while ago, just before writing about Bradford’s emergency preparedness plan, there was a BBC news story about a fire that had broken out at nearby Drummonds Mill. High levels of carbon monoxide were released into the air. According to the BBC, about 100 houses were evacuated as a precautionary measure. One hundred firefighters tackled the fire.
Every time there’s a fire, evacuation, storm, power outage, or other big urban problem a discussion of emergency preparedness plans is timely. It would seem as though these thoughts are coming to mind almost every week, especially with all the extreme weather events taking place these days.
Happily Bradford’s plan is clear and concise.
Bradford’s plan is called Don’t Panic: Prepare! It includes useful checklists so that people can determine exactly what they need in an emergency, such as contact lists, wind-up radios, agreed meeting points, copies of important documents, and proof of insurance for buildings and contents.
Checklists should be not just what to have, but also what to do. These “to do” lists were pioneered by the aviation industry. You’ve seen examples in the movies in which the pilot says “flaps up” and the co-pilot takes this action and then states “flaps up.” That ensures the flaps are actually up. This method is especially helpful in health care. Checking the number and kind of instruments before and after surgery can prevent sewing up clamps and gauze in the patient.
There’s a book on the topic — The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande. The book shares medical war stories and how to get things right, starting with keeping a running list of things.
But, neither Bradford nor The Checklist Manifesto is perfect.
Bradford’s section on flooding, for example, is vague when it recommends keeping a “flood kit” ready. What’s a flood kit and what should it include?
Also, the Bradford plan’s point about keeping pets safe is a good one, but needs elaboration. It’s not enough just to say that pets should be moved to a safe place. Where’s that? Most evacuation shelters won’t take in pets. Many hotels and motels won’t. Some cities tackle this issue with lists of pet friendly accommodation, lists of boarding kennels, and even pet-friendly shelters.
People in urban emergencies will die trying to look after their pets. Disaster victims return to evacuation zones to save their dogs and cats as they would a loved one. Half of all pet owners say they would consider defying authorities during a disaster to stay with their pets if they were not allowed to evacuate with them. And in America, owning pets is considered to be the major reason why households without children fail to evacuate in time of emergency.
This is why a place like Kansas City has an Emergency Pet Services Plan. This includes estimates of how many pets and stray animals there are in Kansas City, what sort of equipment may be needed to look after them, which local organizations are meant to do what, as well as sample press releases reminding citizens how to take care of their pets in time of emergency. This is definitely a “best practice” which Bradford and other cities could adopt.
Most cities require people to pay a modest fee to license — or register — their animals. I bet that most of this information is stored in a filing cabinet or electronic filing system, never to be looked at again. I guess that these cities are more interested in the revenue generated than the emergency response potential.
Other elements of Bradford’s plan could be improved with more specific language on exactly what to do. It’s not enough to say “put flood protection equipment in place,” for example. Exactly what this consists of must be spelt out. What we all need is a fool-proof check list that works with people from other cultures, whose first language is not English, and who have vision problems.
Bradford’s plan covers floods, extreme weather, and industrial disasters. But there is no mention of what to do in the event of fire or carbon monoxide pollution. Luckily, authorities reacted quickly, and no one was seriously harmed this time. The Drummonds Mill event and its aftermath should be a wake-up call that emergency planning can and should be improved.
What do cyber safe communities do? They use the power of data to correlate information, including contracts, registrations, and GPS locations to ensure those affected get the care and attention they need. This includes pets. This information can be used in a large-scale evacuation, or when responding to a local emergency such as a gas leak or fire.