May is National Wildfire Awareness Month – the perfect time to re-evaluate your wildfire preparedness plan and make needed updates. In the wake of 2020’s record-breaking wildfire season and amid an ongoing pandemic, keep in mind you’ll probably need to make more adjustments than in years past.
Two factors are likely to influence your 2021 preparations: expectations about the intensity of the coming season and the impact of the pandemic on your wildfire response.
- Predictions for 2021. Although the number of acres burned as of mid-May 2021 is significantly lower than the 10-year average, experts are still worried this season will be worse than 2020. In both California and Washington, wildfire season has started early this year, leading officials to fear 2021 could be more dangerous and damaging than last year.
- COVID-19. The number of cases in the U.S. is falling and more people are getting vaccinated. These two trends are positive, but the virus continues to spread globally. Some health experts believe the novel coronavirus will become endemic.
To protect your people, places and property, you’ll need to address these challenges in every component of your wildfire response. Here are four questions you should ask when developing preparedness plans for 2021.
1. How will you assess risk?
How are you tracking inclement fire weather? Are you able to get an early warning when a threat emerges? Do you have real-time visibility into events as they occur? What kind of actionable intelligence do you receive from your current critical event management platform? Speed and relevancy are two of the biggest challenges in planning for wildfire response.
2. How will you prepare the community for potential wildfires?
Have you taken steps to educate residents about how to protect their families and property? If there’s an evacuation, do they know where to go and what to bring? Do you have a means of keeping residents informed? Residents and businesses located in fire-vulnerable areas should have a pre-packed “go bag” that contains personal items, N95 masks for both COVID-19 and smoke protection, first aid items and water.
3. How will you reach anyone affected by a fire?
Once you become aware of a threat, how will you notify anyone who’s in the path of the fire? Are you prepared with automated message templates and contact lists? Speed gives your residents the best possible chance to avoid harm during a wildfire. A mass notification system eases this burden by ensuring you’re ready to communicate calmly and efficiently.
4. How will you ensure community safety during disaster recovery efforts?
Once the fire is under control, how will you let your residents know when it’s safe to return? Damage to homes, local road closures and utility interruptions are common challenges in recovery efforts. Keeping everyone informed of repair progress will ensure residents don’t rush back too soon – before the area is fully secure.
Based on the predictions for the 2021 wildfire season, it’s vital that you prepare now. Take time to review the recommendations and resources available at the National Interagency Fire Center and check out the OnSolve Wildfire Resource Kit.