By Miriam Raftery, Editor
April 6, 2010 (San Diego’s East County) – More than 24 hours after a 7.2 earthquake jolted our region, triggering more than 100 aftershocks, why has the County of San Diego failed to post a single mention of the recent quakes on its so-called “emergency” website at http://www.sdcountyemergency.com/?
Granted, San Diego County wasn't declared an emergency area and didn't suffer catastrophic damages. But many local residents were frightened and concerned. Some suffered power outages, gas line ruptures, phone service interruption, and property damage. People were hungry for news about epicenters and magnitudes of the quakes, power outages, damages, road closures, hazards, and how to get news of friends and relatives south of the border.
Our County did not even provide warnings for holiday travelers--including a shut-down of I-8 in neighboring Imperial County, boulders in roadways, or closure of a border crossing. No tips on where to report problems or get help. No warnings that aftershocks were moving northeast, with some centered in East County and Imperial County. No info on how to get word about loved ones who might live or be visiting in Mexico over Easter weekend. Zero. Zip. Nada.
Other than standard safety tips in a permanent “earthquake” section, there was absolutely nothing to address concerns of area residents.
This is a bad case of déjà vu. During the 2007 wildfires, the then-newly-launched County Emergency website crashed repeatedly, making it all but impossible for residents to get essential public safety information. As a reporter for a weekly print newspaper back then, I received middle- of-the-night emails from panicked backcountry residents who couldn’t access emergency info online. No TV news outlets were covering fires in the backcountry during the crucial early hours. People tried to evacuate, only to find road closures or flames blocking their way, with no info on safe routes, progress of the fire, or location of shelters.
East County residents—and indeed, people countywide--deserve better. Lives are at stake when timely information is not available. Last week a woman near Ramona struck a four-foot-boulder on Highway 78. East County Magazine’s Viejas Wildfire & Emergency Alerts have saved many a motorist from encountering similar unpleasant surprises during rockslides, floods, and other disasters.
Some roadways reportedly had rocks tumble onto them after Sunday’s quake. Why wasn’t somebody at the County posting info from Cal-Trans, Cal-Fire, CHP and other emergency responders to help keep people safe? Would anybody have bothered to do better if the Big One had actually been centered in San Diego County?
At first I thought this must be a case of bad timing, with the large quake striking on Easter Sunday (though emergencies can strike anytime, and the County should be prepared to react). But come Monday morning, with a hundred aftershocks still rattling the area (one of which ruptured a gas line on an Indian reservation in East County), the County still hadn’t bothered to post any info on the quakes.
Protecting public safety is the number one function of government. Our County ought to be prepared to get important information posted live online whenever an emergency or significant disaster strikes. An earthquake twice as strong as the one that leveled Haiti, striking within 100 miles of San Diego County’s borders and sending powerful aftershocks rippling north into East County, surely should have qualified as grounds to calm public fears and provide timely, important information.
If the County still doesn’t have its act together on emergency notification three years after the 2007 wildfire fiasco, one wonders just what it would take for County officials to get it right.
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