Skip to main content

Listen

Read

Watch

Schedules

Programs

Events

Give

Account

Donation Heart Ribbon

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Living With Wildfires: San Diego Firestorm 10 Years Later

Who’s Responsible For Alerting The Public During An Emergency In San Diego?

One of the largest wildfires in San Diego this year sent plumes of black smoke over East County. Eight people were evacuated from a mountaintop cabin and two hikers were air lifted from the flames. It briefly threatened a few structures and received a lot of attention from the public. It had some people asking who's responsible for alerting and informing the public during an emergency.

Audio

One of the largest wildfires in San Diego this year sent plumes of black smoke over East County. It briefly threatened a few structures and received a lot of attention from the public. It had some people asking who's responsible for alerting and informing the public during an emergency.

Special Feature Family Disaster Plan

San Diego County Office of Emergency Services Family Disaster Plan and Personal Survival Guide

DWANE BROWN (Morning Edition host): The fire near Lakeside was on County property. So does the County play a role in notifying neighbors during situations like this?

SUSAN MURPHY (KPBS reporter): The County Office of Emergency Services, OES, coordinates the overall response to major disasters. OES is responsible for alerting and notifying appropriate agencies when disasters strike. They also have a website where people can go for emergency information and tips on how to prepare for fires, earthquakes and other disasters.

BROWN: So why didn't OES notify the public immediately during last weekend's fire?

MURPHY: When the fire broke out, OES says they evaluated it, they received updates from Cal Fire that the fire was not threatening any structures. So they didn't post an immediate alert to the OES website because they say there was no action that the public needed to take. They say they focus on sending precautionary information rather than acting as a source for news.

BROWN - But they did end up sending a message three-and-a-half hours later. Why post anything at all?

MURPHY: I spoke to Tammy Glenn with OES, she told me the plume of smoke was getting a lot of public and media attention so they posted some information about the fire. I asked her, "why not just post something to the web site immediately?" Here's what she had to say:

"There wasn't anything we needed to tell the public. During this fire there certainly was a lot of smoke to see, but it wasn't a county emergency, there was not life or structures threatened. There was no precautionary action that people needed to take," said Glenn.

BROWN: So when does OES step in to provide information to the public?

MURPHY: The emergency situation has to rise to a certain level when local jurisdictions can no longer handle the situation. Here's what Glenn says about the guidelines:

"It's always a case by case basis, that's the thing, said Glenn. "What stands true for a particular fire may not be true for the next fire. It's always a judgment call. We're working with the experts, we're working with whoever has the jurisdiction on the fire."

DWANE BROWN - So where should we turn for information during an emergency?

SUSAN MURPHY: I think it's important to note that the County steps up when local agencies are overwhelmed during a disaster. A lot of local agencies have adopted social media sites to get the word out, including some of the County's partners, like ReadySanDiego.org. Cal Fire also provided twitter updates during last weekends wildfires.

SUSAN MURPHY: As we remember from the 2007 wildfires, the County told each of us to prepare to survive on our own for at least 72 hours after a major disaster strikes whether its a fire, earthquake or some other major disaster.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or subscribe to our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.