As powerful and dangerous gusts swept across the San Diego region, the phones in the City’s Public Works Dispatch Center started ringing off the hook.
The National Weather Service described the winds that accompanied the storm on January 31 as “severe.” The results could be seen across the City, downed trees and power lines, traffic signals knocked out and debris strewn across streets and sidewalks. Crews with the Transportation and Storm Water Department (TSW) worked 16 hour shifts to respond to the widespread damage.
“On a regular day we will take about 500 phone calls and radio calls, on a busy day like this it could be double that [number].” said Carina Skiffington, Public Works Dispatch Supervisor.
Public Works Dispatch is operational 24 hours a day seven days per week, taking calls from City employees, fire and police departments, and the public. TSW crews are tasked with the “operation and maintenance of streets, sidewalks and storm drains,” according to the department’s page on the City’s website. Skiffington sums it up to anything blocking traffic or the public’s right-of-way.
“During a storm event, the level of emergency of the calls goes up, because people aren’t really reporting pot holes or graffiti, it’s more of an urgent request that needs to be handled as soon as possible,” said Skiffington.
Before a storm, TSW crews are tasked with checking storm drains and clearing debris to prevent flooding. When the rain starts, according to Skiffington, these same crews are monitoring the City’s underground pumps to make sure water is flowing. During an extreme high tide, like the region experienced during a storm event on January 6, water without anywhere to go backs up onto the streets. In an El Niño briefing on January 11, Mayor Kevin Faulconer asked City of San Diego residents to report flooding by calling Public Works Dispatch.
“Using that number is important because it reduces the number of calls to the police and fire dispatch center,” said Faulconer during the joint news conference at the County Operations Center. “When we’re seeing the volume of calls that we had, using that non-emergency number was a great service.”
And it’s a service done by a just a few people. During business hours, six to seven dispatchers are answering the phones, at night only two or three. A direct line of communication with field crews allows the system to operate efficiently. During storm events a police officer will be stationed in the Dispatch Center to coordinate response in case traffic stops or emergency vehicles are needed.
Dispatchers communicate directly with supervisors in the field so they can send the closest available crew when a problem is reported. The crews are responsible for prioritizing calls based on the nature of the emergency. According to Skiffington, high-priority calls would include a hydrant knocked over or a large tree blocking traffic.
To contact Public Works Dispatch call (619) 527-7500. Street service requests can also be submitted online. To prepare for the next storm and protect your home from damage, look for tips on the City’s El Niño page.