Climate Disasters: Thomas Fire & Debris Flow

Santa Barbara County

The Issue

The County of Santa Barbara experienced an unprecedented amount of rainfall in 2018, which led to the county’s most deadly natural climate disaster in decades. The crisis resulted in 21 fatalities, two missing and presumed deceased, as well as hundreds of homes and businesses destroyed. The Thomas Fire charred hillsides which allowed the extreme rainfall to cause a deadly debris flow. Stacy Miller Public Affairs was brought in two days after the climate event to assist with external communications.




Connecting and Consulting


Researching, Strategic Planning, Visual Storytelling and Promoting


Analyzing, Creating and Communicating


Assessing, Visualizing, Designing, Marketing and Distributing


Assessing, Messaging, Informing and Disseminating


Assessing, Designing, Developing, Testing, Training and Delivering

The Solution

The Stacy Miller Public Affairs team, county staff and mutual aid representatives worked together to create a comprehensive, strategic communication plan in response to the climate event. At the forefront of this plan was a new website––for the purpose of providing the community with up-to-date recovery efforts and evacuation orders.

Also in the plan was a 10-page booklet for storm readiness and vital evacuation information for Montecito distribution, a “Take 5 Stay Alive” information campaign with a two-sided postcard and graphic, as well as an “emergency kit” infographic for web, press and social media.

Stacy Miller Public Affairs assisted with renaming the event from “mudslides” to “The 1/9 Debris Flow” to ensure that the community avoided negative branding that may prevent future redevelopment and investment in the region.

A “Ready, Set, Go” messaging tool kit was created in collaboration with Stacy Miller Public Affairs, the county, municipal leadership, in addition to the fire and sheriff departments. This life-saving messaging was utilized by those speaking on behalf of the County of Santa Barbara regarding emergency response processes and procedures, as well as used for future preparedness and evacuation needs.