Some could not reach 211 system during Lilac Fire

211 handled more than 18,000 calls during fire
Posted at 10:09 PM, Dec 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-12 13:48:37-05

During the Lilac Fire, county leaders encouraged people to call 211 to get updates on information such as evacuations and shelters.

211 San Diego provides information on various county resources. It is a non-profit organization, comprised of mostly volunteers during emergency response.

Mary Brooks was one of many who evacuated. She tried calling 211, but could not get through. "I called them a couple of times and I got a recording and nobody called me back from that," Brooks said.

211's CEO told 10News there were "intermittent" problems the first hour after the fire started.

"A lot of people called at one period of time and it's at a time when we're ramping up because we're also ramping up our operations," said 211 San Diego CEO John Ohanian.

During the 2014 wildfires, 10News also found some issues getting through to 211. One 10News reporter waited about 23 minutes for someone to pick up and then got disconnected.

For those who may have been frustrated during the recent fires, Ohanian said safety is the first priority.

“I would say that at the beginning of an incident like that when you’re getting a mass notification to leave your home, that’s not the time to call 211. You need to get in your car, get your loved ones, and get to safety. And really, when you get to a safe environment call 211 for up-to-date information,” Ohanian said.

Ohanian pointed out there were more than 18,000 calls to 211 from Thursday afternoon to Sunday night during the Lilac Fire.

He said 211 worked for many people, but asked for patience for those who had problems. 211 experienced a 1,000 percent increase in calls, according to Ohanian.

Despite any issues some may have had, he said 211 was successful in helping to not clog up the 911 emergency line.

"We're not doing something that's easy. We're doing something that's tough," Ohanian said. In comparison, he said Ventura’s 211 system only had about 250 calls during the wildfires raging in that area.

He credits the County of San Diego’s partnership in getting the word out about 211. He also encourages people to sign up for the SD Emergency app to get information during local disasters.