Nuff Nuff

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Mandatory Evacuations in the USA 'V' Australia

I am writing this whilst sitting in my lovely house on top of a hill, overlooking the suburbs of Melbourne. 10-20km north of me are tracks of land – burnt beyond belief. To the north of me 7 people died, to the east of me 164 people died. To the northeast of me the fire got to within 7km of my property, before the winds changed.

I’m trying to give to you a sense of where we stood in relation to the Black Saturday Fires and how close they came.

There have been many tales told of the USA where ‘Mandatory Evacuations” take place and I thought I would investigate a little further. Not everything you can hear is true nor understood fully by the speaker.

The word “Mandatory” means (in context) – (adjective) authoritatively ordered; obligatory; compulsory: It is mandatory that all residents leave the area.

Now mandatory evacuation doesn’t mean that in the USA. In the USA you have 3 levels of alert,
1. Be aware of your surrounding, you may be required to voluntary evacuation to pre-designated safe areas (similar to Australia).
2. Voluntary evacuation – evacuations centres are opened and the public may use them if they choose, or may re-locate to friends and family outside the immediate area of danger. People considered unable to care for themselves should be assisted by officials in the area. This could include children, if authorities deem them to be at risk.
3. Mandatory Evacuations – evacuations centres are opened, people are encouraged to leave the area and move to the evacuation centres, until the danger passes.

Now this is where it gets tricky. If you choose NOT TO leave, when the mandatory call is put out, you are ON YOUR OWN. Emergency services will not attend, food and fuel WILL NOT be available. Nobody will come and rescue you at the height of the danger. You are ALL ALONE.

Some things to consider IF a mandatory evacuation order IS ISSUED IN THE USA. From what I can understand you are effectively under marshal law and could be arrested if you step off private property. Explain Mandatory/Voluntary Evacuation

Now the key to ALL of this working is warnings and people being aware of their surroundings. No matter how diligent the officials are at warning people, some people will be missed. That is why it’s essential no matter which side of the world you live; you pay attention to the outside world.

In the USA, where there is more time than not, ample warning of an approaching hurricane or similar, I’m led to believe that along with radio and TV, loud hailers and face to face warnings are issued. Mandatory Evacuation

Bushfires because they are not something that can be predicted (i.e. arson or fallen powerlines) then the ability to issue timely warnings can be very limited. But in the instance of the Black Saturday Fires, for three days prior warnings were issued on Television, Radio and Print media. This was effectively Stage 1 of the ‘be aware of your surroundings’

On Saturday the 7th February 2009, the media switched to (Stage 2) requesting people leave their place of residence IF they lived in an area deemed to be a high risk fire area, or prepare to stay and defend. At that stage, NO fire had been reported.

Once the fire got started, there was no going back, the weather conditions on that day were probably the same if not worse than 1939 and the inevitable happened. Even those that had been through the 1939 fires, thought they were invincible and that turned out not to be the case.

Personally I stayed, with my husband, we prepared, as we had prepared every day for this time. Our house had been constructed with fire mesh, with a water supply not requiring any form of power. We had a water pump; we had tanks with CFA connections. We had accessed what could and could not be saved, building wise. Prepared the animals to be transported or left. The neighbours had all been warned and transport arranged for the elderly and infirm. Those with young children packed and left. The fire should have hit us about 3.30-3.45pm on Saturday the 7th February 2009. At 3.15pm the wind changed, and the fire turned flank and headed east. God help those in the hills. I called my parents and told them the fire was coming. They had 3hours to prepare. They did what they could, warned those they could. They survived. Just like many others, who had spent a life-time doing the small things, leading up to that dreadful day.

So you see – Australia DOES have similar steps in place for emergency evacuations, the difference is people here, in Australia seem to think that emergency services have enough personnel on the ground to save THEIR house, bugger everyone else’s.

I’m sorry – there are two words – PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY. Heed them, look at them and act on them.


Anonymous said...

Sadly, many people make the mistake of thinking their things are just as important as their lives and they couldnt be more wrong. No matter how good a system is put in place there will never be enough emergency services available to cover everywhere it is needed or expected. It is one of the hardest things to pick up and leave our homes/belongings to the whims of nature, but homes can be built again and new belongings collected once again...Even if it takes time, those things can be restored..lives cannot. The average number of emergency service people to the general public is amazingly low, something like one to every 300 people,(and thats a really low rural estimate, in urban settings there is even a greater disparity. Even 'mobilized' to an acting group the numbers are still no match against the numbers of general populace that they are expected to serve/save and help. If asked to evac, keep those points in mind...Your move to clear out of harms way may not ONLY help save your life, but also could save some of those who may not have had been given such an advance warning. It would certainly improve the percentages of emergency persons to general public in need of their help. In the meantime...lets all hope we never need to be pressed to have to make that crucial decision and if we are, let us all hope we'll have the wisdom to make the right one.

Heather said...

Lisa- thank-you for the comment - and sorry it took me so long to respond. I completely agree, it would be hard to leave, but leaving is only a short-term thing, If you prepare, there is a fair chance you have a chance of defending IF YOU CHOOSE to. I'm not saying everyone is capable of defending, I agree some people can't manage.
I agree about the shortage of personnell, here is AU most fire fighting agencies won;t attend a bushfire outbreak up a dead-end road for fear of being trapped, yet 99% of people aren't aware of this. People NEED to be aware of their surroundings, of rules, of regulations and prepare weeks, moneths, years in advance of any encroaching fire. As I've said before, you can;t stand on the roof with a hose and telehone and expect to get an insurance policy as the fire bears down on you.
Thanks for the comments