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January 31, 2009

Kentucky's Katrina?

Ice storms have killed dozens and tens of thousands are stranded in shelters or huddled in homes in Kentucky. The weather phenomenon has caused power outages to hundreds of thousands of homes in Kentucky and neighboring states.

The Star Tribune reports, "Thousands of people in ice-caked Kentucky awoke in motels and shelters, asked to leave their homes by authorities who said emergency teams in some areas were too strapped to reach everyone in need of food, water and warmth..........."

".........About 536,000 homes and businesses across Kentucky were without power, down from more than 600,000, the largest outage in state history."

According to the media reports FEMA is nowhere to be found in some areas and local authorities in some townships have not fully accounted for all residents.

The Associated Press quotes the Grayson County Kentucky EMS Director; "National Guardsmen who have responded have no chain saws to clear fallen trees, and FEMA was still a no-show days after the storm."

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear says many residents that chose to stay in their homes are doing so in part because they don't want to leave their pets. Lack of clean drinking water and food may force them from their homes but are there adequate shelter facilities for them to flee to?

This is where the Federal and State government have to step in. Remember the day after Katrina how the press were quick to blame the Federal government for the slow response. I'm wondering where the media is now with their complaints on this response. The President has been on National TV three times in the past 24 hours but he has not mentioned Kentucky once.

According to the FEMA website the president did sign an emergency declaration for parts of Arkansas on January 29. This from a storm on January 26. Red state Kentucky is definitely not front and center in his mind.

It's nice to see the Red Cross on the scene.

UPDATE: Others are watching!
Michelle Malkin posts a letter from Paducah. No Shep Smith, no Big 3 anchors, not even CNN.


January 29, 2009

San Diego Utility Suing Burned Out Homeowners

San Diego Gas and Electric is going after homeowners that may have disregarded defensible space standards during the 2007 fire season. The complaints were filed in response to class action lawsuits filed against them.

According to San Diego Online SDG&E has filed cross complaints against homeowners, local municipalities and even fire agencies in response to the lawsuits.

The utility is being blamed for starting the Witch and Rice Fires due to arcing wires. The utility argues the fires were spread in part by homeowners that were not in compliance with defensible space ordinances.

County and State ordinances define how property is to be cleared. Properly brushed and trimmed property is less likely to present a problem for adjacent properties. The utility will likely argue inadequate clearing by property owners added to the devastation. Embers from burning homes added more fuel to the fires and caused more collateral damage than would vegetation alone.

Technically they are correct and ultimately this could be a mitigating factor in a settlement negotiation.

How SDG&E could go after firefighters is a mystery to me and more than a stretch. Actions by firefighters in a fast running fire are not predictable or measurable and nearly impossible to duplicate. Conditions cannot be simulated.

Fire ground triage during a fast moving fire dictates which properties will be defended or not. A property out of compliance, shrouded in overgrown brush or trees will often be overlooked in favor of those more easily defended.

These decisions are always made with firefighter safety as the overriding factor.

Cal Fire Defensible Space Photos

As simple defense for homeowners is to pull up an overhead image from Google Earth taken pre-fire. The property was either in compliance or it wasn't.

I applaud San Diego Gas and Electric for drawing non-compliant homeowners into the fray. It shines light on the defensible space issue.
I hope the insurance industry is watching. Had they been inspecting their insured properties and forcing homeowners to comply with fire codes fewer homes would have burned.

As well firefighters would not have to make as many difficult save or burn decisions or God forbid suffer injury or death defending an un-defensible dwelling.

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January 22, 2009

Cal Fire Promo Video

Cal Fire promotional video. I have to admit I felt a true sense of pride watching this 90 seconds of excitement. I like the choice of music, it reminds me of a track from the movie "Gladiator"!


January 16, 2009

California Drought Concerns

Drought Monitor

The Wall Street Journal has a nice summary of the water concerns facing the Golden State including potential water rationing in some municipalities.

I look at drought from the point of view, no rain equals dry grass and low fuel moisture. Less rain means more downed and dead vegetation. If this pattern sticks this will be another dangerous year for wildland firefighters.

I'd like to listen in on some of the Cal Fire 2009 strategy meetings. A continuing drought combined with budget cuts offer a tough challenge.

Update; Bolinas almost out of water, hills brown, almost like August!

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January 13, 2009

Twitter as Emergency Communication Platform

Last week I mentioned I'd be leaning on Twitter as the 2009 wildfire season unfolds.

I have spent the past two days playing around on the platform. I opened a new account unrelated to firefighting and in less than 48 hours I have 24 "followers" in this new community.

Update: As of January 26 my new account has 215 followers and the account attached to this blog has 218.

Simple Twitter community building formula;

  • Think of any niche or subject and open an account
  • Post a few lines with your subject keywords
  • Search within Twitter for others that share your interest
  • Search lists of followers of your subject
  • Follower others in your niche or subject
  • Update frequently, take an interest in other in your community

Twitter updates can be texted straight to an account and the "tweet" is indexed in Twitter Search instantly.

FEMA, OES, and other government agencies understand the power of Twitter. These tech-stodgy offices are usually last to catch a wave. They are out front here.

UPDATE: Twitter ablaze with U.S Airways Hudson River plane crash updates;

*Information Week reports "Within minutes there were hundreds of Tweets about the crash, complete with pictures from eyewitnesses and even one person who was on a NYC ferry headed to the crash site to pick up passengers."

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January 12, 2009

Bloggers As Journalists

I make no such claim but the result of this lawsuit may vault me into this classification.

Who knows I might be looking for a roving "correspondent" in time. There are many stories unreported from behind the fire lines.

January 09, 2009

Grim Realities, 114 On-Duty Firefighter Deaths in 2008

The U.S. Fire Administration announces there were 114 LODD (line of duty) firefighter deaths in the U.S. in 2008.

Details are provided by the OH&S here.

Twenty six wildland firefighters died in 2008, more than double the 11 wildland firefighters that died in 2007.

Nine died when their Sikorsky helicopter went down in the Trinity Alps near Junction City California in early August.

The following young firefighters and pilots died in the aircraft.

Shawn Blazer, 30 Medford, Ore.
Scott Charleson, 25 Phoenix, Ore.
Matthew Hammer, 23 from Grants Pass, Ore.
Edrik Gomez, 19, Ashland, Ore.
Steven Renno, 21, Cave Junction, Ore
Bryan Rich, 29, Medford, Ore.
David Steele, 19, Ashland, Ore.
Jim Ramage, Redding, Ca
Roark Schwanenburg, Lostine, Ore
Grayback Forestry

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January 07, 2009

Colorado Wildfires, 11,000 Evacuated? Huh?

I'll refer readers to Reuters and Google News regarding the Boulder area fires.
January wildfires in Colorado. Almost as unexpected as wildfire on the Big Sur Coast in December or even April. This is Australia's season in the wildfire sun, not the Rocky Mountain region.

I have been using Twitter (link fixed) more often lately. As the 2009 "fire season" progresses I intend to lean on Twitter more for collecting and disseminating wildfire news.

Have a look at the Twitter Search results for Colorado Wildfires. It's pretty amazing.

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January 06, 2009

H5N1 Bird Flu Virus Claims 19 Year Old In Beijing

H5N1 Avian Flu is simmering in parts of the World. Are inhabitants in the Western Hemisphere concerned? Should we be?

With the expected role of first responders in mind it is important to stay up to date on this potential pandemic.

Today from Reuters we read of a young and otherwise healthy woman that died from the bird flu on Christmas Eve in Beijing.

"Hong Kong's Center for Health Protection said the woman had had contact with poultry before falling ill.

China's official Xinhua News Agency earlier reported that the woman from eastern Fujian province had bought nine ducks at a market in Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing, and then gutted the birds.

She gave three ducks to her father, uncle and a friend and kept the other six ducks, the agency reported.

It added that 116 people, including the patients 14 family members and neighbor and 102 medical workers, had been in close contact with the patient."

It's reassuring the victim's 14 family members are in the clear so far but it has to be a concern to Chinese officials the H5N1 has visited the nations capital city.

In other H5N1 has news the Sunday edition of the L.A. Times reports;

"........the virus appears to be entrenched in Indonesia, parts of China, Vietnam, Egypt and other countries where backyard flocks are more difficult to regulate than commercial chicken farms, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization.

Though bird flu viruses are common, highly pathological ones such as the 1918 virus and H5N1 -- which has been lethal to 100% of chickens infected and 63% of humans known to be infected -- are rare.

Scientists have little experience with which to gauge how H5N1 will evolve.

But, Webster said, "We still have to treat this as a potentially very, very dangerous virus."

In 2005 Hill & Associates issued a special report that discussed the pandemic potential as it relates to businesses with an International presence. The report singles out which affected countries are best prepared to deal with requisite quarantines, vaccination programs and an infrastructure capable of confronting a pandemic.

China, Pakistan, Thailand score low by H & A readiness standards. Japan, Australia and South Korea score higher and stand ready to confront a widespread outbreak. H & A did not address the readiness of the U.S. in their study.

The Times article points out that vaccination against H5N1 is tricky. Current vaccines for birds and humans is designed for many flu subtypes. Undisciplined or rampant vaccination programs as opposed to regionally administered programs invite the evolution of resistant strains. The effectiveness of these vaccines require a coordination between countries that does not exist at the moment.

The FDA has approved a bird flu vaccine but the vaccine is not being mass produced and there appears to be no huge stores being held.

Government operated AvianFlu.gov is an excellent resource for anyone seeking information on H5N1.

First responders are encouraged to review the IAFF Pandemic Flu resource pages. The IAFF has been proactive in providing information on H5N1 from the start.

The question remains, is H5N1, Avian flu, Bird flu something to worry about by North Americans? Absolutely. We should not be complacent just because the virus has not crossed our borders.

If it does we know very little of the vaccine is on hand. The vaccine on hand would likely go to hospital and first responders, this we expect. How fast could the vaccine manufacturer roll out product? Is there enough Vaccine on hand for first responder family members? How fast would anti-viral drugs like Tamiflu and Relenza disappear from pharmacies?

The case of this young lady in Beijing serves as a reminder the subject is still very much alive. Pandemic is an ugly word no one likes to talk about. As long as the potential for one exists the discussion must be kept alive.

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January 04, 2009

D.C. First Responders Gear Up For Mall Party

The District of Columbia is gearing up for an unprecidented crowd control event, the inauguration of the new president. The Washington Post details some areas of concerns for security and medical response teams including the good folks at DCFD.

"The threats aren't limited to violence or terrorism: Freezing or rainy weather could send people fleeing for shelter or medical attention. The D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department is among the many agencies across the region gearing up for demands. And the crush of traffic will put additional pressure on police and transportation officials.

Security officials might get one big break: Compared with some previous inaugurations, there are no indications that large numbers of demonstrators are coming to Obama's swearing-in, authorities said."

Sounds like a nightmare, God speed to our first responder Brothers and Sisters.