Lessons from Texas: Prepare for fire
Experts advise maintaining a "situational awareness"
As wildfires that have already destroyed more than 1500 homes continue to burn in Texas, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) are encouraging people in vulnerable areas to prepare their homes for the possibility of fire -- and to evacuate if called upon to do so.
The NFPA, through its Firewise® Communities Program in partnership with the IAFC and its Ready, Set, Go! Program is reminding homeowners to get:
- Ready: Take personal responsibility and prepare long before the threat of a wildfire so your home is ready in case of a fire. Create defensible space by clearing brush away from your home. Use fire-resistant landscaping and harden your home with fire-safe construction measures. Assemble emergency supplies and belongings in a safe spot. Make sure all residents residing within the home are on the same page, and know planned escape routes.
- Set: Get your family and home prepared at the onset of fire in your area. Gather family pets and have them prepared to evacuate. Pack your vehicle with your emergency items including medication and personal identification. Stay aware of the latest news from local media and your local fire department for updated information on the fire. Be prepared to evacuate your home if called to do so.
- Go: Do not linger once evacuation orders have been given. Leave early and stay away until your area has been cleared for return by local officials. Promptly leaving your home and neighborhood clears roads for firefighters to get equipment in place to best maneuver the wildfire and ensures you and your family’s safety.
Given the current level of wildfire activity in Texas, the experts say residents in high-risk areas should maintain a situational awareness of the fires and evacuate if the order is given.
In a Firewise Communities Blog, Michele Steinberg notes with dismay that fewer than half of those polled in a USDA Forest Service study -- even those in high-risk fire areas -- had a plan in place for what to do in the event of a fire.
"As the fires in Texas continue to destroy homes, take lives, and disrupt business and personal routines, many of us are wondering what we would do if given only a few days, hours or minutes to prepare ourselves for this threat or other natural hazards," writes Steinberg. "Likewise, law enforcement and fire safety officials are wondering if residents are hearing and understanding their urgent messages of preparation, awareness and survival strategies."
The Forest Service's Sarah McCaffrey will be discussing her research on Montana, California and Florida communities at the NFPA's Backyards and Beyond Conference October 27-29, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. McCaffrey did find that about 2/3 of those surveyed were conducting mitigation activities on and around their homes to prepare for wildfire. However, a significant minority said they would wait and see or stay in their home in the event of an evacuation order.
"The research also found that most people did NOT know what behaviors were most safe in terms of their personal survival," noted Steinberg.
About the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
NFPA is a worldwide leader in fire, electrical, building, and life safety. The mission of the international nonprofit organization founded in 1896 is to reduce the worldwide burden of fire and other hazards on the quality of life by providing and advocating consensus codes and standards, research, training, and education.
The Firewise® Communities Program encourages local solutions for wildfire safety by involving homeowners, community leaders, planners, developers, firefighters and others in creating fire-adapted communities – places where people and property are safer from the risk of brush, grass and forest fires. Firewise is a program of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and co-sponsored by the USDA Forest Service, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Association of State Foresters.
About Ready, Set, Go! Program
The Ready, Set, Go! Program utilizes firefighters to teach individuals who live in high risk wildfire areas and the wildland-urban-interface (WUI) how to best prepare themselves and their properties against fire threats. Ready, Set, Go! works in a complimentary and collaborative fashion with Firewise and other existing wildland fire public education efforts. It amplifies their messages to individuals to better achieve the common goal we all share in fire-adapted communities.
The IAFC represents the leadership of firefighters and emergency responders worldwide; our members are the world's leading experts in firefighting, emergency medical services, terrorism response, hazardous materials spills, natural disasters, search and rescue, and public safety policy. Since 1873, the IAFC has provided a forum for fire and emergency service leaders to exchange ideas, develop professionally and uncover the latest products and services available to first responders.