According to the U.S. Federal Government, more than 39 million people, or about one-eighth of the U.S. population, is living with drought. “About 12.5 percent of the continental U.S. was experiencing drought as of mid-March” said Alice Hill, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Resilience Policy in the White House National Security Council. As warmer temperatures prevail, the probability of wildfires in drought prone areas increases, threatening every community and company facility in its path.
Although the west coast has been affected by a long term severe drought, other areas of the country are experiencing impacts, as well. In early March, before peak wildfire season, Kansas experienced the largest wildfires in state history. The fire burned nearly 620 square miles in southern Kansas and Oklahoma. The National Interagency Fire Center predicted above normal significant fire potential from the southern plains, expanding to the mid-Mississippi Valley and lower Ohio Valleys, and eventually to the Great Lakes as drier and warmer trends continue through the spring months.
Wildfires can have significant impacts on industry. Any situation that hinders a company's ability to access key infrastructure and perform critical operations requires thoughtful and effective response planning initiatives. Scenario specific plan evaluations that enable personnel to identify, prioritize, and respond to natural disasters, such as wildfires, is critical for minimizing losses and financial damages.
An initial fire pre-plan assessment should be conducted to identify the likelihood of wildfires in your area. If one or more of a company’s facilities has the potential to be in the path of a wildfire, management should ensure fire pre-plans are up-to date and effective, and take the following preventative measures to minimize risk.
- Cut back brush or vegetation that may be impeding on any structures on your property.
- Remove dead wood and combustible litter from the site.
- If possible, enclose the underside of eaves and decks with fire-resistant materials to keep out flying embers.
- Cover exterior vents with fire retardant mesh screens to prevent embers from entering building
- Develop, review, and share fire pre plans with local fire departments
- Train employees of fire prevention, evacuation procedures, and fire safety measures
- Identify on-site and external equipment resources, procuring contracts if necessary (fire trucks, Backhoe/Front end loader for cutting fire breaks)
- Check functionality of sprinkler systems and fire extinguishers
- Evaluate and maintain irrigation system
- If applicable, establish response team and train as necessary
The foundation of an effective fire pre-plan is based on site-specific details and up-to-date information. This pertinent information greatly assists responders in determining response methods and optimal equipment needs. Internal response teams and external fire departments should have knowledge of potential hazards and associated facility details prior to arriving at an incident. Shared fire pre plans can promote a coordinated, expedient, and safer response in the event of a wildfire.
Fire pre plans generally include information that will be used by decision makers at the incident. Below are a few insightful fire pre plan helpful hints to consider when developing your site-specific plans:
- Emergency procedures should include tactical consideration and personnel accountability measures.
- Update and share plans with external responders and fire departments, as necessary. It is critical to include updated contact information for key staff, as well as status updates of new construction and renovations.
- Implement a securely accessible means for pre plan storage, retrieval, and sharing.
- Ensure plans are intuitive and easy to read. . Fire responses may occur when light and/or visibility is limited. The easier the plan is to read, the better it is for all responders.
- Utilize plot plans to separate large complexes into response sections. It may be optimal to divide complex into color-coded quadrants. Response strategies can be developed for each quadrant, making it much easier to respond to fires in large complexes.
- Accurately identify alarm panel locations, key box locations, and hydrants.
- Specify location and details of stored hazardous materials
- Coordinate response exercises with fire departments
- Implement lessons learned and new firefighting tactics into response plans