Fallbrook Family Says Reverse 911 Alert Delayed for Rock Fire

Since the Rock Fire burned through her neighborhood at the end of last month, Beryl Dusenberry comes outside every half hour to scan the horizon for smoke.

While her family’s home was spared, the fire came right up to their property line. She was in LA shopping with her daughters the day the fire started. Her husband called her from their home in Fallbrook.

“He said ‘there’s a fire,’” she told NBC 7. “’I didn't get anything. There was no time.’ At which point I fell to my knees in the middle of the store and I started praying.”

More than two hours after her husband called her about the fire, Dusenberry said they each received a Reverse 911 (also known as AlertSanDiego) alert on their cell phones. Reverse 911 is San Diego’s emergency notification system.

“We got the Reverse 911 at 5:26 p.m. and all our cell phones went off at the same time, and I said ‘well, that's a little late,” she said. “I’m very curious on who gets to pus that little button to send out the alert and when they send out the alert.”

The Office of Emergency Services (OES) explained the process: First, the incident command sets up at an emergency, using maps and air support to figure out which homes are in danger. Next, they call it in.

In the case of the Rock Fire, OES said that call went to the Sheriff’s Department, who draws digital lines and use those to link with the phone bank of people who are registered.

OES issued a statement on Reverse 911 calls:

"Registering your phones with the region's mass notification system is an important disaster preparedness action. However, AlertSanDiego is not the only tool used by law enforcement agencies during evacuations. First responder agencies also encourage neighbors to check on each other, to remain alert, and to self-evacuate (not wait for an official evacuation order) if you feel unsafe."

OES has not explained the delay on the day the Rock Fire started. They also said they do door knocks and use bullhorns to alert residents of an emergency.

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