our regular duties all while making sure that the Logistics Section was running efficiently.
Why do you do this work?
I’ve been doing this assignment because it's the noble and right thing to do. I could have honestly asked to be pulled out a while ago, but I think of my family and how I would want someone to take care of them if I wasn’t here any longer. This is what drives me to succeed knowing that me and the team are making a difference for all City staff and our residents.
What has been the most surprising?
To be quite honest the most surprising thing to me was the misconception of what an EOC does as a function of the Office of Emergency Management. Prior to my activation, I thought 'do we really need this section in the city?' I was SO WRONG. I humbly apologize to all who have ever worked in an EOC setting and for ever thinking that. Now I truly sympathize with all emergency operations centers throughout the world given the intensity and stress involved in this type of work. EOC's have everyone’s lives literally in their hands. This is a stress that is too difficult to explain. I take my hat off to anyone who has ever worked in an EOC during an emergency.
What has been the most challenging?
Initially the most challenging thing with this operation was trying to facilitate the tens of thousands of personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies that were needed ASAP. All while vetting out scrupulous individuals/companies trying to sell low-quality items. I'm proud to say that the City of Santa Monica did not fall victim to companies trying to take advantage of the itntense need for PPE and other materials due to this great team of individuals!
What has been the most heart warming?
What's been the most heartwarming for me was when my brother-in-law passed away in late January of this year and then a week later my sister passed away. The whole team reached out to me and expressed their heartfelt sorrow for me and my family and expressed that I should take time off. I can never thank the whole team enough for all the kind gestures that they extended. This team is not just a team, but a family as I believe that all of our City staff should feel that way about one another. We all need to remember that we are only granted a short time on this earth and we need to make the best of it and have a positive impact on people.
Are there any fun facts about Santa Monica’s Emergency Operations Center?
An interesting fact about the EOC is that since March 12, 2020, the Logistics team has been able to facilitate nearly 1,000,000 items of different types of PPE, hand sanitizer, wipes, marking paint, and a lot more. If broken down, this is approximately 3,708 items per day and 16,688 items per week. These resources have been deployed to City staff, residents, and unsheltered individuals.
What do you want the public to know right now?
I like for the public to know that although this beautiful city has seen some financially turbulent times recently, we are 110% here supporting all operations and ensuring that we can provide the best possible service to all in Santa Monica.
How do you stay rested and engaged during such a long and dynamic public health emergency?
The way I stay rested is to pull away completely for all communication for an hour or two. The EOC is not a Monday through Friday, 9 to 5 operation. It is realistically a 24/7 operation. At a moment’s notice, we can receive a call for support, including each time a new Health Officer Order is released by the County.
Is there anything else you want the public to know about the role you play, the work you do, or Santa Monica’s Emergency Operations Center?
I'd like the public to realize that we are individuals with families and challenges over the last year. Through it all, we are here providing the services that we were hired to do and that we are proud to do. To be quite blunt, I wouldn't wish this duty on anyone; it has been the most stressful year of my life and I speak for myself on this, but through it all, and as an optimist, I see the light at the end of the tunnel. I believe that Santa Monica will come back better than before the pandemic.