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AMU Emergency Management Original Public Safety

EDM Friday Briefing: NWCG Points to Critical Element of Communication During Wildfires

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Emergency and disaster management briefing for January 22, 2021: The USGS helps conduct research into wildfire damage and burn scar soil stability to help inform public safety alerts; PG&E is testing wildfire prevention safety equipment in California; officials are investigating how a Maersk cargo ship lost 750 containers into the Pacific Ocean; the NWCG is highlighting the critical need for clear and effective communication during a wildfire incident; Indonesia has been hit with multiple disasters since the start of the new year; investigators allegedly have not ruled out sabotage as a cause of the crude oil train derailment in December, in Custer, Washington; Larimer County has received a partial approval for its major disaster declaration from FEMA for the Cameron Peak Fire, and settlement negotiations have ended unsuccessfully between Vale SA and the state government of Minas Gerais for the dam failure in Brumadinho.

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1. Wildfires burned 8.75 million acres in 2020, which destroyed homes, businesses, and vegetation. That’s not all, though. According to the the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), wildfires also destabilize slopes and bake soils–to the point they will repel water–greatly increasing the risk of landslides and debris flows. Research and studies conducted by the USGS in post-fire landscapes helps emergency managers and evacuation planners, including the National Weather Service (NWS), save lives with the information they provide that guide alerts for flash floods and debris flows for areas below and within burn scars. 

2. Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) has commenced testing of a special automated safety system meant to help reduce the risk of wildfires started by downed power lines. The system, which is from Australia, is known as the Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiter (REFCL), and is designed to instantaneously reduce current flow when it detects that a power line has gone down. Essentially, a control box with antennas monitors the line, and should they trip the specially insulated sensors, small sections of the grid are isolated and power immediately reduced. 

3. Several hundred shipping containers came loose from a Maersk cargo ship on January 16, and tumbled into the Pacific Ocean. According to reports, the ship encountered heavy seas while en route from China to the United States, and the 750 containers that were lost might have been subject to parametric rolling. The incident is one of four that has occurred over the last two months, and investigators are trying to determine if parametric rolling played a part in the accidents. 

4. Recent reports have highlighted gaps in communication during critical fire incidents, including one that resulted in a burnover of three firefighters. The National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) is calling attention to the need for clear and effective communication during a wildfire. According to the NWCG, three elements can help improve communications, including the need to discuss factors that can affect radio communication at the incident, how to identify ways to mitigate potential problems, and defining the five communication responsibilities for all firefighters

5. A 6.2 earthquake struck Indonesia’s West Sulawesi province on January 17, killing at least 73 people and injuring another 820. Several other disasters have plagued the nation’s various regions since the new year began, including flooding and landslides which have killed a combined total of at least 34 people. Other disasters include a plane operated by Sriwijaya Air that crashed into the Java Sea just after take off on January 9, which killed all 62 people on board, and last Saturday, East Java’s Semeru mountain erupted, spewing ash upwards of 3.5 miles into the air. 

6. The December 22 crash, spill, and subsequent fire that occurred when a train carrying crude oil derailed near the small town of Custer, Washington, is still under investigation. Anomalies regarding the crash have emerged, including the fact that the train was moving at about 7 mph when it derailed, the track was straight, and rupture-resistant tankers, ruptured and caught fire. According to reports, investigators have not ruled out any potential cause for the crash, including sabotage. 

7. Larimer County, Colorado has received partial approval from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for its major disaster declaration for the Cameron Peak Fire. FEMA has approved funding to help the county repair damaged roads and bridges, and associated costs for debris clean up and tree removal. The Cameron Peak Fire–the state’s largest-ever wildfire–burned for 112 days, scorched 208,913 acres, destroyed or damaged 469 structures, including residences, outbuildings, and businesses, and impacted 12 communities, many of which were under mandatory evacuation orders for several weeks. 

8. Negotiations for a settlement between the  Brazilian State of Minas Gerais and Vale SA have ended unsuccessfully. The company proposed a settlement that the state said was insufficient to cover damages and harm caused when a tailings dam failed, releasing a torrent of mud that killed at least 270 people. The incident occurred in January of 2019 in Brumadinho, and the dam failure was one of two that occurred in Minas Gerais, the first one of which failed in 2015 and killed 19 people. 

Kimberly Arsenault serves as an intern at the Cleveland/Bradley County Emergency Management Agency where she works on plan revisions and special projects. Previously, Kimberly spent 15 years in commercial and business aviation. Her positions included station manager at the former Midwest Express Airlines, as well as corporate flight attendant, inflight manager, and charter flight coordinator. Kimberly currently holds a master's degree in emergency and disaster management from American Public University.

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