Skip to main content









Donation Heart Ribbon
Visit the Midday Edition homepage

How To Prepare San Diego For Disaster

September 4, 2013 1:41 p.m.


Tony Young, CEO American Red Cross of San Diego/Imperial County

Dave Roberts, San Diego County Supervisor, District 3

Related Story: How To Prepare San Diego For Disaster


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It's Wednesday, September fourth.

Our top story on Midday Edition is all about preparedness. Living with the threat of wildfires and earthquakes, San Diegans have been told repeatedly to be prepared to keep an emergency kit ready and have a family escape plan prepared. But officials say only a small percentage of us actually do any of that. Now a new initiative sponsored by the American Red Cross hopes to spur some action. It's called Prepare: San Diego. My guests, Tony Young is CEO of the American Red Cross San Diego Imperial County Chapter.

YOUNG: Thank you, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: And also with me, San Diego County supervisor, Dave Roberts.

ROBERTS: Glad to be back.

CAVANAUGH: We've been told over and over to get prepared for emergencies. What makes this initiative different?

YOUNG: Well, I think one of the most important things is that we have a coalition of individuals who are pushing this issue. It's not just the Red Cross initiative. This is an initiative that all organizations that you can imagine of are a part of. The supervisor, the City Council, but also local businesses and industries that are interested in supporting this concept because it is important to each and every one of them.

CAVANAUGH: Even though that we know, everyone here knows that we're potentially threatened by wildfires, earthquake, flash flooding on occasion. But only about 7% of us have any kind of preparation for emergencies. What do you think the reasons are?

YOUNG: I really don't know. I think part of it has to be a sustained effort from the leaders of this community to continue to engage the population about this issue. And the Red Cross and supervisor Roberts are -- we're really dedicated to making sure that for the next four years, we're going to get a million people to take a million actions to be more prepared.

CAVANAUGH: Tell us about some of the things Prepare: San Diego will actually do to get people inspired to get prepared for emergencies.

YOUNG: First, make a plan, get a kit, or get trained. Those are three things. But there are also regional efforts. How many folks are we going to be able to feed in a major disaster? Do we have enough people who are trained? How many people should we be able to house? There should be regional outcomes and also some individual outcomes. And that's why so many folks need to be involved here, including the Board of Supervisors.

CAVANAUGH: Supervisor Dave Roberts, one of the biggest reasons San Diegans need to get prepared is the threat wildfires. You were recently at the scene of the Rim Fire in Yosemite. Tell us why you were there.

ROBERTS: Well, my district was greatly impacted by the 2003 and 2007 fire. And what happens in the inuncorporated part of our county where fires predominantly start, come over into the unincorporated areas, and I volunteered to go up and help and feed the firefighters and volunteers. They were looking for volunteers to relieve the volunteers. So we spent two very long days up there to really listen, learn, and help out. And I was truly impressed with the level of collaboration that was going on amongst all the areas. The fire up there, this is now the 4th largest fire in state history started in national forest land, spread to state responsibility area, and kept spreading and was actually threatening cities. And fortunately so far there's only been five injuries. And currently the fire is 85% contained.

CAVANAUGH: Now, tell me about what you actually saw while you were up there.

ROBERTS: One thing, I was a volunteer Evaccuee in the 2007 fire here. I did not see it like my colleagues had seen it back then. So I really wanted to see it from the inside. I wanted to see what it was like to be in the evacuation center. We actually slept on those awful cots they provide. But I wanted to see what goes on, I wanted to see the technology, see what has happened since 2007 that we want to think about could be done here in San Diego. For example, be they used aerial vehicles to track the fire. And the technology that we are using here and throughout the state, you can track blowing embers to see what may start other fires. It grew to 240 thousand acres, the equivalent of almost 4 hundred square miles. So I wanted to see that stuff, and the collaboration. We had firefighters up there, and my goal was really to listen, learn, and serve. And to see what lessons I could bring back to San Diego County and implement here .

CAVANAUGH: San Diego provided some technology to the people fighting that rim fire, didn't they?

ROBERTS: Yeah, it's a real good example of how we address these types of issues from say ten years ago in the 2003 fires. What we use is our technology, Google Mapping technology, which puts layers of information relating to the fires and in this case, we supported the efforts there. So we had constant calls online with these individuals in Yosemite, and we provided them a situational awareness using technology about where the fire is, where the shelter should be, all the different things that allow individuals to make a better decision on how to address fires.

ROBERTS: And that technology was a result of the fires here.

YOUNG: That's right. Of

ROBERTS: It's called Next Generation Incident Command System, and it's phenomenal, but the funding will be running out shortly for the system. And to run it nationwide is about 8 million dollars. What we need to do right now and appreciate the leadership of the Red Cross and Tony Young, we need to figure out we need this technology. When I could see specifically how they could track this fire and how it could grow, we've got to use these tools to fight fires here in San Diego.

YOUNG: And really that is the point. We have to work together, use our technology, use our band width to get information out to be more prepared. That's why we call it Prepare: San Diego. And it's a broad initiative that has a lot of moving parts to it.

CAVANAUGH: We at KPBS found out how important that Google map is. We created one for the 2007 fire, and it was tremendously important for people to be able to see where the fire was in realtime.

ROBERTS: And it's not only fire, it's the smoke, and the damage it causes to people with bad air up there. And they could actually track the level of smoke, the way the wind was going. Unfortunately the Santa Anas were involved in our fire in 2007. Up there, the wind wasn't as strong. But the Board of Supervisors, Ron Roberts has been a leader to push this technology out there. It's not only fighting the fire, it's the health ramifications from the fire.

CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you both. Where do we need to improve? What kind of collaboration, what level is our collaboration between agencies now in response to a wildfire or other disaster?

YOUNG: First thing, our first responders are top-notch here in San Diego. I'm not even going to try to tell them how to do their business because they do a great job. But there are so many other things here. For example, we need to all look at this as an issue. The restaurant association, an organization that you wouldn't think would be a part of this, could be very important because they can help us meet our goal to be able to serve 200 thousand meals in case of a disaster. Every entity that you can think of in this community needs to take responsibility here.

CAVANAUGH: And where do you see areas that we can improve?

ROBERTS: Tony is right. When I saw literally a tractor trailer full of meat come from Harris Ranch that was donated, when I saw the evacuees who don't know if they've lost their home, all the things that you go through and all the services, bringing in the cots, pillows, blankets, all the volunteers, they really stepped up and have been staffing this. But all this has to come together. And one of the things is that sometimes people like to forget. And the 2007 fire is becoming a distant memory. But you got to keep prepared. Everybody needs to be prepared. And that's why I'm so passionate, and my colleagues have been so passionate about this initiative. If we can't be prepared together, we were missing the job, the leadership that we need to provide here in San Diego County.

YOUNG: I will tell you, the worst time to respond to a disaster in regards to issues that the supervisors brought up is during a disaster. We have to do it right now. And I believe that we can do it. We can do it better than any other entity or city that I've seen. And I just really feel very strongly about the fact that we have good leadership here.

CAVANAUGH: Let me put this to you, Dave Roberts. If recent years, San Diego County has made a lot of efforts to be more prepared and direct more resources toward wildfire preparedness. But it is still criticized that the only county in California without a county fire department, and given the magnitude of our wildfire threat that we actually spend proportionately less than many other counties on fire preparedness.

ROBERTS: I would disagree with you a little. We have a county fire authority. We have designated CAL FIRE as the leader. We just reapproved our next 5-year plan that everybody praised as a step in the right direction. We're putting more money into fire protection. But you have to remember that for the responsibility for fire, the state is responsible for wildfire. The county is only responsible in the unincorporated areas for houses. My contention, even though we don't have the technical responsibility, we have the leadership authority to pull these things together. One of the things I would like to see, there's two great examples of how we can combine -- we have over 50 fire authorities here in the county. Solana beach, Encinitas, Del Mar, they've combined theirs. You don't need all these HR directors, all these other things. You can cut out the inefficiency and pull it together. Orange County did this, and I think we need to look at how to cut out the inefficiencies and bring the resources we have together.

CAVANAUGH: How about money for more super tankers?

ROBERTS: Again, money is something we need to look at. And particularing out who can -- the federal government provides money for OES equipment. I saw a lot of that equipment when I was up at the Yosemite Rim Fire. But the other thing you have to remember is once the fire is over, Yosemite Rim is going to cause statewide concerns because the trees have burned off, there's going to be ash in soil going into the watershed. That's the San Francisco and L.A. water supply. They have don't use filtration. I know the Board of Supervisors called an emergency board meeting to get an update to talk about what are they going to do when they have all this erosion. And this is why the American Red Cross to, get us all coming together, they're starting it, but all of us have to work collaboratively.

CAVANAUGH: Tony, how are you going to gauge Prepare: San Diego as a success? Do you have markers that you want to hit along the way?

YOUNG: As we move forward, we all identify certain goals for ourselves. I talked to the supervisor earlier today, one of the indicators could be how many individuals downloaded the county app that they could use to help prepare. How many businesses have created business plans for their own business? And you can quantify that. So as we move forward, and as we work with our partner, we will be able to quantify many of these goals. Another goal is we believe in case of a major disaster, we should be able to shelter 50 thousand people. So we're going to have a discussion at the Board of Supervisors next week. We'll say this is where we are, this is our capability at this point in time, is this how far we need to go. And by the end of our 4-year process, we're want to be able to reach that 50 thousand level goal.

CAVANAUGH: I'm going to change gears for just a moment. I just want to ask you, Tony Young, as a former San Diego City Councilman, I'd like to hear your thoughts on the recent developments at City Hall. And the resignation of Mayor Filner.

YOUNG: I would say we just need leadership that really cares about the community and really is going to focus with determination to keep our community moving forward. I'm sitting next to somebody right now who really cares about this region and the community moving forward. I think there are many elected officials out there, and people who aren't elected officials out there at this point in time that feel that way. And I encourage every one of them to consider their part in making the city a better place.

CAVANAUGH: Dave Robert, you're not going to run for mayor are you?

ROBERTS: I've already been mayor of Solana beach, I don't live in the City of San Diego.


ROBERTS: Whoever should win the mayoral race, the county is looking forward to working with that leader.

CAVANAUGH: Let me ask about Prepare: San Diego, will we be seeing TV commercials or billboards?

YOUNG: We're going to do it in all types of ways. We already cut a radio spot for that. As we move forward, and also some of this is going to require some funding, so we have partners, including SDG&E who are supporting some of our efforts. But you'll see radio spots, television spot, and social media being very much engaged in this.