Exactly 10 years ago, San Diego’s devastating Cedar Fire shook the county to its core. But the blaze also inspired important advancements in technology and emergency alert systems that could save lives should Southern California ever face a similar disaster.
While firefighting techniques haven't changed so much over the past decade, San Diego County residents do have an all new, quicker way of getting to safety.
In late October 2003, a wall of fire came over the mesa in eastern Ramona.
Residents Tom and Alison Jones watched from their home, built just three weeks before the fire struck.
“The entire hill was just all red and heading right toward us,” Alison recalled.
The couple had no warning, and were not prepared to evacuate. Somehow, they managed to get their family and livestock to safety in the nick of time.
“It was just like you were abandoned,” said Alison. “You’re alone and you just do what you have to do.”
“It was very eerie. All the brush that was here gone and houses burned,” recalled Tom.
The San Diego County Office of Emergency Services (OES) says the Cedar Fire was a serious wake-up call. Emergency alerts back then seem like the dark ages now.
These days, there is a wireless emergency alert for your mobile device, a smartphone app for constant updates and ReadySanDiego’s “Alert San Diego” system, which automatically calls residents in danger.
Sheriff’s Office Communications Coordinator Jeff Hebert says the alerts are designed to give residents up-to-the-minute information on everything they need to know in emergency situations such as a fire.
“They will be providing the information about the nature of the situation and what action [residents] are expect to take,” explained Hebert.
That call is followed with a video alert for disabled residents using American Sign Language.
More recently, the OES has taken to social media to supplement their emergency alert systems in this age of 24/7 digital and social media.
The OES has established its own Facebook page, YouTube channel and Twitter handle.
“Social media opens up so many doors. Not only in our ability to reach the public during a disaster but to hear back from people,” said OES Director Holly Crawford.
It’s not if, but when the next wildfire strikes in Southern California – that hasn’t changed. However, the opportunity for San Diegans to be better prepared has changed.
Again, some of the emergency alert services are received automatically through a home telephone line or a cell phone, while others require users to manually register their contact number.