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Supervisors adopt operational area evacuation, recovery plans


Last updated 6/6/2007 at Noon

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors adopted an Operational Area Evacuation Plan and an Operational Area Recovery Plan on a 5-0 vote during the supervisors’ May 22 meeting.

The Operational Area Evacuation Plan will be used to plan for evacuations in the event of a disaster and to execute those plans if needed. The Operational Area Recovery Plan describes in detail the process of community recovery following a disaster. The two plans provide decision-makers with information and procedures to assist them during and after a disaster.

“Hopefully we’ll never have to use them, but it’s like having a great insurance policy in place,” said Supervisor Ron Roberts.

“You just cannot be prepared enough,” said Supervisor Bill Horn. “I think being prepared is the most important thing we can do.”

The county’s previous disasters have included several wildfires, including the 2002 Gavilan fire which destroyed more than 40 homes in Fallbrook and the October 2003 fires which destroyed more than 2,000 homes. San Diego County has seen three school shootings (not including the incident in which a San Miguel High School teacher and track coach responded to unruly students by removing the starter’s gun from his desk and firing blanks throughout the classroom) and several closures of freeways due to spills of hazardous materials. San Diego County is considered a potential terrorism target due to its borders and ports, military presence, and significant tourist activity, and the region is also considered vulnerable to tidal waves and earthquakes. The lessons from Hurricane Katrina and the September 2001 terrorist attacks were also incorporated into the county’s disaster plans.

“It’s not a matter of if we’re going to have another major fire. It’s a matter of when,” said County Supervisor Dianne Jacob.

“San Diego County is much better prepared than we were,” said Supervisor Greg Cox. “We’re probably one of the best if not the best prepared to deal with a natural or man-made disaster.”

The county had previously sponsored an outreach program for family disaster plan preparedness. The county’s Office of Emergency Services has received requests for more than 38,000 family disaster plans. “We have had quite a campaign for personal preparedness, but that’s just one of the things we’re doing,” said county Chief Administrative Officer Walt Ekard.

Approximately 50 percent of families in San Diego County have completed a family disaster plan. “This is a good news story,” Roberts said. “This is much higher than anywhere in the nation.”

The Office of Emergency Services worked with athletes and the military to provide outreach messages and also worked with organizations representing individuals with special needs to ensure that emergency shelter needs for those individuals would be met. The public outreach campaigns also included messages from animal shelter personnel to remind citizens to include pets and service animals in disaster plans.

Although former spouses often cause split family situations and many homes include children from both current spouses at various times, the emphasis on supplies, a designated meeting place, a plan for pets, and an out-of-town emergency contact allow a single disaster plan to be suitable regardless of the current occupancy of the residence. “The important thing is that each family, each household, has a meeting place outside of their home,” said Leslie Luke, the group program manager for the Office of Emergency Services.

The Office of Emergency Services also worked with the San Diego County Office of Education to promote family disaster plans. “The parents can always turn off the TV, but they’ll listen to their kids,” said Jess Martinez, the program coordinator for emergency response and crisis management for the San Diego County Office of Education.

The Office of Emergency Services and the County Office of Education worked with the Vista Unified School District and the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District on a pilot project. “This is the first time we’ve ever developed any kind of a project like this,” Martinez said. “We hope to get even further.”

Each student at the schools in the two districts was given a family disaster plan and an emergency checklist. Students who returned the checklist were given a t-shirt, and various local businesses donated prizes for the elementary school and middle school with the highest percentage of returned checklists.

“We really enjoyed outstanding support from the Fallbrook and Vista communities,” said Holly Porter, the public information specialist for the Office of Emergency Services. “Overall we consider this partnership with the schools a great success.”

The eight participating schools in the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District (Iowa Street School was not included) had a districtwide response rate of 39.6 percent. The checklist return rate ranged from 77.4 percent of the 474 students at Fallbrook Street School to 16.0 percent for 743 students at Mary Fay Pendleton Elementary. Live Oak Elementary had the second-highest return rate at 59.0 percent of the school’s 758 students, and Potter Junior High School had a response of 54.1 percent for its 1,065 students.

“They have been very active,” Luke said of the Fallbrook schools.

The Vista Unified School District had a response rate of 29.0 percent for 13 schools, ranging from 58.4 percent at Vista Academy to 10.6 percent at Maryland Elementary School. Rancho Minerva Middle School had a response rate of 31.2 percent.

The school district wasn’t Fallbrook’s only contribution in the preparation of the plans. The Fallbrook community evacuation plan (which also includes Bonsall, Rainbow, and De Luz) was incorporated into the area plan, as were the evacuation plans of other communities.

“This now knits all those together into one seamless approach,” said North County Fire Protection District fire chief Bill Metcalf.

“It creates a document and a resource people can use,” Metcalf said. “If they need to leave, they’ll have information available on how best to accomplish that.”

Metcalf notes that the county plan supplements local resources such as the fire prevention office of the fire department, the Community Emergency Response Team, and the local Fire Safe Council. “It’s all cooperative,” he said.

“There are a number of local resources,” Metcalf said. “In many communities we’re seeing the growth of both Fire Safe Councils and Community Emergency Response Teams.”

On April 19, 2007, the Unified Disaster Council of San Diego County approved both the Operational Area Evacuation Plan and the Operational Area Recovery Plan.

The Operational Area Evacuation Plan defines roles and responsibilities among responding organizations and describes potential security and personnel needs, the coordination of interjurisdictional and interagency communications, and the need for re-entry procedures once the evacuation order is lifted. The evacuation planning components include transportation requirements, public notification and communication, public communication methods, considerations for special needs populations, evacuation points and sheltering, and care and protection of animals.

“The danger is still there,” Metcalf said. “We could find ourselves in the same position again as far as fire condition.”

The Operational Area Recovery Plan describes public assistance programs which identify needs, provide housing, and promote restoration. It defines responsibilities, establishes a recovery organization, and defines lines of communication.

“We’ve come a long way,” Horn said.

“I’m hoping that with the disaster plans that it acts as another tool,” Jacob said.

Jacob warned that the plan must be updated from time to time in order to continue to be effective.


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