When I wrote this story, back in July, I guess I was pretty skeptical about the local fire departments and other agencies’ plans for dealing with a major wildfire.

I was told some pretty impressive things: The agencies had a special facility, all set up, all under wraps, ready to go when a disaster came along. But when I pushed for details, the officials were pretty vague about exactly what the Emergency Operations Center would look like. I was told there would be lots of wide screen TVs, but that’s about it.

Well, earlier today, North County Times reporter Gig Conaughton and I were treated to a tour of the EOC. If I had a hat, I’d eat it.

This place is impressive.

First of all, there’s a whole different room for the media, where all of the mischievous journalists have been corralled to keep us from bugging the officials too much. (Not that that applies to Sheriff William Kolender, who has been popping in from time to time for a chat.) The media room is being used for all the press conferences, which is a simple but crucial development for the overall organization of the emergency response.

When I did the story on wildfire preparedness, I found that several people had complained about the lack of organization, especially when it came to things like press conferences. In 2003, apparently, the media situation was pretty chaotic.

Inside the EOC itself, it was a bit like being on the set of “24.” The room was organized into different “pods” of desks, each of which contained a different team of specialists. One pod contained all the experts dealing with the evacuations around the county. Another had a group of medical experts and at another table sat some tough-looking military guys. Each of the teams had a different colored vest, and everyone had a huge name tag plastered on their front.

“This why we drill and drill and drill,” said Holly Crawford, the media liaison who walked us through the building.

There were separate rooms for the VIPS, the media liaisons and a team called the “Policy group,” that contained all the municipal bigwigs like Kolender.

And there were flat screens. Lots and lots of flat screens.

I was told that everyone in the room was working on the same software, which they’ve all been trained on. The software sends out bulletins to people all over the room and outside the building, informing them of what everybody’s working on at any one time.

When I stepped out of the building, however, was when I got my biggest surprise. I saw that the whole building is resting on huge rubber pads, placed at each corner of the structure. The building’s earthquake-proof.

If that’s not cool, I don’t know what is.


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