Hurricane Season 2018: Preparing Your Fire Department


CarolinaFireJournal - Chris Goins and John Kelley
Chris Goins and John Kelley
07/27/2018 -

Hurricanes and severe storms in 2017 delivered a devastating blow across the Atlantic, from Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands to the U.S. mainland. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), there were 16 separate billion-dollar weather events in the U.S. last year resulting in a cumulative cost of $306.2 billion – making 2017 the costliest hurricane year on record. 

image

As we enter the hurricane season, which spans from June 1 to November 30, weather experts are predicting more severe storm events. NOAA estimates a “75 percent chance that the 2018 season will see near or more than the average number of storms in the basin.”

As we enter the hurricane season, which spans from June 1 to November 30, weather experts are predicting more severe storm events. NOAA estimates a “75 percent chance that the 2018 season will see near or more than the average number of storms in the basin.”

No one understands this threat more than first responders. If you’re a firefighter in North Carolina or South Carolina, you’ve heard all too often “it’s headed our way.”

You know what happens next. Calls pour into the station. The region faces the possibility of trees and utility lines coming down and flooding damage to homes and commercial buildings. As the storm rolls in, the list of issues becomes longer. Members of the community will turn to emergency services for timely information and instructions on whether to evacuate or stay in their homes. In extreme cases, local residents may even gather at the station as a safe place to seek shelter.

With thoughtful advanced planning, fire departments will have a sound disaster plan and procedures in place to protect their citizens, and their station will have the structural integrity to withstand the storm. For volunteer stations with overlapping local government jurisdictions and duties, this can be more challenging. Most volunteer stations have personnel with varied levels of experience, training and availability.

We offer this checklist for station chiefs to ensure their facilities (and their personnel) are ready when severe weather strikes:

Step 1: Keep Your Station Running at the Time It is Needed Most


Routine Building and Site
Maintenance

  • Are the overhead doors in good repair, up-to-date and rated for heavy winds?
  • Are trees in good condition and trimmed away from the building and utility lines?
  • Are the gutters clean and the roof able to support the weight of snow and ice?

Power Supply

  • Frequently inspect your backup power supply!
  • If your station loses power, will your backup power automatically start, and after what time interval?
  • What systems and equipment are on the backup power system — communications, overhead doors, lights, cooking, computers, charge stations, A/C and heat)?
  • How long will the fuel for the backup power last?
  • When was the system last tested and serviced?
  • Is there backup/emergency lighting that starts before the backup power system kicks in?
  • What areas are critical or need additional lighting?

Personnel

  • Do volunteer personnel become fulltime during severe weather events?
  • Can the station accommodate them?
  • Will staff services be ready — showers, kitchens, food and power?
  • Does the staff know what is expected of them and how to balance those expectations with personal obligations?

Equipment

  • Are charging stations for radios, pagers, defibrillators, flashlights, etc., at the ready?
  • Is there a sufficient supply of fuel at the station for all vehicles and handheld tools?

Step 2: Establish Clear Channels
of Communication

In the event of a hurricane or other severe weather event, major news channels often focus their coverage on larger cities. Information reported on the news may conflict with emergency plans in local municipalities, so it is critical to verify and review the area’s emergency plans in advance.

Coordinate with other agencies, and be sure all team members are accounted for and know their roles:

  • Local/county government and emergency management offices
  • Police department
  • Adjacent fire departments and emergency medical service stations
  • Red Cross and medical providers
  • FEMA
  • Road crews/debris removal
  • Utilities: power, gas and communications

Establish clear communication methods between agencies:

  • Radio (and frequencies)
  • Phone/mobile/call centers and fall over of systems if one is damaged
  • Internet/websites
  • Who will be the media spokesperson?

While no amount of planning can prevent the unexpected, this checklist can certainly help elevate your level of readiness and allow your personnel to focus on their top priorities in the event of a hurricane.

When it comes to your fire station facility, those built prior to the 1980s often have difficulty meeting the demands of severe storms. Many stations have doubled their call load, and equipment and vehicles are larger, more complex and have greater power requirements. In some cases, it is best to re-evaluate the fire service area plan and take steps toward upgrading your station or building a new facility.

Chris Goins is Project Developer and John Kelley is Business Developer with Bobbitt Design Build. Bobbitt Design Build can assist you in upgrading your station and make recommendations based on current building codes and OSHA requirements.
Comments & Ratings
rating
  Comments

There is no comment.

Your Name
Email
Website
Title
Comment
CAPTCHA image
Enter the code

Issue 32.4 | Fall 2018

Past Issue Archives