Your Neighborhood Eyes and Ears When Disaster Strikes

By Giving List Staff   |   November 17, 2023
Most of the present Board of M.E.R.R.A.G. gathered on San Ysidro Road for this last 4th of July Parade.

When a calamity befalls us, we are reassured that our First Responder protectors are on the job and doing their highly-trained best on the community’s behalf. Often those entities are attacking the unfolding emergency on a vaguely understood battlefront somewhere. Our faith in these heroes is never misplaced. But in those chaotic first hours of an unfolding emergency, a major threat to everyone’s safety is confusion in the immediate neighborhood.

Since 1987, the Montecito Emergency Readiness & Radio Action Group (M.E.R.R.A.G.) has been the Montecito Fire Protection District’s neighborhood eyes and ears, a cohort of trained, embedded local volunteers serving to augment our responders’ efforts. “At the time of a disaster,” says M.E.R.R.A.G. (pronounced “Mirage”) Treasurer Bill Vollero, “when we’re activated, our role is not to assist with rescues, but rather to use our network of neighborhood radios to communicate status reports to M.E.R.R.A.G. Command. Ideally, and through ongoing preparation, we in our respective neighborhoods have a network of people who know which of us is the radio carrier, and can provide a neighborhood-level view for transmission to the responders.” 

In salute of M.E.R.R.A.G. service to Montecito since 1987, an olive tree was planted in the courtyard of Fire Station I on 9/28/23. Present were these current and recent members of the Board.

M.E.R.R.A.G. is a not-for-profit organization operating with ongoing guidance from the MFPD, Water, and Sanitary districts. Trish Davis is its current president. “When Montecito Fire activates us, then we’re officially representing on their behalf. If it’s to set up a clearly marked Information Kiosk near the intersection of San Ysidro and East Valley roads in Montecito, M.E.R.R.A.G. members there will disseminate real-time information, following a direct briefing by the Fire Department. They will provide us maps so people in the community can have a clear, real-time sense of where the disaster is at any given moment. Montecito Fire may send its Public Information Officer, Christina Atchison, to explain what’s happening. In that way we provide a focal point of official information in the community. We are a very visible presence when activated,” Davis says. Also, the M.E.R.R.A.G. Board meets at MFPD Station #1 monthly to stay abreast of fire department protocol and operations, and to constantly re-evaluate and review its own tasks.

The critical role M.E.R.R.A.G. members perform in an emergency setting means they are a community resource. But these emergency responsibilities only follow Community Emergency Response Team training, which all M.E.R.R.A.G. members are required to complete. “CERT is a training program sponsored by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency),” Vollero says. “There’s a CERT network associated with FEMA, and M.E.R.R.A.G. is the representative for Montecito. At intervals, we provide CERT training, with certified instructors, to community members. We hope this in turn instills confidence in those folks to pursue further preparation that helps their families and neighbors.” 

When disaster strikes a community, neighbor supports neighbor and preparedness is everything. And M.E.R.R.A.G. remains the tip of the preparedness spear.



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Treasurer and Board Member: Bill Vollero


MERRAG (pronounced “mirage”) follows, but expands upon, the curriculum used by CERT (FEMA’s Community Emergency Response Training) to create a cadre of ready volunteers. These volunteers generally work and live in the Montecito area and are prepared to respond to a community disaster during the critical first 72 hours following an event. Since 1987, the mutual “self-help” organization has been serving Montecito’s 9,000 residents with the guidance and support of the Montecito Fire, Water and Sanitary Districts.

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“One of the best benefits of CERT training from M.E.R.R.A.G. is learning how to be proactive in protecting your family in an emergency: First aid, dangers of electrocution, how and when to use a fire extinguisher, preparing for evacuations, etc. During emergencies we may need to rely on our neighbors. M.E.R.R.A.G. is linked across Montecito by a radio communication system, so that neighbors can relay their needs to work toward helping each other solve pressing issues until professionals can arrive. When our neighborhood was under an evacuation order, I raced home to discover my teenage boys had packed up almost everything before I arrived, based on a list I had posted in the front hall closet! Take M.E.R.R.A.G.’s free CERT training and protect your family!
Vicky Harbison, Former long-time Montecito Union teacher, M.E.R.R.A.G. Board President and daughter of a Board member

Help Your Community Stay Connected & Informed During an Emergency

President Davis: “We’ve had our van for a very, very long time and it’s a great addition to our mission. Our van has a generator, and in an emergency we’ll bring the van to a central location: In a power outage people may need to charge their phones to stay in touch with loved ones – or have a hot cup of coffee. But there are streets in this area our old van can’t even negotiate anymore because it’s so big.

Our  ask:

is for $60,000 to purchase a smaller, more nimble M.E.R.R.A.G. van that is suitably equipped, so we are better able to go wherever the community needs us when an emergency threatens.”

Key Supporters

”Friends of M.E.R.R.A.G.”:
Brenda Blalock
Susan & Jeff Bridges
Catie Ditmore
Mike Ditmore
Steven Gilbar
Teri & John Keating
C. Robert & Mary Kidder
Charlene Nagel
Dick Nordlund
Jean VonWittenberg
Crystal & Cliff Wyatt
Trish Davis
Dave Boyd
Yolanda Clements
Maude Feil
Sue & John Ziliotto
Troy Harris