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On Second Anniversary of California’s Camp Fire, a Look-Back on Lessons Learned – and Lost – in another Emergency. NorCal Fire Warning Failures Continue, so Let’s See What We Learned in 1982 during Hawaii’s Hurricane Iwa

California’s deadliest wildfire tore through the town of Paradise two years ago on November 8. The Camp Fire killed 85 people and left thousands displaced and grieving for their paradise, lost in the forests of Northern California. I’ve been campaigning here at CHORE for improved wildfire alerts since even before that fire’s well-documented failures (archived site loads slowly), and I’ve generally avoided using the “I” word in these posts. This campaign isn’t about attracting attention to myself.    But – I  do  have the kind of hands-on emergency communications experience that appears lacking in far too many California officials charged with emergency response.  My September 21 post strongly hinted at what hands-on proactivity looks like in calling for “a new way of thinking, of taking action, of shouldering personal responsibility to save lives.”  Learned Lessons Lost Hurricane Iwa struck Hawaii in November 1982 and quickly forced me and the rest of Hawaiian Electric Company’s cor
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Finally, Some Media Focus on Tragic Wildfire Fact: Systems That Warn People about Evacuations Have Dangerous Drawbacks. Millions of Californians Rely on Alerts That May Never Arrive. Another Fact: AM Radio Rarely Fails in a Crisis

  Taylor Craig stands on the edge of his family's property outside of Vacaville, CA on Oct. 2020. Craig fought off the flames and protected his home after not  receiving  any evacuation warnings. Photo by CalMatters. CalMatters, the nonprofit journalism venture based in Sacramento, CA, recently turned its health intern loose to examine why so many wildfire alerts and warnings have failed in California’s 2017-2020 mega-fire season.   The resulting 2,700-word-plus article is must-reading for anyone responsible for planning and executing digital messages designed to keep people safe from wildfires.   One drawback of these systems is that they often require citizens to sign up or register to receive messages communicated over cell phone networks.   Ken Dueker, Palo Alto’s Office of Emergency Services director, told CalMatters: “You’ve got to sign up and, frankly, very few people do…. I don’t blame them because they don’t know about the tool -- they falsely assume the government has th

Yet Again, NorCal Residents Flee Wildfires in Panic, with No Warning or Time To Save Valuables; Yet Again, Something's Not Right

  The news out of California this morning is all about wildfires. Several erupted over the weekend, as covered by the Sacramento Bee and San Francisco Chronicle . The photo was taken early today in Santa Rosa, CA.  An NPR newscast this morning carried an interview with a Santa Rosa resident whose voice communicated the panic she felt when forced to flee with no warning.  It will take time to evaluate what went wrong with the warning process, once again. "Blame," and that's what it should be called, may spread over to residents, and it will take time to know why some residents were outside the warning bubble. But blaming victims is never correct. If blame needs spreading, it must cover those whose warning systems fail to alert residents early enough to allow a less-than-panicked exodus. Old School Solutions Air raid sirens in the middle of the night wake people up. Emergency vehicles with European-style high-low sirens can do that, too (some California communities have in

Fixing California’s Wildfire Alert Failures Requires a New Way of Thinking, of Taking Action, of Shouldering Personal Responsibility To Save Lives

  California's 2020 wildfire report likely will include scores of deaths before the last of the fires adds its acreage and fatality numbers to the total. Since 2017, the death toll from wildfires is above 150, and the state’s historical fire season still has weeks to go as the calendar turns to Fall.   CHORE insists that  many – maybe most – of those deaths could have been avoided if warnings had been easily accessible by the victims. Numerous media reports beginning with the Tubbs Fire in 2017 carried accounts of survivors’ angry assertions they received no warning.   “Received” is the action word in that sentence. It’s not enough to simply transmit warnings; they must be  received  to be effective.   Too many officials – from warning protocol planners at the State level to county sheriffs – are not committed to ensuring the public  receives  their alerts. If they were so committed, survivors would not complain of warning failures.   A New Way of Thinking   And that’s where a mind

At What Point Do We Begin Holding Officials Responsible for Wildfire Deaths when They Clearly Fail To Learn from Previous Warning Failures?

 Northern California wildfires raged on during the September 12-13 weekend, and newspapers duly reported on more warning failures: San Francisco Chronicle: “Wildfire warning systems by text, email, cell phone alert or reverse 911 call can’t always reach everyone in remote areas where coverage isn’t available, or when power or service cuts off. And sometimes, as happened in this season’s lightning-sparked blazes, the system can’t keep up with the speed and unpredictability of wildfires. Officials with Cal Fire confirmed that there was no evacuation warning for Last Chance, and that the evacuation order came just after 10 p.m. Sheriff’s deputies had no time to go door to door.” Let that last bit sink in: “Sheriff’s deputies had no time to go door to door. ” Is that really  the alert protocol when cell phone notifications fail? Deputies go door to door? San Francisco Chronicle: As soon as Cal Fire sent word of the imminent danger, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea sent out an evacuation war

Wildfire History Repeats; Officials Keep Trying To Push Warnings to Residents Using Systems that Just Don’t Get It Done, Even as AM Radio Is Under-Utilized

The philosopher was right: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."    The Northern California wildfires this week are showing how right he was.    Emergency managers continue to screw up evacuation messages to residents that are meant to save lives. From the Santa Rosa Press Democrat : Sonoma County officials are trying to rectify mistakes made with its various emergency alert systems that at times this week have either gone to the wrong area or even included evacuation orders from previous wildfires.   The Los Angeles Times took note of alert confusion and failures in an August 25th story headlined “California emergency alert system experiences some problems as monster fires raged” (subscription required): And then there is Sonoma County, where, unlike three years ago when the previous emergency management director failed to alert some residents of a fire at all, the department’s current leader is concerned with having alerted too many. “Using this s

Improved Public Information System Needed To Save Lives during California Wildfires in the New Abnormal

More lives were lost in the November 2018 Camp Fire that destroyed Paradise, CA than in any other fire in the state's history. As of November 20, the count had reached 79, with hundreds of residents still missing. Survivors have complained they received no warning as flames raced into the community of 27,000 and destroyed nearly every structure.  As reported widely, officials did not activate a warning system that was designed to issue evacuation alerts. Today’s San Francisco Chronicle reports: “Like Sonoma County officials last year, authorities in Butte County are coming under attack for not issuing a wide-spread emergency message to cell phones, known as a Wireless Emergency Alert, or WEA, when the fire broke out. “The high death toll of the Camp Fire is in large part due to people failing to learn of the danger and quickly evacuate. Several burned in their cars.” Officials said the fire was so hot and fast-moving that “devastation is inevitable, espec

Have Crisis Managers Forgotten Radio? Redding’s Emergency Preparedness Page Mentions Radio Only in Passing re Alerts about Threats and Evacuations

The Sunday July 29, 2018 Sacramento Bee reported that the Bledsoe family, which lost a great-grandmother and two great-grandchildren in the Carr fire that’s been raging in Northern California, had no idea an evacuation had been ordered.  Is there no organized communications effort among all responding agencies in these crisis situations directing people to tune to one designated emergency radio station? Even flip phone owners presumably have access to radio. A multi-channel communications effort to direct people to listen for fast-changing alerts and evacuation orders on ONE RADIO STATION appears to not even exist. There isn’t a station owner or manager alive who’d refuse an official request to become the go-to station in a crisis. Regarding the above headline: The City of Redding’s Emergency Preparedness website —  — mentions radio only in passing as a reliable communications channel d

Response to NorCal 's Massive Wildfires Needs Evaluation -- Without Delay

The Northern California wildfire devastation is nearly impossible to comprehend unless you lived through it, which we have not had to do in Sacramento. But the disaster has touched everyone no matter where they live, and citizens now have opportunities -- if not an outright obligation -- to do what we can in response. Monetary donations are perhaps the easiest, but each of us can also dig deep to see what we can contribute from our own experiences and backgrounds. No response system is immune from improvement, and the death toll from these wildfires -- now at 41 and rising -- demands a rethinking of how our elected and appointed officials responded to this emergency. Subjects in need of a thorough review include: * Emergency notification systems; the Sacramento Bee today delves into what worked and what didn't * Optimal positioning of fire-fighting assets once hurricane-strength winds are forecast and fires break out; * Many more.... I started this Citizens Helping Officia

Perry and Price Are Right: They Really COULD Do Their Brand of Emergency Broadcasting from Albania

Hawaii News Now reports "live" from the Big Island;  1500 AM on Oahu delivered the goods on Iselle with the HNN simulcast. Honolulu’s designated emergency broadcaster, KSSK, did what it said it would do – move its market-leading broadcast personalities to Las Vegas the day before Hurricane Iselle was expected to hit the islands. You can read about that decision here . In so many respects, KSSK’s emergency broadcast role in August 2014 mirrors how the station performed after the October 2006 Big Island earthquakes ( here , and  here ), how it performed after the December 2008 island-wide power outage and on other occasions, most of which are chronicled at CHORE (such as here , here ,   here and here ). In a nutshell, there’s nothing in KSSK’s approach to emergency broadcasting to suggest it knows how to respect the emergency. And here’s the proof: KSSK’s 7:30 a.m. Newscast on August 8, 2014 – about five hours after Hurricane Iselle arrived on the Big