What we can learn from the Drummonds Mill Fire



Originally posted on my blog July 14th, 2016

As I sat down to write about Bradford’s emergency preparedness plan, I saw on BBC news that a fire had broken out at Drummonds Mill. High levels of carbon monoxide were released into the air. According to the BBC about 100 houses have been evacuated as a precautionary measure, and 100 firefighters were still tackling the fire as I was writing.


So a discussion of Bradford’s emergency preparedness plan couldn’t be more timely.


In researching my book Safer Cities of the Future, I discovered that many urban emergency plans are inadequate. Many such plans in America, for instance, rely on people self-evacuating in private cars. But up to 56% of urbanites don’t have cars, and often other remedies listed in crisis plans turn out not to exist. In fact, some evacuation orders have killed more people than the emergency did.


But Bradford has one of the better plans that I’ve seen so far. In my study of 100 urban emergency plans from the top English-speaking cities in the world, I discovered that Bradford’s plan is one the clearest and most 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 emergency contacts lists, wind-up radios, agreed meeting points, copies of important documents, and contents and building insurance.


But Bradford’s plan isn’t perfect.


Its section on flooding, for example, is a bit vague when it recommends keeping a “flood kit” ready. What’s a flood kit and what should it include? The plan doesn’t say.


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.


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, Missouri, 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.


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 spelled out.


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 disaster and its aftermath should be a wake-up call that emergency planning can and should be improved.

Today in History: April 11th

1988: A gas tanker overturns in Walton, England, and spills 6,000 gallons of fuel. Houses are evacuated, and an explosion occurs in a pub cellar, however no lives are lost. The event is an illustration of the complications that can arise from lack of coordination among different sets of responders.

1914: Robert “Honest Bob” Stanfield, Nova Scotian Premier and leader of Canada’s federal Progressive Conservatives, is born.

1713: The Treaty of Utrecht is signed, ending the War of the Spanish Succession. France recognizes British title to Hudson Bay, cedes Acadia and Newfoundland to Britain, but keeps fishing rights. The French settlers relocate to Cape Breton Island, where the fortress of Louisbourg is built to protect the French fisheries and the sea lanes to Québec.

Political Columns – Honest Bob Stanfield

An Ounce of Prevention – Gas Tanker Overturning

Today in History: December 30th

1903: The Iroquois Theater Fire in Chicago, Illinois kills at least 600. Although the theater was advertised at completely fireproof, numerous deficiencies were present including a lack of sufficient exits, extinguishers, water connections, sprinklers or alarms.

1922: The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) is formed.

2004: The República Cromañón nightclub fire in Buenos Aires, Argentina kills 194. The fire started when a pyrotechnic flare for the performing rock band ignited the flammable materials used in the club’s decorations. Four of the six exits were chained shut to prevent people from entering without paying.

See also Learning from Past Disasters, @issue: The Resurgence of Russia