2-1-1 San Diego overwhelmed amid flood of emergency calls

The county’s much-vaunted emergency communications system was unavailable for a multitude of callers as a runaway wildfire raced across north San Diego County most of Thursday.

Caller after caller could not connect with a live person for fire information or directions about where to evacuate the Lilac Fire.

“I got a recording from Verizon that said the line was disconnected,” said Edward Collins, a retired airline marketing professional who was watching the fire from the backyard of his San Marcos home.

“I assumed it was going to say the area’s under mandatory evacuation and which areas should be concerned, but all I got was a non-working number,” Collins added. “I called several times and my wife called also. We called on two different cell phones.”

The San Diego Union-Tribune could not get through to 2-1-1 San Diego Thursday afternoon either.

The organization known as 2-1-1 San Diego said on Twitter that it was experiencing a high volume of calls but indicated the system was operational.

“Please only use 2-1-1 for non-emergency information if the Lilac Fire is affecting you directly,” the organization tweeted. “This will help 2-1-1’s lines remain ready for those in need of critical information immediately.”

At a news conference, county officials say the system was down for about 40 minutes.

Michael Workman, a spokesman for San Diego County, said the system may have received too many calls at the same time.

“We had 70 lines open,” he said in an email. “WEA (wireless emergency alerts) went out. Calls increased and we increased our lines by 400 … There may be wait times.”

The 2-1-1 San Diego website directed visitors to the San Diego County emergency website, which in turn referred visitors to 2-1-1 San Diego.

The San Diego Police Department also urged people to contact 2-1-1 San Diego for updated information about the wildfire so it’s 9-1-1 emergency call system would not be flooded with non-emergency calls.

Workman also said there may be issue with cell-phone service across the North County, where what’s being called the Lilac Fire broke out Thursday morning and quickly consumed thousands of acres and at least some homes.

2-1-1 San Diego is a local charity that operates a program that is supposed to provide callers information around the clock about public services.

jeff.mcdonald@sduniontribune.com (619) 293-1708 @sdutMcDonald

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