Most of the country has suffered through one of the hottest summers on record, and hurricanes the magnitude of which have not been experienced in decades pound Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Puerto Rico. As a first responder, your Public Safety Prevention Plan, CERT Team training, and public awareness programs should be “Top of Mind.”
The following article from Michael Williams “Hope Is Not A Plan” really drives the point home. Speaking as someone who personally evacuated his family and everything “important” to us in the back of our SUV in 2007, I can speak first hand, that should the time come again, we will be prepared.
– Bill Booth Editor
HOPE IS NOT A PLAN
It is a quiet night with a slight wind blowing through the tops of the intermittently moving tree tops, breaking the rays of light from the full moon overhead. The crisp air is clean and fulfilling as the stars flicker in the background. An orchestra of crickets fills the otherwise void of sound. The lights from the town below light the skyline in a cosmic pattern of penetrating colors. Indeed, it is a Hallmark moment.
Suddenly, the air turns hot. The quiet is overtaken by the sound to crackling flame. The crickets stop their nightly opera. You turn to see a bright orange glow reflecting off dark and heavy, rapidly rising bellows of smoke and flame. Red hot embers begin to fall all about you. At first they are eerie, as fascinating as watching lightning bugs on an open lake. Your trance is quickly broken when several glowing embers land in front of you starting small fires. Other embers fall on you burning your shirt, then your skin and hair. The air fills with the smell of heavy chocking smoke. The whines of sirens begin to echo throughout the canyon, slowly growing louder as they move closer and closer. You tense up. Your mouth gets dry. Your fingers grow numb. Your heart feels as if it is going to burst out from your chest. Your stomach begins to burn from within. Your eyes begin to water. You know it is panic, but you try to control it. Without reservation, you know it is time to leave; but to where?
You run into the house yelling to family members who are perched in front of computer screens and television sets, totally unaware of what is bearing down on them. Confusion and panic quickly sets in. You cannot find your car keys. One of the children stops and starts crying, refusing to help garb personal belongings. You recall you should take important papers, so you run into your home office. What to take? What is important? Your kids are now yelling that the fire is in the back yard! What are you going to do? What are you going to take? You are still looking for your keys. You have got to go now! Where are the car keys!
You decide that leaving is the only option and you head out the driveway to meet a fast moving wall of flame, smoke, embers and your neighbors who are trying to escape too. You ask yourself again, where to go? The fire department is moving up the street, lights flashing, reflecting on the heavy smoke, adding to the chaos of the moment. The police are urging immediate evacuation over their public address system, their stern voices echoing throughout the neighborhood. Your kids are crying, scared and overloaded with emotion. As you move down the road, you notice you have an empty gas tank; the warning light boldly flashing its cautionary message. Alas, you are stuck in a line of slowly moving cars. Suddenly, the overhead streetlights flicker dead and all the homes are now dark as if they are giving up to the enviable.
In you’re mind you hope for the best.
This little drama may sound like an attempt to glamorize fictional events. However, for all too many, this is more of an over simplification of what happen to them and their family during the recent fires. Following the Gap fire, many local residents felt that nothing more could happen. Ah, but the Tea Fire and the subsequent Jesuita Fire proved them wrong. Still, there are those who think that there is little left to burn. Regrettably, this is not true. There is plenty to burn, much that has not burned in decades. Now is the time to plan, not assume that the worst is over.
I have been writing articles on the topic of preparedness for many years. I have addressed many local issues regarding emergency planning, preparation and prevention. I have promoted many of the local public safety initiatives, particularly Cal Fire’s Ready! Set! Go! The results of these community efforts and county wide programs such as Aware and Prepare have proven effective in reaching our community with the message for awareness and emergency preparedness. The results of the efforts of local public safety and non-governmental agencies can be seen throughout our community. But, are we really ready? Is the hope that everything will work out still the operational directive? If there is any message that needs to be heard, it is that hope, in any form, is not a plan. Hope may build personal strength or make you feel good on some particular issue, but when the emergency hits, whatever it may be, you need to be ready. Hoping that someone will come to take care of you is foolish. How many people can you help when you cannot help yourself?
No one can do everything themselves, including holding off wildfires or recovering from floods and earthquakes. Public safety agencies cannot be everywhere for everyone either. Priorities will take precedent in large emergencies. It is unlikely you are a priority under such circumstances. It may be hours to days before local government can stabilize. Locally, considerable effort has been made to make sure we are as ready as possible, but you and your family need to take charge of your ability to overcome the challenges of a disaster.
Ready! Set! Go! is the state-wide policy in the event of a wildfire. Local fire officials do not want you trying to defend your property, putting yourself in danger when they are there. They cannot rescue those who chose to stay only to learn they should have left when they had the chance. Click on this link to watch the very informative video provided by Cal Fire – https://youtu.be/dcf8FRAqUww
Click here for the Cal Fire READY! SET! GO! Infographic
Your prevention plan must include what to do if you have to leave your home. Do you know where you would go at this moment if you had to leave your home suddenly? Friends, family, local motels are all options, but you need to think about your options in advance. Under stress, you may not be able to make the best decisions. Hoping that someone will take you in is not a plan. Are you ready?
About the Author
Michael S. Williams Fire Service Training Institute
Williams founded the Fire Services Training Institute in 1995 to find solutions to the challenges confronting the volunteer fire service. He has been an active member of California State Firefighters Association (CSFA) since 1994, having served on the volunteer and public relations committees, and as a southern division deputy director. He sits on several local organizations including the Santa Barbara County Fire Safe Council, the Tri-Counties Training Officers Association, Santa Barbara Chapter of CAER and is a founding member of the Santa Barbara PIO group Emergency Public Information Communicators (EPIC). He has been the author of many articles and a columnist for a local newspaper on public safety matters. He is also the co-host of Community Alert on KZSB AM-1290 in Santa Barbara. Williams has been a member of the California State Board of Fire Services since 2008. Prior to becoming involved in the volunteer fire service, Williams was a California police officer for 12 ½ years and a POST certified Field Training Officer. He is a licensed private investigator and security consultant specializing in self-insured, government and insurance defense assignments.