SAN DIEGO–A third firefighting helicopter, pre-positioned ground fire crews during red flag conditions, and contracting for night-flying operations throughout the County were among key upgrades approved by the County Board of Supervisors Tuesday.
The steps are aimed at boosting the region’s wildfire resources going into what is expected to be a highly dangerous peak wildfire season. The new permanent helicopter is expected to arrive next year, but the County has already leased a third helicopter until the end of October.
Supervisors each voiced support for the enhancements, before unanimously approving them.
“Every one of us has played a leadership role in one way or another in making this region better prepared,” Chairwoman Dianne Jacob said. “And since the Cedar Fire — and I’ll throw it out again, this County Board has allocated at least $285 million for various improvements, communications, resources, personnel to make the region better prepared and we are better prepared today than we’ve ever been before and we continue to make improvements.”
The wildfires that struck this past May served as a reminder of the region’s year-round fire danger as well as this year’s dire conditions. After the wildfires, County officials took immediate steps to enhance emergency planning and firefighting resources, much of them listed as recommendations in the County’s May Wildfires After Action Report. Some also came out of meetings the County held with other elected officials, fire chiefs, tribal nations and military representatives to brainstorm fire preparation.
Among those actions, the County also launched the Get Fired Up, San Diego wildfire preparedness campaign to urge residents to prepare for potential wildfires by getting Ready with defensible space, getting Set with an emergency plan, and if the fire risk is near, pre-packing the car to Go.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the Board approved:
- Allocating $5.2 million for a third Sheriff’s firefighting helicopter, which is expected to be ready next year. The County will put out bids for a fully-outfitted helicopter like the other two currently in the Sheriff’s fleet. The County is leasing a third helicopter during peak fire season this fall, and that lease could be extended.
- Contracting with the City of San Diego for use of its night-flight capable helicopters for night operations such as water drops and emergency rescues in the region.
- Establishing the ability to pre-position fire strike teams on the ground during red flag conditions.
- Making the request to pre-position a National Interagency Fire Center Command Repeater Kit, which will help out-of-area first responders connect more quickly with local communications networks.
- Creating uniform messaging and descriptions of fire danger conditions among firefighting agencies.
In other emergency-related matters, supervisors also voted to:
- Work with San Diego State University on a $1 million research project to develop new social media tracking tools for use during a disaster. The software, developed by SDSU, is intended to better identify social media trends, topics and influential messages during emergencies.
- Use a $10,000 grant from Target to support an Office of Emergency Services disaster preparedness curriculum for fourth grade students. The funds will go toward purchasing hand-crank radios and given to classrooms that complete the curriculum.
- Adopt the Office of Emergency Services Operational Area Emergency Operations Plan detailing the major functions in a disaster response. The plan is updated every four years. This year the plan was revised to include considerations for people with physical, learning or emotional disabilities.