Wildfire Corner: Start Planning for the next Disaster

Source: Emergency Mgmt Ontario, Canada
It’s winter. Are you ready for the next disaster? It could be a wildfire, a major winter storm, an earthquake, or even a train derailment that spews harmful chemicals. In this and future articles we will look at ways to be prepared for disasters. There are some simple steps we can take now to reduce the impacts on us and our families when the next disaster occurs — whether it is natural or manmade.

Communicate with Family and Friends

Let’s talk first about communicating with your family and knowing everyone is safe during and immediately after a disaster. During a one of these events cell phones and land lines may be disrupted. With this potential problem in mind, develop a backup plan and ensure that everyone close to you knows how to use it.

Here’s an example of a post-disaster communications plan :

  1. Call each other on cell phones, but if this fails…
  2. Text each other (texting uses less bandwidth and may work when voice calls cannot get through).
  3. Place land line calls.
  4. Get in touch with your designated out-of-area contact who act as your communications hub. (Local call networks can become overloaded following a major incident but you may still be able to reach a long distance number. Ensure that everyone in your family knows to call this number and give that person a status update.)

Family members also can use other channels—email and social media—to communicate with each other. The most important thing to do now is develop a plan and share it with all family members and others with whom you want to stay in contact during and after an emergency.

Stay Informed

Whether you are at home or off on vacation, you will want to know whether your home was impacted by a disaster. Most counties have some type of Emergency Notification System to alert you of time-sensitive general and emergency information. These notifications do not always go to everyone but they try to target a geographic region based on zip codes, street names or the entire county. Reverse 9-1-1 is one example of this type of emergency notification. In the county where I live it is called Alert Spokane to see the Spokane County system, which offers to send notifications to an email address or a text them to a mobile phone. For these notification systems to work, you need to register with your county’s Department of Emergency Management, usually via its website. Click here for a list of county emergency websites in Washington state.

Remember, one of the first things to do before the next disaster is to develop a plan to communicate with your family and stay informed. How devoting a few minutes of your holiday gatherings to get this done?

In the next article we will talk about building a preparedness kit.

For more information on being prepared for the next disaster visit the website of the state Emergency Management Division.

by Guy Gifford, DNR Land Owner Assistance Forester, Fire Prevention and Firewise Coordinator–Northeast Region guy.gifford@dnr.wa.gov