Critical Communications, Severe Weather

How to Keep Your Cool in a Wildfire: Prepare and Plan

By Shannon Gallo

A raging wildfire is a frightening prospect. It can break out with little warning, and when it does, it can move fast and consume everything in its path. The result can be widespread, long-term damage in the form of lost human lives, homes and businesses.

The potential for destruction, especially in the Western United States, is substantial and growing. Last year in California, wildfires burned over 4.2 million acres – or about 4 percent of the state. In Oregon, the governor declared a drought emergency in the region earlier this year. Much of the West experienced a record-breaking heatwave in June, leading to explosive wildfire growth. By late July 2021, 79 wildfires had burned 1,542,180 acres in 12 states. Oregon’s Bootleg fire, the nation’s largest, has destroyed almost 409,000 acres – and it’s only 46 percent contained.

With higher than usual temperatures, the drought-stricken region across the western United States is a tinderbox – highly flammable and significantly at risk.

As if these conditions aren’t challenging enough, the global COVID-19 pandemic has added a layer of complication to fire-fighting efforts. Businesses and communities must take extra precautions to prevent the virus from spreading during any critical event. In the context of a wildfire, that means applying new health and safety measures to evacuation procedures, shelters and supplies.

How prepared is your organization or community to manage the threat of a wildfire? It’s worth spending some time assessing your wildfire communications to identify gaps. Start with these three fundamental questions.

1. Do You Know What to Do When a Wildfire Threatens?

Every organization should engage in education and training long before any smoke appears on the horizon. Employees and residents need to understand the basics of evacuation, including the type of alerts to expect, what information they’ll receive and tips for leaving their homes or offices in the fastest, safest way.

At the same time, you also need to train response teams on how to use a critical communications system. Regular tests ensure your personnel are familiar with and comfortable delivering mass notifications when stress levels are high. In fact, organizations that take time to educate their employees on how to send alerts see significantly higher adoption and response rates.

2. How Will You Notify Those in the Path of the Fire?

Communication is vital as soon as you become aware of danger. You must be able to deliver urgent information as quickly as possible, especially if evacuation is a key message. A critical communications system enables you to deliver alerts via multiple modalities, including email, text, phone call and social media. This will ensure you reach people, even if some channels are compromised due to the fire.

Be sure to segment alerts with information specific to each audience group you need to reach. For instance, vendors will need to be told to delay or reroute shipments, while residents will need to know to avoid certain routes.

3. What Is Your Post-Wildfire Transition Plan?

After the wildfire has been contained or extinguished, it may take several days or weeks before people can return. Since damage to buildings, local road closures and utility interruptions will make the area unsafe, you should expect to maintain a communications program long after the embers have died out.

A thorough communications plan can streamline this effort. To smooth the transition back to normal, create message templates for the recovery effort, such as repair progress, office closures, supply chain delays, etc. When you keep everyone informed, you reduce the odds that people will return too early, while the environs are still unsafe.

Successful outcomes never happen by chance. When every minute counts™, preparation is the best way to protect people, places and property.

Learn how you can prepare for wildfires. Watch the webinar “The Next Wildfire is an Unpredictable Lightning Strike Away: Is Your Critical Communications System Ready?”