Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Qualcomm Stadium Evacuation Center AAR

The following email is reposted with the author's permission. It was originally sent to the Yahoogroups misc_survivalism_moderated group by mjgarcia -at- It is unedited with the exception of slight formatting revisions.

From: mjgarcia -at-
Subject: [MSM] Qualcomm Stadium Evacuation Center AAR
Date: October 30, 2007 5:04:06 AM EDT

I don't know how valuable this will be to those out there. I mostly lurk here, and occasionally chuckle at the endless debates over calibers and the ideal handgun (which to settle that dispute...the ideal handgun is whatever gun you have in your hand that you can use with proficiency).

I spent a couple of days working at the main material distribution center at Qualcomm Stadium during the recent fires there. I live in Phoenix, but lived in San Diego for close to a decade and have family there.

My primary bug out vehicle as well as my daily driver is a modified 1991 VW Vanagon with the full camper interior. I've rebuilt and improved just about everything on it and added a fair amount to increase its reliability. I also use it to do a lot of camping
which further allows me to refine my gear and tactics. I'm very capable of being self sustaining without primary infrastructure support for extended periods.

I usually keep a notepad and pen with me and take notes constantly. I did so during this crisis. I just finished an After Action Review of my experience. Please bear in mind that these are my own limited observations. I'm sure other's experiences could be vastly

I recommend volunteering during a similar crisis, if you can, without becoming a burden. Beyond lending a helping hand, the lessons learned are considerable.

Qualcomm Stadium After Action Review


1. Help out the evacuation efforts in whatever capacity possible
2. Exercise my own bug out practices
3. Learn more about large scale disasters and evacuations


1. Be self-sustaining for whatever period needed to help out disaster relief. Initial plan was for 2 weeks minimum, limited by water. Food supplies were 4 weeks. If I find I'm getting in the way more than I'm helping, I'm leaving.
2. Support evacuation center during disaster
3. Be able to bug out of my own home within 30 minutes

What Happened?

Tuesday, October 23:
Went on-line to identify location of evacuation shelters, and print out the most current map of fires in San Diego County. Decided easiest place to start would be Qualcomm stadium. Updated my list of scanner frequencies.

Packed up van in 20 minutes. Longest item was filling up water (2-7 gallon containers). Gear was pre-packed in 4 Rubbermaid ActionPacker Storage Boxes and 1 24 gallon ActionPacker Storage Box for the food. Included a bag of work clothes prepacked for bugout. Left behind firearms, mountain bike and important documents. Was on
the fence about taking a pistol for personal protection, but decided not to run afowl of the law in California. Left the mountain bike behind because I didn't think I would be using it. Left behind the important documents because it wasn't my bug out, and I didn't want to have to leave them unsecured in my van. Going forward, I'll add a strong box to the van to secure such documents.

Left Phoenix at 11:30 pm, after filling gas tank and checking oil. Drove through the night, heading to San Diego via I-8. Monitored XM radio, channel 247, which was rebroadcasting feed from KOGO in San Diego.

Saw first glow from the fires from just west of El Centro, approximately 100 miles away. Saw first fires around Alpine, CA, just before sunrise.

Wednesday, October 24:

Arrived in El Cajon around 0630. Refueled gas tank and filled spare tanks. Called brother who lives in El Cajon to let him know how close the fires were. He's packed and ready to leave. His plan was to head East, and go to Phoenix to stay with me. Arrived at Qualcomm Stadium around 0730. Parked the van near a fenced area at the far end of the parking lot. I walked into the fenced area, and spoke to a person who appeared in
charge (carrying a clip board). After about 5 minutes of instruction, I began helping.

This was the main distribution hub for donations. The volunteers were working in one of 3 separate groups. The first was unloading donations from cars that were queued in 2 lines. Another similar group was unloading large volume donations from churches, stores,and other organizations. The second group, where I started working was taking the unloaded donations and separating them into various categories: pet food, hygiene products, snacks, staples, etc. The third group was helping the various shelters that would arrive with a U-Haul or truck to fill their orders for supplies.

It was very well organized for something so hastily put together. The man in charge was responsible for San Diego's warehousing operations.

Around 3 pm, National Guard troops showed up to provide security around our perimeter. The night before someone had cut the fence and made off with an undetermined amount of supplies. I worked throughout Wednesday into Wednesday night. I spoke with several of my family members who live in the San Diego area via cell
phone to get updates on how everyone was doing. No one had heard from my uncle who lives up in Rancho Bernardo and had to leave in a hurry. My Aunt who had to leave her home in the Vista area was OK and safe. Cellular service was spotty during the day with calls dropped and generally poor reception.

Thursday, October 25

I went back to work for a while helping to finish up organizing material. They announced that they had started clearing the stadium from the top down and that evacuees were going to be relocated to the Del Mar Fairgrounds. I was released around noon, since there were more than enough volunteers to finish up. At the Stadium they
also didn't need any more volunteers, so I left. I went to my brothers and check on other evacuation centers to see in they needed volunteers. None that I contacted needed any more help.

What worked:

1. Packing gear went smooth and fast. New collapsible handcart speeded loading of van considerably. $49 at Cabela's. Having pre-staged gear was useful
2. Bug out list. The only change to the list would be to add an American flag
3. Van ran well. No issues. Refueling before entering the effected area was a good idea. I had a range of 500 miles fully loaded. The small fan inside the van made sleeping easier.
4. The organization and teamwork at the stadium. The city and state didn't wait for federal officials to come in to `rescue' them as appeared to be the case after Katrina. By the time a federal disaster declaration was announced Wednesday, the evacuation and
distribution centers had been up and functioning for almost 72 hours.
5. Didn't need to bring firearms. There was sufficient security this time.
6. Personal hygiene planning. I used baby wipes to substitute for showers for close to 3 days. Made sure I had foot powder as well. Sunscreen helped as well as sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat.
7. Good work gloves and good work boots.
8. XM radio. I was able to determine the situation by listening to satellite radio
9. SSB radio. I spoke to a couple of truckers coming from San Diego to get first hand situation reports.
10. Scanner. I was able to program in the frequencies I needed to keep a good idea of the changing situation once I arrived in San Diego.
11. Security. In general good, especially after the National Guard showed up. But there were individuals and groups who tried to steal supplies, and some succeeded. The lighting in the parking lot helped with the sense of security. Power in the area was threatened by the fires, and had that gone down, the situation could have turned less secure pretty quickly. The distribution center was running off a stand alone generator, so I would have been able to gauge the situation and decide what to do in a lit and somewhat secure environment.
12. The wind changed direction on Wednesday. If it hadn't, things would have gotten worse. Potentially much worse.

What didn't work:

1. Mattress. After working long and hard, sleeping was difficult. I added a 1.5" memory foam mattress cover after I left, and spent a blissful night sleeping on that. Great improvement.
2. Air quality. The small paper face masks provided may have helped a little, but not much, especially with physical activity. Better face mask to filter out junk would be a major improvement in this scenario.
3. Noise and light. Trying to sleep was difficult in a lit parking lot full of activity. Ear plugs and eye covers would have helped.

What to do differently next time:

1. Calling tree. Within my own family it was difficult ascertaining everyone's status.
2. Backup calling tree.
3. Add a lockbox to the van to store important documents
4. Consider a satellite phone. Cellular phones weren't doing so well and were overloaded. Expensive but adds a layer of communication.
5. Add more solar panels. If this had gone beyond 72 hours, I would have had to run the engine to recharge the batteries, wasting fuel. The single solar panel wouldn't be adequate to maintain the batteries, and doesn't provide redundancy.

Several other thoughts:

While I was able to get out of my apartment in around 20 minutes, my uncle had less than a minute to get out. He had already loaded his car, so was able to take the most important items with him. His house wasn't severely damaged, except for smoke damage and ash everywhere. My aunt who also evacuated was able to return to her home Thursday, which wasn't seriously threatened. My brother's house in El Cajon wasn't affected and he wasn't forced to evacuate. I returned to Phoenix on Saturday. The 92 year old grandmother of the wife of one of my technicians here was evacuated to Qualcomm Stadium. They weren't able to contact her for several days. Again, a good calling tree would have helped me find that information out. I could have found her and relayed information.


Unknown said...

good thing he doesn't have children, pets and a larger house (no mention in his article) otherwise evacuation would have turned out much longer and painful ...yes, if you have a family to protect don't hesitate, or worse, wait for authorities to knock your door .. it would be wise to know where the shelters are in your area and the fastest way to get to it ...nice article, shows a given, caring person ready to help...
Los Angeles

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the report.
Learned a few new things.
Could you categorize your blog
into subjects, it would be helpful in finding articles. Also an auto
update feature. Thanks again
for sharing.

Dave Markowitz said...

Anon., each post has "Labels" down at the bottom. If you click on a label you'll get a list of related posts.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting and thanks to the author for documenting the trip. I found the "works/doesn't work" experiences very interesting. I had a post a few weeks back on my blog about setting up a calling tree and getting it laminated at a local office supply store.

Now I have to find those 7 gallons containers.

Gist said...

Anonymous said...

Very helpful information. During the 1964 earthquake in Anchorage, we found that family communication was a very difficult task. There was no calling tree as well as no phone lines into Alaska.

As soon as the lines were connected, the calling tree would have saved lots of people sorrow and concern.

I heard people should have an out of country contact as well as out of state contacts. Can anyone tell me why?