RIVERSIDE COUNTY, Calif. - The Northern California wildfires destroyed or damaged some 7,500 buildings, making it the most destructive wildfire in state history.
Emergency officials said thousands of texts were sent warning residents to flee, but some evacuees said they were never warned of the danger.
"we have a combination of tools here in Riverside County available to us to alert members of the community as well as members of the media when there is a disaster, and specifically when we need members of the community to take action, which might an evacuation, or a stay indoors order," Brooke Federico of the Emergency Managment Department.
Here in Riverside County, the Alert RivCo program allows you to receive text and voice messaging from the county emergency operations during a crisis.
"And so two of those key communication tools that we have are called Alert RivCo, and then the wireless emergency alert system," Federico said.
Landlines, even unlisted numbers, are in the RivCo System automatically, but you must sign up to get alerts sent to your cell phone.
There's even an app you can download to streamline this process.
Swift 911 is the app you should get to enter your information and sign up for alerts from Riverside County via text, voice message, and even email.
Your phone is already designed to get the FEMA managed wireless emergency alert system, but you have to make sure it's active. On an iPhone, you have to go settings, then notifications, scroll all the way to the bottom, and you'll find "government alerts," make sure both emergency alerts and amber alerts are active.
You can also sign up on RivCoEMD.org.
But who makes the decision to send those alerts in the case of a major emergency?
"The decision on which tool we would use always comes from the field," Federico said. "From our eyes on the ground who can see the impact and would make the decision on which tools we would use at that time."
Messages from Alert RivCo can be geo-targeted to very specific recipients, and allow for more detailed alerts. But, you have to sign up.
The FEMA managed wireless emergency alert system is built into your cell phone, but it's based on cell tower locations, so it may over-target recipients.
Those FEMA alerts are also limited to ninety characters.
Of course, cell phones are only a small part of the overall emergency notification plan. In an emergency, power may be out, cell towers down, so it's important that your emergency kit has a battery operated radio so you can get information even if cell phones are not working.