The Woolsey fire, dubbed the “unstoppable monster” was the most destructive fire in Los Angeles and Ventura county history burning 96,949 acres, destroying 1,643 structures, killing three people, and causing the evacuation of more than 295,000. ASCIP member, Las Virgenes USD, was surrounded by flames with every facility in the fire’s destructive path. During the fire, displaced community members were frustrated with the lack of detailed information about their homes and neighborhoods. Local emergency services were deluged with calls and didn’t know how to contact affected individuals. LVUSD, which has emergency contact information for a large part of the community, bridged the communication gap providing a social media knowledge sharing campaign to ease frustrations.
Once the fire was under control and the community could return, LVUSD found that it did not lose a single school! But soot, ash, and hazardous air were everywhere, with devastation all around. LVUSD wanted to have a safe, normal school environment for students to return to as quickly as possible. The fire raged from November 8th until the 21st. The goal: Reopen schools on November 26 following Thanksgiving. Was it possible? LVUSD turned to its ASCIP partner for help.
A clean-up crew was brought in and worked around the clock wiping walls and surfaces, changing filters, removing all items for thorough cleaning. ASCIP hired an environmental specialist to guide the process and answer tough questions. LVUSD continued its online communication with facts – Superintendent, Dr. Dan Stepenosky continuously provided updates to staff and the community including photos of work in progress – images of crews cleaning; soot-covered filters being removed and replaced with new ones; etc. Teachers were encouraged to communicate with students and families using the District “blackboard” system. School resumed on Monday the 26th as planned and attendance was up! Their community had confidence in LVUSD due to the continuous communication and transparency from their Superintendent and District.
Following the devastation, LVUSD discovered that 93 of their families lost homes. Many had insurance that would help with long-term needs, but they lost everything and had basic immediate needs. So once again, LVUSD served as the hub of communication and support. LVUSD partnered with the local YMCA creating the LV Fire Relief Foundation raising over $250,000 to support these families.
According to Dr. Stepenosky, “ASCIP’s response has been terrific. They checked in daily and brought every resource. ASCIP was with us every step of the way.” Karen Kimmel, Assistant Superintendent of Business Services, stated that “ASCIP’s support was always there. They did everything in their power to keep the project moving.” Dr. Stepenosky says “it was a miracle our schools were spared”, but also attributes it to the measures their District had taken the year before. ASCIP had provided LVUSD with a safety and security audit. One of the recommendations was to remove excess brush and trees to thwart an intruder incident, but also for fire safety. Stepenosky stated, “I love trees, but we took the audit and safety of our campuses seriously.”
ASCIP is proud to partner with and support members such as Dr. Dan Stepenosky and the Las Virgenes USD who are heroes in their community.