Office of Operations
21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

6.6 Communication

6.6.1 Communication between Agencies

The main means of communication between the entities was radios, landlines, and cell phones. Some agencies also used satellite phones. Representatives were located at the Emergency Operations Center, where they received information, which in turn was passed along to their respective entities.

Communication was cited as an issue. For example, once the fire chief from the Big Bear City Fire Department was unable to access the command post, communication ceased with the command post and communication isolation set in. To resolve this, part of the preparation for the Emergency Operations Center was the ability to take care of itself until help got through. However, frustration was voiced, as the valley was on its own for 2 days until a Federal National Team (a Type 1 National Incident Management Team coordinated by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, with team members from various agencies) was assigned to it.

6.6.2 Communication to Evacuees and the Public

Main Means of Communication

The main means of communication to the public was through the media, radio, and television. Radio played a key factor due to its ability to provide information quickly to the community. Police officers also went from street to street broadcasting the need for an evacuation, and word of mouth informed people of the need to evacuate. Evacuation maps were provided to evacuees to assist them in getting off the mountain.

Since that time, the city has acquired Reverse 911® and, with the use of grant funds, has installed four sirens throughout the valley. Once the siren is turned on, citizens are instructed to turn to the local radio station for additional information.

California Department of Transportation (Caltrans)

Caltrans has a district transportation management center located in San Bernardino that was used to manage traffic during the southern California wildfires. Big Bear Valley does not have ITS equipment installed such as changeable message signs, video feed, detection loops, or highway advisory radio. Caltrans had to rely upon staff to inform them of what was going on. Communication to Big Bear Valley residents was through traditional means.

Caltrans attended San Bernardino County Emergency Operations Center meetings and provided regular briefings on updated traffic conditions, with commuter alerts to media organizations through fax or email. Caltrans also provided updated information to traffic news services, elected officials, and traffic bureaus and also posted the information to its own Web site. People could also call into Caltrans to find out about driving conditions and alternate routes. After hours, the Caltrans Web site was updated remotely to keep people informed of the situation.

After the evacuation order was rescinded and people were allowed to return to their homes, some of the critical infrastructure was not back on line such as gas stations or grocery stores, and some of the roadway infrastructure such as guard rails was destroyed. The California Highway Patrol provided an escort to safely transport people up and down the mountain. Caltrans broadcast the times and routes available for residents.

Joint Information Center

A joint multi-entity information center was developed for Old Fire. A centralized information center allowed the entities to deliver a unified message to the community and the media, which is important during a time of crisis.

Safe Community Alert Network (SCAN)

A communication service identified as a result of the interview process is SCAN. This is a new, free service to public agencies and consumers that allows for text messaging or web messaging of public service announcements. Consumers can specify the type of message they want to receive. The message can be sent to personal digital assistants cell phones, pagers, computers, etc. In addition, an entity can use the service to notify special staff, such as Emergency Operations Center staff, with the use of a password. SBC has made a commitment as part of its public safety concerns to provide the service. As of the writing of this document. SCAN is currently provided in the states of California, Nevada, and Texas, and it is anticipated to provide nationwide coverage in 2005.

February 6, 2006
Publication #FHWA-HOP-08-014