Photo Credit: Examples of how adding emergency managers to your team yields better outcomes.

When we are talking about fire adapted communities, we are looking at before, during and after wildfire events, and emergency managers are crucial partners to engage at all of those points. I think without engagement from emergency management officials, we would be missing an important piece of the FAC jigsaw puzzle.

-Matthew Ward, Island Park Sustainable Fire Community

The Federal Emergency Management Agency defines the roles of a local emergency manager as managing resources before, during and after a disaster, conducting activities related to the key components of emergency management, and coordinating with all partners in the emergency management process. The specific functions of your emergency manager will differ depending on your community’s context. For example, some emergency managers also fill an additional position in their local government, such as the fire or police chief, on top of their emergency management duties (Haddow, Bullock and Coppola, 2014). In some communities emergency managers also help with coordinating plans, trainings and community outreach. Within the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network, organizations are partnering with their local emergency managers to better prepare their communities for wildfire. Here are a few stories from around the country that illustrate the power of integrating this important partner.

Planning for Evacuation

Planning, Pruning and Practice Working with the Appleatchee Riders Association and Chelan County Emergency Management
by Jon Riley, Chelan County Fire District 1 (Washington)

Chelan County Fire District 1 (CCFD1) and Chelan County Emergency Management (CCEM) recently worked together on a joint project for a stables complex, owned by the Appleatchee Riders Association, that included an evacuation plan and fuels mitigation work. The project came about as a result of a wildfire risk structure assessment that CCFD1 performed on the complex, which holds between 200–300 animals (mainly horses). After the assessment, we talked about evacuation preparedness with the stable owner. The stables are in our wildland-urban interface and they border public land that sees frequent fire, so evacuation preparedness for the barn was critical. Eventually, I directed her to CCEM, as they are the authority on evacuations in Chelan County. The Appleatchee Riders Association and CCEM worked together to develop and practice a plan for evacuation. They identified how many animals were located there, where they could take them in the event of an emergency, the best routes to get the animals out, and so on. Then, they conducted two drills and realized it was going to take them longer than they thought to evacuate and identified that they might not have enough time.

That’s where CCFD1 came back to the table. We developed a defensible space plan for the Appleatchee Riders Association, which included working on neighboring public lands. We found that a lot of the needed work was on public property near the stables, which brought two other partners into the project: the City of Wenatchee and the Chelan Douglas Land Trust.

The project was added to the “Make a Difference Day” projects in Wenatchee, Washington, and we ended up with 40 volunteers and a chipper (borrowed from the city). We spent a full day working together and the city was so happy with the outcome that they would like us to do more projects with them in the future — so the partnership will continue this year with my seasonal crew. A bonus outcome is that the stables go through a ton of wood chips, so it looks like we found a new outlet for chipping by-products from future projects.

Side by side photos of the same landscape, with the one on the right having less conifer saplings present

Before and after photographs showing the mitigation progress our team made on the “Make a Difference Day.” Credit: Jon Riley, Chelan County Fire District 1

By having CCEM focus on evacuation and CCFD1 focus on defensible space, it divided the workload for the project. The partnerships with the city and the land trust allowed us to conduct fuels reduction work on property bordering the stables. This was our first project with this set of partners, including CCEM, and it paved a good pathway for future projects.

Resource: Wildfire Preparedness for Horse Owners (PDF, 715KB)

Coordinating (and Practicing) Emergency Response in Barnegat Township
by Bill Brash, New Jersey Fire Safety Council

The New Jersey Fire Safety Council is coordinating a wildfire evacuation drill in Barnegat Township, New Jersey, that includes a tabletop exercise and a drill. Several partners are involved in the drill, including the Barnegat Township Police Department, the local fire department, the Barnegat Office of Emergency Management (OEM), the Waretown OEM, the Ocean County fire marshal, Ocean County Dispatch, the New Jersey Department of Transportation, the communities of Pinewood Estates and Brighton, the New Jersey Forest Fire Service (NJFFS), and Ocean County Animal Control. (In this drill, there are horse farms in the path of the hypothetical fire.) The cooperation among all of the participants has been terrific, particularly with our OEM. We started working with the Barnegat OEM during the original drafting of the township’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) in 2012, and they sit on the local Fire Safety Council.

The idea for the drill came about after Pinewood Estates lost structures in the Warren Grove Fire (2007). That community is still at increased risk of wildfire loss due to the prevailing winds and fuel type. We wanted to help give residents a way to understand their risk, especially because since 2007, not much mitigation has occurred. We also wanted our local OEM and other response agencies to have a chance to practice working together on a wildfire incident. We gained support from the township and NJFFS, and also applied for FAC Net funding to help conduct the drill.

The tabletop exercise will use a script and run in real time, for four hours. This will be an important opportunity to practice coordination among the county dispatch, OEM and NJFFS. The drill will include the same partners, as well as any residents who wish to participate. Residents will hear the scenario, see the fire trucks and hopefully learn more about the activity that will occur in the event of a wildfire. They will learn about plow lines, air tankers, traffic jams and evacuation procedures through a series of learning stations. The drill will also incorporate emergency medical services (EMS) through a few scenarios, such as responding to a heart attack and an injured firefighter. Barnegat Township is served by two EMS squads — the public township squad and a private contract squad. The township’s OEM coordinator wanted both providers involved in the drill and tabletop exercise to identify any areas of confusion.

Drills and tabletop exercises are important because they breed familiarity among stakeholders which can build trust and discipline. This is important when so many different agencies are involved in a major incident. Another benefit of drills is the opportunity to drive home lessons learned from previous incidents before the next one occurs. Without the OEM’s involvement, we might have overlooked important considerations, and a key partner would have been missing from the table.

For more stories on evacuation preparedness, check out this blog, Firsthand Accounts: How to Prepare Your Community for a Wildfire Evacuation.

FAC Coordinating Group Participation

Partnerships to Move FAC Forward
by Matthew Ward and Liz Davy, Island Park Sustainable Fire Community (Idaho)

The emergency manager for Fremont County, Keith Richey, was one of the founding members of the Island Park Sustainable Fire Community (IPSFC). He sits on our steering committee and attends many of our monthly meetings. As a USDA Forest Service wildland firefighter for several years, Keith understands the role of fire in this ecosystem and the role of the Forest Service in wildfire management. He is passionate about his current job and realizes a fire adapted community approach is an important part of his job.

Keith participates with IPFSC in a few different ways; he represents the county’s interests in our programs, helps advance our strategic goals, and participates in specific projects, like updating evacuation routes for our subdivisions. He was instrumental in collecting residential fuels information, through a program called Red Zone. Fremont County funded Red Zone and continues to support updating that data. This information was critical in developing our fire risk map and treatment priorities. One particular subdivision has been really engaged with him on evacuation planning, and he has been a big help to them.

As we were developing the grant proposals to the Cohesive Strategy and the Western Fire Managers to develop IPSFC, Keith was heavily involved. In fact, the grant funds were originally awarded to the county. Keith was the point of contact for that money, as well as the county’s representative. He still participates actively, even though the county is no longer the recipient of the grant funds. At the basic level, just having him attend meetings, engage with residents, and build relationships with private citizens has been extremely valuable. His knowledge as an emergency manager and evacuation expert is helpful to communities making evacuation plans, and we value his participation greatly.

Community Outreach

Collaboration on Community Outreach
by Rebecca Samulski, Firewise of Southwest Colorado

A few months ago, FireWise of Southwest Colorado convened, co-hosted and facilitated a seasonal outreach strategy meeting regarding the promotion of the various wildfire outreach events underway in our area. At the meeting, La Plata Emergency Management pointed out the strength of collaboration among diverse agencies and the importance of letting the public know that we are all working together on wildfire preparedness. This strength is particularly essential this year, given that we were at the start of what everyone is anticipating to be an above-average fire year. In general, our OEM has been engaged in wildfire preparedness outreach throughout the county. They helped design our early season evacuation preparedness campaign and advocated for preparedness efforts with community leaders. Emergency managers can make a world of difference in coordinating preparedness, response and recovery from wildfires and other disasters, but they are often overtasked, which makes it paramount that wildfire councils and other collaborative groups support effective pre-planning and are ready to follow our OEM’s lead when a wildfire event happens.

Meeting with La Plata's emergency manager and other wildfire resilience practitioners

Coordinating outreach events with our local Office of Emergency Management and other partners. Credit: Rebecca Samulski, FireWise of Southwest Colorado

… And So Much More!

The stories above are just a few ways that organizations are partnering with local emergency managers to work on community wildfire resilience. Other examples we heard from FAC Net members include partnering with emergency managers to complete CWPPs, recovery planning and other outreach efforts. But, we want to hear from you. How do (or might) you engage with your emergency manager?

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