SD County emergency website lagged in posting fire perimeter map - San Diego, California News Station - KFMB Channel 8 - cbs8.com

SD County emergency website lagged in posting fire perimeter maps

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The SD County website only showed emergency notification zones in purple during the first two days of the wildfires. The SD County website only showed emergency notification zones in purple during the first two days of the wildfires.
Fire perimeter maps in red were added to the county emergency website later. Fire perimeter maps in red were added to the county emergency website later.
SAN DIEGO (CBS News 8) -- When the wildfires hit last month, people were told to go to the San Diego County Emergency Services web site for information (www.sdcountyemergency.com).

Many people were disappointed with what they found because the county emergency map did not show where the fires were actually burning.

CBS News 8 investigated why it took days for the burn zone maps to be released online to the public.

“I expected maps showing the boundaries of the fires,” said East County resident Jason Ford.  He was one of many viewers who emailed CBS News 8 on May 14, the day at least nine wildfires broke out countywide.

“We needed to know better information about the actual borders of the fire and more importantly which way it’s headed,” said Ford.

Ford was frustrated because when he went online, the San Diego County Emergency Services fire map showed emergency notification zones in purple, but there were no maps showing where the fires were actually burning.

“Once I did evacuate, I had problems,” said Ford.  “The best information I got was from some teenagers who ran up to the top of Jackson Hill and could see the fire.”

News organizations had problems too.

Several TV stations, including CBS News 8, started making their own maps.  We were able to estimate the fire perimeters by looking at a live video feed from Chopper 8.

It took two days for the county to start posting fire perimeter maps online.  Even then, the maps were outdated.

CBS News 8 wanted to interview someone at the San Diego County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to find out why the web site lagged.

Instead, we got an email from the county’s public information officer, Michael Workman, blaming CALFIRE and other local agencies.

The statement, in part, said:

“…fire perimeter maps are created and released by the fire department/entity in charge of the fire incident command. In the recent fires, there were several fire departments. San Diego, Carlsbad, San Marcos, CalFire, etc. We post fire perimeter maps when they are provided to us from the incident command…. Any further questions you might have regarding the creation of fire perimeter maps should be directed to the appropriate fire agency.”

CALFIRE also emailed us a statement, which said in part, “The maps have to be verified and accurate before they can be released. That takes time. Misinformation can be worse than no information.”

Ford, the East County resident, had his own opinion.

“I think any information would be good, even if later it turns out to be not 100% accurate.  It would be better than nothing,” Ford said.

In past wildfires, perimeter maps were created by the county in collaboration with CALFIRE and released to the public.

“We did create fire perimeter maps at the beginning of the fires,” said GIS mapping expert Paul Hardwick, who worked in the county's EOC making maps during the 2007 wildfires.

“During the height of the (2007) fires we were producing maps every two to three hours during the day, less at night because the fires laid down a little bit,” said Hardwick.

“Those maps were emailed out by the PIO to news agencies that were using them on broadcasts,” Hardwick said.

"It helps the public to be informed on the spread of the fire and the direction the fire is burning so they are much more calm in their response to the fire," Hardwick added.

In recent years, the county and CALFIRE have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a new system to fight and map wildfires.  It’s called Next-Generation Incident Command System (NICS).

In August 2012, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved $100,000 to buy a high-tech camera that was mounted on a CALFIRE spotter plane.

Supervisor Ron Roberts was on hand at the 2012 news conference to show off the infrared camera, which provides a live feed of the fire perimeter to ground crews.  The camera can literally see through smoke.

The NICS system also includes collaborative mapping software that allows ground crews to log on and keep the fire perimeter map updated.

While NICS is still in the testing phase, CALFIRE hopes it will eventually lead to real time fire perimeter mapping.

“Just to have some king of visual idea of where the fire is and which way it's headed would be helpful,” said East County resident Ford.

Twenty-four hours after the Cocos fire started, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department did release a perimeter map for that one particular fire in San Marcos.

That map was emailed to CBS News 8 and used during our live fire coverage.
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