Last column I opined, “It would be a good idea if Paradise at large would take heed and become proactive.” Last week [August 26] as the hurricane inundated Houston the FEMA director told ABC news, “We have not built a culture of preparedness in this country.”
At the same time CalFire published an insert in our local newspapers about being prepared for fires. Butte County Fire Safe Council annually mails out a brochure on fire preparedness. This is good. Many have prepared a “go bag”, know their community assembly points, and have a plan for their pets and communicating with family in the event of a fire emergency. Fire has the highest probability of devastating our community, more than any other “natural” disaster. On a ridge with few evacuation routes, we know we are densely populated beneath a canopy of dry oaks and pines for months every year, and the summer heat seems to be intensifying. CalTrans recently straightened a few curves on Clark Road downhill from Paradise, and that will greatly speed up an evacuation in that direction. We have over time, especially since the 2008 fires at our borders, built up some culture of fire preparedness. After a major fire disaster, we would depend on FEMA, donations, and insurance for those who have it. Just as a hurricane and flooding is foreseeable in Houston, a catastrophic fire is foreseeable in Paradise. Sometimes, though, we ignore the danger.
Was the FEMA director’s statement that we have not built a culture of preparedness in this country correct? He essentially said that FEMA is not fully prepared to fill in the gaps for people and communities which are not sufficiently prepared for probable devastation.
Daily we watch the latest disaster unfold on television, which of course cannot or does not convey the full extent of the suffering.
Local government, under the direction of elected officials, should lead the effort to build up our culture of preparedness, not only for fire, but also for other probable scenarios.
I spent a few years working at the Headquarters of the United States Army in Europe where teams of people worked every day to plan to deal with a variety of possible geopolitical scenarios having to do with war. This is what it takes to be ready. Plans are insurance, enabling us to deal with whatever may come our way. We hope we will never need to use the insurance; however, having it in place provides peace of mind as well as a set of operational plans.
Preparedness, planning and implementation has a cost, whether we use professional staff, volunteers, or a combination of both. We have a base level of planning for fires. Let’s expand and broaden our own preparedness. FEMA may have too many emergencies and too shallow of pockets to take care of us when the time comes.
Constructing a Culture of Preparedness was published in the Paradise Post on September 6.
Robin Huffman lived in Paradise, California from 1989 until she evacuated from the Camp Fire on Nov. 8, 2018.