Did you know 87 percent of all wildfires are caused by humans? While it’s incumbent on all of us to prepare and practice for fire emergencies all year long, May is National Wildfire Awareness Month. In many regions, this month begins the change in weather that typically precedes wildfires, as explained by the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC).
Last year, 58,985 reported wildfires consumed 7,125,643 acres nationally. Some regions experienced much higher than average fire outcomes, including Northern California, the Northwest and eastern areas of the country. The Northern Rockies experienced twice the normal acreage impact. As of mid-March 2022, 12,514 fires have been reported – almost double the 10-year average. And from now through June, the NIFC predicts conditions that may lead to above average fire potential in a number of regions around the country.
In addition to these environmental factors, the battle against COVID continues. “Exposure to air pollutants in wildfire smoke can irritate the lungs, cause inflammation, alter immune function and increase susceptibility to respiratory infections, likely including COVID-19,” according to the CDC. With this in mind, the National Wildfire Coordinating Group has created a page dedicated to managing the intersection of wildfires and the pandemic.
Wildfires are a significant and ongoing threat—not only to your people, places and property, but also to your fundamental ability to continue operations. To improve your critical event management (CEM) plan and better manage this risk, follow this 5-step wildfire readiness checklist.
1. Examine last year’s results.
Now’s the perfect time to take stock of how your plan played out in 2021. If you can honestly and accurately discuss what worked and what didn’t with your residents, staff and all stakeholders, you have a better chance of improving your results this time around. If your mass notification system has an audit trail feature, put it to good use. If it doesn’t, consider switching to a solution that offers one.
2. Prepare your community for this year’s forecast.
Make sure to take advantage of the resources available to help everyone get ready. For government agencies, it’s essential to educate your community on proper fire safety and how to create a plan. At the organization level, share key information with your employees, including how they should expect to hear from you. Deliver preparedness information early via as many channels as possible to ensure it’s read, understood and put into practice. From evacuation routes to pre-packing and planning for vulnerable household members and pets, the more everyone organizes in advance, the more effective they’ll be in the moment.
3. Outline your critical communications strategy.
It’s vital to know how you’ll maintain contact and accountability before, during and after a wildfire. Ensure your alerting system offers a fast and easy means to pre-create messages and contact lists, so they’re ready to send at a moment’s notice. Two-way messaging capability will enable people to mark themselves safe or request help. First responders can confirm they’re able to report to the incident they’re being called in for. Take your strategy one step further with automated language translation to ensure your messages are understood and, therefore, more effective.
4. Identify your means of tracking and assessing risk.
Strengthen your communications and overall awareness with a system that has AI-powered risk intelligence to show you the location and status of fires in real time. Government agencies can monitor wildfires across their state closely and be alerted when the potential impact to their people, places and property comes into play. Organizations can also get context and analysis of the potential effects on people and operations, enabling more informed decision-making.
5. Prepare for post-event recovery.
Anticipate a long-lasting aftermath that includes secondary and tertiary fallout. This includes factors such as road closures, utilities outages, displaced staff and a higher burden on medical facilities. For organizations, it’s important to verify contracts with your various providers in advance so you can budget, proactively shift operations where possible, and endeavor to maintain continuity of services.
For government agencies, it’s important to continue to communicate with your residents even after the fire ends, providing support and additional resource information. Reputational risk is also a factor in long-tailed events, so be sure to have a plan in place to address media relations. Above all, prepare for ongoing communications with residents and all stakeholders that keep them informed and empowered to persevere.
Proactive preparation will help your community stay cool, calm and collected when wildfire season burns. For additional insights and recommendations, watch the on-demand webinar.