County Officials Tour Tijuana’s Emergency Operations Center

Dispatchers take 8,000 calls a day at Tijuana's law enforcement call center. It is located in the same complex as the city's emergency operations center.
June 20, 2012 | 4:54pm

A group of County employees last week got a rare look at Tijuana’s emergency preparation efforts.

Employees from the County’s Office of Emergency Services, Department of Environmental Health and Communications Office traveled south of the border June 13 to tour Tijuana’s emergency services agency, called its Dirección Municipal de Protección Civil. It was the first time County emergency services officials had visited with their counterparts in the Mexican city of 1.7 million. The day before, a delegation from the city of Tijuana and state of Baja toured the County’s Emergency Operations Center in Kearny Mesa.

Funded by the EPA, the visits are part of the run-up to a joint emergency drill Aug. 28 that will test the agencies’ communications in an emergency situation. It’s all part of EPA’s Border 2012 program, a decade-long collaboration between the U.S. and Mexico designed to improve the environment and protect the health of the nearly 12 million people living along the international border. Emergency preparedness and response are among the focuses of the program, said Lida Tan, an EPA Border Coordinator who also participated. Other goals include reducing water and land contamination, cutting back on air pollution and improving environmental health and stewardship. Tan said the EPA plans to extend the program through 2020.

Under a fictional scenario planned for Aug. 28, the Rodriquez Dam in Tijuana will overflow and the Tijuana River rise up to six feet on both sides of the border.

Nick Vent, who supervises the County’s Hazmat team, said first responders and hazardous materials officials on both sides of the border have been working together for decades, but other emergency services staffs have not.

Officials from the Protección Civil gave a tour of their Tijuana facility and briefed County employees on their work. Protección Civil Director C. Antonio H. Rosquillas Navarro said his agency was among the first municipal emergency agencies of its kind in Mexico. Under a new federal law, Navarro said all other Mexican cities will have to follow its lead and establish similar, independent emergency operations agencies.

The agency takes on a range of duties, from developing contingency plans in case of either manmade or natural emergencies to tracking local weather conditions, all with limited resources, Navarro said. Staffed with 10 employees, the agency receives no state or federal funding. Teaching the importance of emergency preparedness to Tijuana city employees is a constant priority since 90 percent of staff turnover every three years due to mayoral term limits. The city’s relative geographic isolation means it must be prepared to fend for itself for the first 36 to 48 hours after an emergency until the Mexican Army, Navy and federal government can arrive and help.

Because no Mexican national weather service monitors conditions in Tijuana, the agency has purchased and placed its own weather stations around the city to track conditions. And rather than using a reverse 911 style notification system or emergency broadcast systems, officials must rely on social and traditional media in emergencies. Navarro said the agency’s Facebook page has received nearly 6,000 “likes.”

During the Aug. 28 drill, County officials will work out of the EOC in Kearny Mesa and Mexican officials will work out of their Tijuana facilities.