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California to Remove 'Voluntary' From Evacuation Orders

FILE - A firefighter stands on the roof of a house submerged in mud and rocks in Montecito, California, Jan. 10, 2018.

Southern California emergency officials are removing the word "voluntary" from evacuation orders issued during disasters.

Santa Barbara County officials said Thursday the alerts will now be issued in stages well before a major storm. The new terminology will be "pre-evacuation advisory'' issued 72 hours ahead of the event, "recommended evacuation warning'' issued 48 hours ahead, and "mandatory evacuation order" issued 24 hours ahead.

The changes come in the wake of devastating mudslides that struck last month.

"We found after the January 9th event that for some the focus was on the word 'voluntary' rather than on the word 'evacuation,''' Sheriff Bill Brown said at a press conference. "And the reality is that some people misinterpreted that and believed that there was a measure of safety there that there really wasn't.''

Heavy rains unleashed a huge mudslide in Montecito that swept away homes and people. Twenty-one people were confirmed killed and two others remain missing, while more than 100 homes were destroyed and many others were damaged.

The county also released an interactive map that outlines areas with extreme risk or with high risk of debris flows after heavy rains.

The county also intends to use the new evacuation terminology for wildfires.