He believes the phone call will come a second time — and soon, if sizable rain again dumps down in Santa Barbara County.
The first call to the Mutual Aid Bureau of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department came Jan. 15, six days after a devastating mudslide killed more than 20 people and destroyed dozens of homes in Montecito.
That Jan. 9 disaster was caused by torrential rain that pounded into hills stripped bare by last year’s Thomas Fire.
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office was in desperate need of mutual aid from other law enforcement agencies for traffic control, the prevention of looting, escorting victims to their properties to salvage what they could, and other critical duties.
Lt. Christopher Corn runs the Sheriff’s Response Team (SRT), which consists of 125 specially trained OCSD deputies who respond to civil unrest and disasters in which crowd control and other services are needed.
Ninety-nine percent of the calls the SRT receives are for events in Orange County, such as the pro-Trump rally in Huntington Beach in March 2017 and an appearance at Cal State Fullerton by conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos last October.
“This was a very unique deployment in that it was the first time our deputies were sent two counties away,” said Corn, whose SRT is deployed, on average, about 10 times a year.
Between Jan. 20 and Feb. 1, a total of 54 SRT deputies went on three deployments to Santa Barbara County.
The first team of 39 deputies left Jan. 20.
That deployment — 32 deputies, plus three sergeants and Lt. Corn — required some unusual logistical planning.
Typically, SRT members will pack into a van and disperse at the scenes they respond to.
For the Montecito deployment, 20 OCSD vehicles needed to be secured, for teams of two deputies in 16 patrol units and four vehicles to be individually driven by Corn and the three sergeants.
The deputies caravanned to Santa Barbara County to carry out their primary mission of patrolling for looters and assisting the California Highway Patrol with traffic control.
The deputies were shocked at the devastation wrought by the massive mudslide, which stretched more than a mile from the hills above Montecito to the Pacific Ocean.
“The photos we took do no justice to the devastation we saw up there,” said Corn, who spent three days on the first deployment and was on the third, from Jan. 28 through Feb. 1.
About 25 deputies participated in that third deployment. The second deployment consisted of 11 deputies who stayed behind Jan. 22 when the other members of the original team of 39 returned to Orange County.
“We saw homes that were completely gone, with just the swimming pool remaining,” Corn said. “Other homes had mud lines up to their roofs. Cars had been picked up and pushed around like toys. The size of some of the boulders was the biggest surprise. Some were the size of buses.
“At one point, there were 500 dump trucks working 24/7 to clear debris. It was just unbelievable.”
Corn said mudslide victims experienced a range of emotions, from shock and fear to gratitude that the OCSD and other law enforcement agencies throughout the state helped in the early stages of what will be a long recovery effort.
“They were emotionally devastated — life will never be the same for them,” Corn said of those who lost their homes in the mudslide, let alone the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives.
“At the same time,” Corn added, “(the mudslide victims) were overwhelmingly thankful we were there to help out.”
Deputies on the SRT, who worked in 12-hour shifts, at first had to stay in hotels located some 40 miles north of the Incident Command Center. But for the second and third deployments, they stayed in hotels that only were three to four miles away.
For food, they relied on a delivery service.
Some SRT deputies were away from their families for nearly two weeks.
“Being that this was a new type of deployment for us,” Corn said, “it was very satisfying to get the resources up there to help other law enforcement agencies, as well as residents and businesses in the area.”
Corn said only 20 to 25 percent of debris on the barren hillsides above Montecito has come down, stoking fears there will be another mudslide — or multiple ones — should heavy rain return.
Should that happen, Corn and his SRT comrades will be ready for the call.
Here are the names of all the OCSD personnel who deployed to Santa Barbara County to help in Montecito mudslide recovery efforts from Jan. 20-Feb. 1: