Wildfires are a natural and growing hazard in many regions of the United States. Per a recent USA Today article, the Texas Forest Service has already suppressed 605 fires burning 70,000 acres. Compare that with 149 fires burning 5,221 acres during the same time period early last year. Wildfires pose a threat to life and property, particularly in areas of urban interface. Through aggressive public education and awareness programs at the State and Local levels, lives and billions of dollars in property loss can be saved annually. Unfortunately the most effective time to capture the attention of citizens is when a hazard or disaster is looming, and time may not be on your side.
When a community is threatened by a wildfire there are many avenues available to disseminate information to citizens in harm’s way. In addition to television and radio, the use of route alerting, outdoor warning systems and social media are all effective, however, the most efficient method to deliver geographically relevant information is through the utilization of your mass notification system.
During the response phase, your mass notification system can be used to provide up-to-date information about the expected path of the fire, communities that could be affected by the fire, precautionary measures to minimize impact on human life and property, pre-evacuation instructions, as well as the actual evacuation notice, once issued. You can also provide citizens with shelter locations and details on how to obtain information from emergency response once they have been evacuated.
An outbound notification system has the ability to geographically reach citizens in a way that mass communication devices cannot. Given the high speed with which wildfires travel, and the rapid changes in direction, the ability to target an area and deliver timely instructions is critical. Most citizens will be starving for information at this time and the fact that you are reaching out to them with periodic and timely updates will strengthen your credibility and add to citizen confidence.
Often a mass notification system is thought of as a tool for emergency alerts. Don’t forget that your mass notification system can also provide you with many benefits during the recovery phase. The disaster doesn’t end when the fire goes out or the risk is lessened, it is not declared over until the community has been restored to its previous state. This often takes months, even years to accomplish. The better you communicate with residents during this time, the quicker the community can recover. Utilize your mass notification system to disseminate information such as health and safety messages, the re-entry process, long-term sheltering, disaster assistance programs, disaster recovery center locations, points of distribution, locations for reporting damages, Town Hall meetings or any other pertinent updates.
Your mass notification system won’t put out wildfires, but it will present much needed updates to information starved citizens. When used in response to wildfires, a mass notification system can prove to be an invaluable resource to pull from your Emergency Management toolkit.