While California’s wildfires may be unpredictable, emergency notifications going out to people in imminent danger shouldn't be.
For the first time, California leaders have released a set of guidelines to get all local agencies on the same page when it comes to emergency alerts, including those in San Diego County.
Since the devastating 2003 Cedar Fire, San Diego County’s emergency notification system has seen significant improvements. In the event of a large-scale emergency, first responders in the field radio back to dispatchers.
“The dispatchers then go into Alert San Diego, which is the region’s mass notification system software, and draw a polygon around the area that first responder is communicating from in the field,” explained Holly Porter, the director of the San Diego County Office of Emergency Services. “They would then send out that message that tells those residents to evacuate.”
Landlines get the notification. Cellphones do too, but only if you've registered your number online at ReadySanDiego.org. To date, more than a half-million mobile numbers have been added to that database.
But other jurisdictions across the state haven't been as forward-thinking as San Diego County, prompting California's Office of Emergency Services to release its first-ever set of guidelines for alerts, which includes a three-page checklist.
For her part, Porter puts a check on every single box.
Locals like Tierrasanta homeowner Ardy Lo appreciate the due diligence. She all-too-clearly remembers the Cedar Fire burning up through Mission Trails 16 years ago, the flames reaching the back fence of her home.
“We’ve seen our fair share of fires out here,” she told NBC 7. “I don’t worry too much, because it seems like San Diego is really on top of things (when it comes to emergency alerts).”
Porter also wants people to realize that new technology is just part of San Diego's approach. Traditional methods of alerting residents in danger are still in use, and just as important.
“If you get a knock on the door, it's not a failure of the alert and warning system; we use multiple means to alert people,” she explained. “The old-school deputy on the street knocking on doors still works, and works really well.”
Some of California's smaller counties could have a tough time complying with all of the state recommendations. While there's nothing requiring compliance, agencies failing to update procedures could receive less state grant money.