Public Safety

County Helps Private Sector Prepare for Flooding-Related Emergencies

Californians are well-versed in the destructive powers of earthquakes and wildfires.

But flooding—even in an area like San Diego–can be as calamitous.

And no one is immune—public or private sector. Especially in areas like Mission Valley that are among the first to flood and are also packed with retail shops, hotels and office buildings.

To better prepare, the County on Wednesday hosted a drill for many of those private entities that would be hit first. Federal, state and local government agencies met with representatives from Hyatt Regency Mission Bay, Town & Country Resort in Mission Valley, Westfield Group’s shopping centers, and other companies at the County’s Emergency Operations Center in Kearny Mesa to discuss the region’s emergency response plans. The drill also tested their responses to a major storm and its aftermath, a 100-year flood.

Holly Crawford, director of the County’s Office of Emergency Services, stressed the importance of public-private sector relationships in emergencies. While local government’s responders may be the first to get called on for help, private companies own and operate much of the nation’s critical infrastructure, from telecommunications networks and banks to energy production and transmission facilities.

“We know government can’t do this alone,” she said. “Having a strong relationship with the private sector is absolutely critical.”

This week’s exercise, called Raging Waters 2012, was organized by the San Diego Law Enforcement Coordination Center, a regional, multi-agency intelligence fusion center for San Diego and Imperial counties and InfraGard San Diego Members Alliance, an FBI affiliated nonprofit focused on sharing information and protecting critical infrastructure in the private sector.

More than 130 people participated in the full-day event, including about 75 at the County’s Emergency Operations Center. There, participants first received briefings from public agencies including the City of San Diego’s Office of Homeland Security, San Diego Fire-Rescue, National Weather Service and the County’s Office of Emergency Services and Department of Public Works. Participants learned about the region’s emergency response plans and the specifics of the fictional storm and flooding scenario. Naval Base Coronado, Caltrans and the American Red Cross of San Diego and Imperial Counties also activated their emergency operations centers.

The County’s Emergency Operations Center later buzzed with activity as exercise participants discussed how to respond to and anticipate the unfolding troubles caused by rain and flooding.

Regular announcements informed participants of new issues, including an overturned truck with a possible hazardous materials spill on Interstate 15, reverse 911 calls and evacuations issued around Lake Hodges.

The scenario also included major flooding in Mission Valley. Residents were ordered to evacuate; firefighters and swift water rescue crews were hard at work.

At one table, the “logistics section,” one of the participants’ many tasks was to make sure a shelter and emergency vehicle staging area at San Diego State University was ready.

“We need to make arrangements to make sure the Red Cross functions are separated from the San Diego Fire-Rescue Operations, which means we need to coordinate with SDSU officials,” said Richard Zee, an assistant federal security director with the TSA.

Mike Davis, a senior emergency services coordinator for the County, helped guide a participant at the table who was trying to identify where the emergency vehicles staged at SDSU would be able to refuel, given extensive freeway closures.

“If the (Interstate) 15 is shut down, we want to identify fuelling along the (state Route) 67,” Davis said, showing the routes on a large map.

At regular briefings, participants got an overall sense of the evolving disaster and how their efforts fit into the larger, countywide response.

“Thank you for all your hard work,” Crawford said during one of the briefings. “This is about protecting our community. It’s about saving lives and protecting property.”

Michele Clock is a group communications officer with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact