You Can Expect The Unexpected!
- Published on October 13, 2011
- Written by SARA WILLIAMS, CBCP
Emergency Evacuation Procedures from the Fry Fire Department in Sierra Vista, Ariz.
A) Three levels of evacuation readiness
- Evacuation alert – In effect when fire danger is extreme. May be in effect for weeks or months.
- Evacuation watch – Will occur when a fire or other threat is imminent, moving toward occupied area, and resources are mobilized to fight it. May last a few hours to days.
- Mandatory evacuation – Will occur when emergency officials order people to leave ahead of advancing fire or other threat.
B) How will we know when it is time to evacuate?
When an “evacuation alert” is called, watch for updates from the sheriff’s office, US Forest Service, and Fry Fire District. Residents should check for updates at one of the Fry Fire District Stations or by phone non-emergency number at 378-2665.
During the “evacuation watch” level you will be contacted by community radio, phone, or in person by the Chochise County Sheriff’s office or CERGT volunteers. You will be contacted again at mandatory evacuation. You should be familiar with the three stages of evacuation readiness. Keep in touch and stay informed.
C) What To Do To Prepare For An Evacuation
During evacuation alert: Prepare your home for the possibility that you may have to leave it rather than stay to protect it during a wildfire. In addition, prepare items to take with you by knowing where these things are and be ready to load them into the car.
1) Protect your home.
a. Check gutters and lee (downwind) side of structure for leaves. Burning firebrands and embers will be carried to and drop into the same places that dry leaves accumulate against buildings. Rake under open decks, walkways, and wheelchair ramps and enclose with metal screen. Leave hoses coiled on bare ground near hose bibs, several feet from wall and disconnected. Leave ladder on the ground near access point to roof. Rake around the base of wooden power poles. Remember: no power means no water in many cases. Leave driveways clear.
Bring things indoors. Lawn furniture, trash cans, kiddie pools, toys, garden equipment, hanging plants, flags, wind chimes, and any other lightweight objects may fly around in fire-generated wind.
b. Look for potential hazards. Dead limbs overhead can blow or break off and block driveway or fly onto power lines, roof, or windows in high winds. Remove and drag them away from the house. Review how to turn off electricity and water. Refresh your memory of how to turn off electricity at the main fuse or breaker and how to turn off water at the main valve. Dig to clear underground valve boxes.
c. Review how to turn off propane gas at the tank. Rake around propane tank, removing grass and leaves to 15 feet away. Propane tanks often become dislodged in floods. Gasoline tanks on metal stands should be checked for clearance from flammable materials, and be sure to secure the hose well above ground. Move flammable liquids and portable propane tanks to open areas safe from fire.
d. Prepare to cover the outside of all windows of your home. Large single-pane picture windows are especially prone to shatter in the heat of a fire, admitting burning embers to an otherwise fire-safe house.
e. Prepare to move objects that may get damaged by wind, heat, or water to safer areas of your home. If there is time when you are ordered to evacuate, after packing and other preparations are done, move television sets, computers, stereo and electronic equipment, firearms, and easily moveable appliances such as microwave ovens to higher levels of your home and away from windows. Wrap them in sheets, wool blankets, rugs, or burlap. Put ammunition inside a refrigerator or pack it for transport out.
f. Prepare a crate for each pet. Get animal used to crate and write your and your animal’s name on the crate. Tape leash and resealable bag to crate with medications and animal and health records (needed if you have to kennel your pet). Make sure your pet has ID tags on or tape written ID information to its collar. Have food and dishes ready.
D) DURING EVACUATION WATCH:
1) Gather essential supplies, legal papers, and family pictures.
2) Turn off automatic irrigation systems to ensure you have a full pressure tank of water if you lose electricity. Water manually and sparingly.
3) Keep fuel tank topped off on vehicles that you frequently use. If you own a roadworthy RV, plan to bring it. Move other vehicles and travel trailers to a safe, open area where they won’t burn or block fire vehicles.
4) You will need these supplies when you leave you home. Store them together in a duffle bag or other large container in advance:
n flashlight for each family member with plenty of extra batteries – tape switch to OFF until needed
- battery-powered radio with extra batteries
- first aid kit and prescription medications in their original bottles, plus copies of the prescriptions
- eyeglasses (with a copy of the prescription) and hearing aids with batteries
- foods that do not require refrigeration or cooking – three days worth, plus a can opener and utensils
- items that infants and elderly household members may require*
- medical equipment and devices such as oxygen tanks, dentures, crutches, and prostheses
- changes of clothes for each household member
- washing kit, soap, towels, rolls of toilet paper
- sleeping bag or bedroll and pillow for each household member
- checkbook, cash, and credit cards
- state and city maps of the area (Arizona and New Mexico)
- cell phone, batteries, charger, and outlet strip
- Chochice County phone book
- pet supplies, medicines, food, water, dishes, leashes, and medical records
E) IMPORTANT PAPERS TO TAKE WITH YOU
- driver’s license and/or passport, social security card, birth and marriage certificates
- proof of residence (deed or lease) plus recent utility bills
- insurance policies and vehicle titles
- stocks, bonds, and other negotiable certificates
- wills, deeds, and copies of recent tax returns
- computer back-up disks (or consider bringing the CPU itself with cord)
n family photographs are often the only thing that most disaster survivors wish they’d brought along
F) WHEN ORDERED TO EVACUATE
Close all windows, turn off water and power except to pump and water tank. If possible, turn off propane, load vehicle, and go. Time may be very short so prepare ahead of time.
If you only have moments before leaving, grab these things and go:
- medical supplies, prescription medications and dentures
- flashlight, batteries, radio, first aid kit, bottled water (one gallon per person and per pet)
- clothing and bedding: a change of clothes and a sleeping bag or bedroll, sleeping pad, and pillow for each household member
- car keys and keys to the place you may be going (friend/relative)
- pets, crates, and pet supplies (food, dishes, leashes, medicine, and pets’ medical records)
G) WHERE DO WE GO WHEN WE ARE TOLD TO EVACUATE
1) You will receive instructions when you are ordered to evacuate, but you can help by taking an active role and planning ahead for your own needs. Residents should contact a friend or relative who lives in the non-threatened area and arrange accommodations. Leave a note on fridge with the names of people evacuated from your household, your cell phone number, and your intended destination if not using a local shelter.
2) Evacuees without pre-arranged accommodations will be directed where to go, most likely to a school or community center.
3) The fire station will most likely NOT be used to house evacuees since it may be in use as a command center. Parking is very limited.
4) Register your names and destination with emergency personnel as you leave.
H) PLAN AHEAD WELL BEFORE AN EVACUATION
1) Make a visual or written record of all of your household possessions.
2) Record model and serial numbers.
3) This list could help you prove the value of what you owned if those possessions are damaged or destroyed and can assist you to claim deductions on taxes. Photograph or video all items in your home, including expensive items such as sofas, chairs, tables, beds, chests, rugs, wall units, art, firearms, and satellite dishes. Photogram or scan documents listed above. Store a copy of the records somewhere away from the home such as a safe deposit box.
I) METALLY – VISUALIZE THE PROCESS, CONDITIONS OF AN EVACUATION
Doing the “mental homework” will help you stay calm in an emergency situation. Expect it to be chaotic and for you to feel frustrated at the lack of information coming from emergency responders. This is to be expected, but you can help by assisting and reassuring others who are in the situation with you.
Arizona experienced its worst fire season ever! Conditions are ripe with the extreme draught. Combine this with human nature, toss in a lot of wind, and the devastation begins. Citizens had better be ready to go fast!
The Monument Fire (only one of many burning at the same time in Arizona alone) was classified as the top fire in the country. This was not because of the acreage it was eating up but because of the homes, animals, and businesses it was threatening and ultimately destroying. The acreage involved was considerably smaller than the Wallow Fire in Northeastern Arizona that was burning simultaneously and was classified as Arizona’s worst fire in history based on the amount of acreage it has destroyed. As of this writing, the Monument Fire has destroyed 57 homes and four businesses in a matter of days. This number will grow as crews begin to assess the full situation.
The Monument Fire started in a remote area of the rugged mountains on the U.S. and Mexican borders. It is common for fires to start here, but they generally stay there. Sadly, not this one. Mother Nature was on its side and pushed the fire to the top of the mountain. On Sunday, June 19 the winds went ballistic, providing sustained winds at 30-mph and sending 50- to 60-mph gusts at normal elevations with higher gusts on those mountain slopes. The fire swept down the slopes driven by the high winds and, in one day, took out 14 homes and four businesses. At this point, thousands of people had been evacuated and more were in pre-evacuation status.
Evacuees had very little notice to get out of the area – 30 to 60 minutes in many cases because of the fast moving fire. For notification of evacuation, the reverse 911 was utilized along with house-to-house notification by public officials as they offered assistance gathering up things so homeowners could quicken their departure. Hourly, the evacuation status kept changing. The city and firemen’s command centers had to relocate as the fast-moving fire even threatened their operation centers.
The communities in the path of this beast were rural with acreage and many farm animals (cows, horses, pigs, goats, chickens, etc.) to be evacuated. There was also all of the “family pets” (dogs, cats, birds, bunnies, etc.) to be transported to safety. Most of the animals were evacuated, thanks to the efforts of the evacuees and the community, but many animals were burned or destroyed. One equine rescue center had 36 horses to move. They all got out, but one was severely burned as he got confused and ran back into the flames. There are tons of stories like this one that will break your heart. One wonders if some of it could have been mitigated if people had been better prepared.
Most of the locals were not ready for an evacuation situation which resulted in high stress, lack of direction, confusion, anger, tears, and fear – you name it and that emotion was part of the evacuation chaos. They hadn’t anticipated the need of a checklist of what to do in the event of a fast-moving fire. Such things as insurance and medical information, extra supplies of medicine, spending money, photos of their belongings in case they lose them, important phone numbers, cages, collars, food, feed dishes, litter, and pre-determined destinations of safety for pets and livestock. Once extricated from their homes, where do they go now? It is a hot summer in the desert, and shelter is needed for all. Many residents had no means to transport their animals and then keep them safely cared for.
The community of Sierra Vista (which could eventually become part of the evacuation group in a worst-case scenario) and all neighboring communities rallied, but it took valuable time to get the logistics moving. Hotels provided rooms at drastic reductions; two schools and the college in Douglas set up shelters for people and animals with the cooperation of the City of Sierra Vista and Red Cross; animal hospitals, training centers, and animal day care centers opened their doors for dogs and cats; concerned and Internet savvy people started Facebook discussion topics and offered shelter for animals and people in their homes. Unfortunately, people were on the move and couldn’t tap these resources easily without prior contact information or help.
Bisbee, Douglas, Benson, and Tucson all rallied to help this community, but they are about a 45-minute drive from where the daily information updates are given. People were reluctant to leave the Sierra Vista area or leave all the resources and information needed for help. People slept on uncomfortable cots a few feet apart in noisy, lighted gymnasiums instead of leaving the adjacent communities so they were close to the evening updates provided by the public officials. However, these updates were not covered well by the local and Tucson television stations.
Restaurants had to close due to lack of staff to operate since the staff had their own problems (many had been evacuated). Stores ran out of high-demand items. The local large animal feed stores were evacuated, making food for these animals unavailable. Hay for the large animals was being brought in by individuals from their own stash or buying it at places an hour or so away and transporting it to the shelters. Food for all types of animals was donated by companies in Arizona and California (they were donating to both of the areas affected by the fires).
Animals were as stressed as their owners. They were removed from their homes and couldn’t understand why. They just knew their lives had changed drastically. They were not eating normally, which resulted in digestive issues. The shelters had designated rooms for the animals that could not be kept with their owners. They were all kept in cages, and the rooms had a variety of animals including dogs, cats, etc. Volunteers (including veterinarians) worked around the clock to provide the animals with food, water, and medications. The dogs were walked a couple times a day or so unless they resisted coming out of their cages. Owners were known not to show up to take care of their own animals. Some small cages had two dogs so frightened they wouldn’t come out. Some were not taught how to walk on a leash and would freak out, but there was no room to let them run free. It was nearly 100 degrees where they were being walked – no shade – and it took a toll on the volunteers and the animals. Since I was one of the walkers, I can attest to how physically and emotionally draining it was (and I was not one of the evacuees). The cats never got out of their cages unless the owners came to see them. Small litter boxes were located inside the cages. While being fed, one escaped its cage and ran out of the building and into the desert. Volunteers were not necessarily familiar with working with dogs but wanted to help, and volunteers were desperately needed. Some were fearful and would walk the dogs but not touch them. Every volunteer was needed for the animals’ sake. The city’s homeless folks were bringing animals in and then staying in the rescue center even though they were not evacuees. People were bringing animals in and saying that they were not going to be picking them up and instructing the caregivers to find them a home. One can imagine how many animals will be homeless when the shelters are ended.
Initially, horses, pigs, and chickens went to a sectioned-off area at a local riding club. These large animals are not easy to shelter. They needed lots of portable corals, feed and water buckets, pitch forks, and of course hay. Special items for pigs and chickens were needed. The communities and companies came through – even from as far away as California. At one count, there were 250 horses at one rescue center alone, making it look like a city of its own. Many more were evacuated to private homes and other public locations such as fairgrounds in other cities. Fortunately, schools were out for the summer, so volunteers were more readily available especially during the week when so many people were not available.
Stress levels were extreme, and tempers would flair at the slightest issue. It is difficult to stay calm and collected when you can’t get a straight answer on the status of your home and animals. Information was not centralized, and the communication of that information was very scattered from news media, Facebook, Red Cross, a variety of public officials, and the firemen who were so diligently trying to get it under control. At one point, there were 26 different aircraft dropping water or retardants on these flames. Nobody knew the real facts at any given time.
When it was somewhat safe for certain neighborhoods, but not cleared for return, people were allowed to examine their homes and pick up any needed supplies. They had to sign up with the officials and were escorted to and from their homes. They had to show proof of residency. Others were allowed to return only to be told on that same day to evacuate again as they were planning backburns on the fire.
Are you “ready and set to go?” Think it can’t happen to you? Think again! People need to be prepared to leave their homes in a moment’s notice no matter where you live. You must be responsible for you and your loved ones (human or animal) and not depend on the community or government, especially in the early days. In the case of company executives, you may also be responsible for your company, so prepare yourself in advance if you want to reduce the chaos.
Sara Williams, CBCP, is a business continuity consultant for Jack Henry & Associates. Williams recently rolled off the DRJ Editorial Advisory Board after four years of service.