A Monster and A Blessing
The Blue Cut Fire, which burned for a week near the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino County, Calif., is now ranked as the 20th most destructive wildfire in state history. It forced more than 83,000 residents to evacuate their homes, destroyed an estimated 105 homes plus 200 other structures. It caused major transportation problems when it forced the closing of Interstate 15, the main artery between Los Angeles and Las Vegas that cuts right through San Bernardino County.
For Teresa Mendoza, Communications Supervisor at the Valley Control Center for San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, SBCSD, dealing with Blue Cut was both a monster and a blessing.
To give you an idea of the size of the response, San Bernardino County covers 20,000 square miles—slightly larger than the states of New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island combined. It is the largest county in the lower 48 states.
To effectively serve this vast territory, SBCSD has two dispatch centers: the Valley Control Center in Rialto with 28 positions and the Desert Control Center in Hesperia with 33 positions. SBCSD also supports a secondary PSAP for the county’s consolidated fire dispatch, CONFIRE, which operates 12 positions at the Valley location and six training positions at the Desert location. Combined, they answer more than 1.1 million calls a year.
The VESTA® 9-1-1 solution serves all of SBCSD. It is a geodiverse configuration connecting the centers via a wide area network with redundant links. The benefit of this architecture is sophisticated backup, disaster recovery and overflow operations. Should one dispatch center become unavailable, the other centers are capable of running the entire network. Simply put, the three sites are one system.
One of the issues created by Blue Cut Fire was that it affected such a large area in the County it made it impossible for some of the dispatchers to get to work. In fact, some in Hesperia were evacuated from their homes.
“That first night was a monster,” said Mendoza. “We were inundated with calls at the Valley Control Center. Family and friends were worried. They couldn’t get through to their loved ones and wanted to know what was happening.”
To help out, SBCSD was able to have dispatchers at the Desert Control Center log on from their location in Rialto as if they were at the Valley Control Center. This allowed the Valley to solve their staffing shortage without having to physically transport dispatchers, which, given the situation, would have been extremely difficult—if not impossible.
The Desert Control Center was able to help the Valley throughout the whole incident making it much less chaotic.
“It was a great relief to know the phones would be answered and we wouldn’t miss a call,” said Mendoza.
When the Sheriff gave his debrief to the staff following the crisis, he called the operations during the fire “seamless” and commented how citizens had no idea the calls were being handled from the Desert Control Center for the Valley.
“We know in a monster critical event like this, people want answers. The interoperability between our centers meant we didn’t have to make people wait for those answers, and that was a blessing,” said Mendoza.
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