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By Janis Mork

October 3, 2013 (San Diego)- At its September 11 meeting, the Board of Supervisors received an update from the Office of Emergency Services (OES) on how the department is better preparing San Diego for the 2013 fire season. The board also learned steps to keep those with special needs safe and what caregivers can do.

Supervisor Dave Roberts, a former firefighter, spoke first. “ I have tremendous respect for fire fighters…[to] take care of the vulnerable population.”  He  thanked the OES for its efforts and said he is pleased to be moving the item forward. “This will help get caregivers more assistance.. It’s my hope that today everyone will leave with a better understanding of being prepared.”

Holly Crawford, executive director of OES, first showed a video with three tips on how to better prepare for an emergency: 1) Establish a communication plan. 2) Put together a “Go” kit. 3) Establish a meeting place.

“Going into the Santa Ana season, residents need to better prepare themselves. When it comes to preparedness, it’s a matter of teamwork,” she told the board. Those they have worked with include the university management group, child care disaster council, and non-profit partners among others. “We have a ‘call when needed’ fund we reserve in the budget.”

OES has trained over 200 employees to act when a disaster comes in, working at shelters where people can stay or wherever else help may be needed. Another accomplishment was launching the ‘Accessible Alert San Diego’ for those who are deaf, blind, or mute, she said.  “We have a unique partnership. When we send out the alert call, we send it to a contractor.” Then, the person receives the video and the person on screen translates with sign language, or there’s also text at the bottom of the screen as the person talks. Crawford added, “Recently, we’ve also looked into child care disaster planning. We have over 5000 child care providers mostly in home. We devised a child care disaster plan and guide.”

Stasia Place Richardson, Senior Emergency Services Coordinator from OES said OES has provided a Family Disaster Plan and Emergency Preparedness Guide Richardson added, “We have strategically placed shelter supplies, including toothbrushes, cots, and canes for the elderly. We know there’s still more work to be done, more groups to get involved, more training.” They will also provide a disaster preparedness seminar for caregivers on November 16, 2013.

When Chairman Greg Cox asked if there were any questions from the board, Supervisor Dave Roberts asked how they are providing transportation.

Crawford answered, “We have a database of vehicles to provide.”

Tony Young, former San Diego councilman and current chief executive officer of the Red Cross in San Diego, spoke next. “Our services are provided free to the government we assist and the public we serve,” supported mainly by donations from the public.

“San Diego has experienced more than its share of wildfires,” Young stated, displaying a chart that showed San Diego is the first statewide in total acreage lost. “It doesn’t take a large incident to get businesses prepared. The Red Cross responds to over 300 incidents a year. We’ve identified 700 shelter facilities ahead of time. The goal is to maintain 21 simultaneously.” They’ve trained teams to operate the shelters and they are now ready to go. The supplies have been distributed to the shelters” Those shelters can serve 100,000 meals a day. “We’ve come into an agreement with restaurants. The target is to reach 200,000. We work very closely with OES,” he added.

Cox thanked Young, but acknowledged “We’re never going to be 100% prepared though.”

Vice Chair Dianne Jacob said, “It’s very important to reach out. The Red Cross and San Diego Chapter has improved significantly since 2001. I hope we do not have to test your response to another major event.” Then, she told Crawford, “We’ve come a long way. We’re better prepared now…Response starts with each of us…We’re entering into the most high risky season in 100 years.”

Supervisor Ron Roberts praised staff adding, “One of the things I was most impressed with was in the 2007 fires how fast the volunteers in American Red Cross responded.”

When a Supervisor wondered if OES works with Qualcomm and Del Mar, Crawford confirmed. “The city of San Diego has an agreement with Qualcomm.” Dr. Hendricks added, “County of San Diego has an agreement with Del Mar racetracks.”

Ron Roberts felt “Petco [Park] and Qualcomm need to be integrated.” Young agreed.

Supervisor Bill Horn offered his opinion. “We’ve not only had a lot of drills to prepare for a disaster; we’ve had disasters. We are a whole lot better prepared, but something will come at us when we’re not prepared.”

Dave Roberts felt “this topic is critical.” He added, “I was an evacuee in 2003…Planning and preparation are key. I’m particularly pleased with the caregiver seminar” offered by OES.

A motion was made to approve the update from OES on how to better prepare for this year’s wildfire season and an update on how to keep those with special needs safe in a disaster. The vote was 5-0.

You can reach OES at (858) 715-2207 and the American Red Cross-San Diego/Imperial County Chapter at (858) 309-1200.

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