Dec 022016

The death toll from a devastating blaze in and around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee rose to 13 on Friday December21, 2016. The highest loss of civilian life from a single U.S. wildfire in 13 years. Investigators have determined the so-called Chimney Tops 2 fire, which laid waste to whole neighborhoods in the resort town of Gatlinburg earlier this week, was caused by unspecified human activity. I am not sure what “unspecified human activity” translates to but I can offer a short comparison in laws intending to prevent discarded cigarette butts from being the human activity.

ckjth3guyaa0qdeIn Oregon, they have a law which states, “No one shall, at any time, throw away any lighted tobacco, cigars, cigarettes, matches or other lighted material, on any forestland, private road, public highway or railroad right of way within this state.” Not surprisingly law enforcement is more vigilant in looking for violators during fire season when the risk is high. According to Oregon State Police anyone who chucks a still-burning cigarette butt out the window is looking at a class B misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $500 and/or up to six months in jail.

In Tennessee, anyone who tosses a single cigarette butt on the ground may be charged with mitigated criminal littering and fined $50. Having lived in both states I can attest that it is much hotter and drier in Tennessee than Oregon. Common sense suggests the hazard of fires starting from discarded cigarette butts would be greater as well. My youngest son and I put out a small fire by the side of the road in Tennessee which was something I had never needed to do in 40 plus years in Oregon.

I’m not blaming the Gatlinburg fire on a careless smoker as the investigation continues. The tremendous loss of life and property, both residential and business, do require an analysis of how to prevent a similar disaster. I find it unacceptable behavior that the ground is a suitable place to discard cigarette butts. If people who smoke cannot police themselves than I would suggest laws be tightened and enforced to discourage the behavior.

Nov 262016

In my last post I also looked back at history and was quite surprised during the week watching the news. The consequences of the killer smog event of 50 years ago were replicated when hundreds were sent to the hospital with some deaths in Melbourne after a thunderstorm outbreak of asthma. This got me thinking it may be interesting to see how many events of the past are born anew to a new generation.

November 27, 1901 – A misinterpretation of instructions resulted in two trains colliding on a sharp curve outside Seneca, Washington, killing 20 passengers. For all of our advances in technology and billions having been spent on new communications systems since 9-11 it seems to still be an issue. Part of being NIMS compliant is use of an ICS-type system to manage events. Use of common language is supposed to help us avoid on-scene issues. Do you still see problems today with communication and what are you doing to solve the issue before it results in tragedy?

November 28, 1979An Air New Zealand sight-seeing excursion aircraft crashes into the side of the volcano Mt. Erebus in Antarctica, killing 257. It’s standard procedures for airports to hold drills and exercises but this misses a good number of agencies away from airports that might need to deal with a sight-seeing flight mishap. This year your organization should plan a drill to fill this gap.

November 29, 1973A fire in a Japanese department store that had no fire escapes killed 101 shoppers. It’s the holiday season and stores will be full of people. Hold a table-top-exercise with partner agencies to war-game this scenario due to accidental and/or intentional causes.  cxl76s7u0aiptz7

November 30, 1936London’s Crystal Palace (built for the Great Exposition of 1851) was destroyed by fire. This reminds me when the blimp hanger in Tillamook caught on fire. A massive blaze in a structure we’re so used to seeing. Good time to table-top with your neighbors the challenges that come from fighting a huge fire in your community.

December 1, 1958A fire broke out in the Lady of Angels School in Chicago, killing 90 children and three nuns. This event created momentum for change in how we could prevent a repeat situation. I am a firm believer in never saying something can never happen. Participate in the fire drills in your local school. Make sure you do more than go through the motions on the assumption the children are always going to be safely outside.

December 2, 1959The Malpasset Dam, built to service the Riviera region of France, broke open, flooding the Reyran Valley and killing 412. Dam failure exercises are probably something we should pay more attention to as this infrastructure ages and climate changes become more prevalent.

December 3, 1984While most of Bhopal slept a series of safety valve failures in a nearby Union Carbide plant sent a cloud of cyanide gas rolling over the city. Estimates vary but more than half of the 800,000 residents were injured, at least 10,000 died and all the city’s livestock killed. We’ve grown used to living with extremely hazardous chemicals near our communities because they so rarely escape their engineered confines. Make this the year you exercise a major release and practice your response to the life-safety issues.

Join me in picking one of these events to occur somewhere around the world this week. Demonstrating that history does repeat itself and our challenge is the prevent it from catching us off guard. I’m going with a dam failure somewhere around the world. What do you chose?

Nov 202016

It seems stories are written about events occurring around the globe like it’s the first time such a thing has happened. Unless multiple like-events happen over a short period of time or the event is of such magnitude it gets our attention we tend to overlook the likelihood of it occurring in our jurisdiction. In this post we’ll look back in history over this week and see what lessons we might learn.

  • November 20, 1935Ice build-up on the wings of a KLM-DC-2 caused it to crash in Pian, Switzerland, killing 13 passengers and crew. Modern airliners have systems to mitigate icing problems both on the ground and in-flight but it still can occur with tragic results. Is your organization ready to handle a plane down now that winter is upon us? fema_-_13370_-_photograph_by_roman_bas_taken_on_11-22-1996_in_puerto_rico
  • November 21, 1996An explosion in a San Juan, Puerto Rico department store killed more than 20 people. Lots of discussion has taken place regarding criminal attacks on malls, theaters and schools. Is your organization prepared to manage the life-safety and incident stabilization consequences of an accidental or intentional mass casualty event?
  • November 22, 1950A train crash between the Babylon express and a commuter train at Richmond Hill, New York killed 79 passengers. Rail lines are everywhere including light rails in many cities. Accidents involving trains carry unusual risks and challenges. Has your organization recently reviewed you standard operating procedures for just such an event?
  • November 23, 1963A fire broke out in a nursing home in Fitchville, Ohio. Only 21 patients made it out safely while 63 seniors died. Vulnerable populations are in every community.  Has your organization reviewed and updated these locations and developed response packages depending on the size of the venue and involvement?
  • November 24, 1966A killer smog in New York City caused 400 fatalities due to respiratory failure. Fentanyl laced over-dose deaths may be giving some agencies a small taste of what a respiratory mass casualty might look like. Have you ever table-top exercised this scenario and developed promising practice management strategies?
  • November 25, 1940The French steamer Patria exploded while at anchor at the port of Hefa, Israel , killing 280. For me the take-away of this event reminder is the added complication water adds to our response. Has your organization war-gamed situations where you have a mass casualty event on the water or at a venue only accessible via the water?
  • November 26, 1979An on-board fire killed 156 passengers aboard a Pakistan International Airlines plane at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Recently I was on a plane that had just pushed back from our gate at O’hare airport when we could see the black smoke pouring from the United flight out on the tarmac. I often am seated in an exit row and do take the time to make sure I understand the mechanism for opening the door. If I am not seated in an exit row I take the time to determine how many rows I am from the closest one. I anticipate needing to go by feel rather than vision if the cabin fills with smoke. In this type of event I am not worried the airport fire crews don’t know what to do, it’s the passengers themselves.

What are your thoughts on how we can learn from history to be better prepared for the future?