With the right mix of dry climate and high winds during the hot summer months, it doesn’t take long for one tree to flame out an entire forest or, worse, spread into neighbouring towns. In Canada, roughly 8,000 wildfires burn each year, which is enough to take out nearly half the size of Nova Scotia. And that number is only rising. Worse yet, the U.S. experiences almost 10 times the amount of Canadian wildfires per year.
Now more than ever, we need to have the proper emergency preparedness plans and communication tools to think critically and respond urgently.
That’s where a mass notification system enters the picture.
Public safety is #1
Since wildfires spread quickly and unpredictably, every second counts. First response teams and public safety officials must rely on a communication service that can evacuate citizens with little notice and alert those outside the evacuation zone with updates.
This helps people get prepared to leave, reduces anxiety and panic, and helps keep critical roadways free for emergency personnel.
BENEFITS OF MASS NOTIFICATIONS FOR WILDFIRES
Getting informed when and where it counts
Simply put, decision-makers need to know what’s going on around them. Only once they’re aware of an incident can they begin making their next moves to protect the public. Mass notification systems can disperse relevant information across localized regions in very little time. They often come with pre-made recipient lists to help organizations and response teams communicate efficiently, collect data, and make informed choices.
While it’s true that speed saves, messages must also contain the correct information in real-time. That’s why social media (while effective for general and leisurely communication) isn’t a reliable communication tool for critical events and emergencies.
Preparation and safe evacuations
Mass notification systems serve more than one group of people. They inform:
- Citizens in danger
- First responders and public safety officials responding to it
- Citizens who may be affected in the future
Alerting each of these groups with updates can help determine the proper course of action and give people either the opportunity to prepare or evacuate immediately.
BEST PRACTICES THAT KEEP YOUR COMMUNITY AND TEAM SAFE DURING A WILDFIRE
These days, mass notification systems come equipped with many bells and whistles, but every robust system should have these essential features and methods to communicate to during a wildfire:
1. Audience segmentation
As someone who protects public interests, you want your message to be read loud and clear by civilians so they know exactly how to respond. This is most effective when you target your communications to only the necessary recipients. Those in an area affected by a wildfire will receive alerts that they may be in danger and require immediate evacuation, and those in an advisory zone will be notified to prepare themselves if they also need to evacuate from their homes. Team members can also be issued critical all-team call out alerts with directions to report to duty stations or the emergency operations centre.
2. Map-based alerts
Location is vital in a wildfire, whether it’s pinpointing the wildfire boundary and evacuation zone to where your team members and loved ones might be during an incident. Smart technology can integrate with Google Maps to show you precisely the affected areas and gives directions relative to your recipient.
In particular, contextual alerting allows you to send one alert, but with different messages based on people’s location so that everyone is informed. Just as you can escalate an alert to someone travelling toward the affected region, you can also send an advisory to someone else who’s farther away from the area. This helps keep critical roadways free so first responders can respond efficiently and reduces stress and anxiety among citizens.
3. Enriched visuals
We all depend on visual cues to understand our surroundings. Colour-coded alerts highlight the severity of a wildfire. In enriched systems like Voyent Alert!, yellow represents an advisory warning, and red signals evacuation or critical alert. While not all mass notification systems are created equal, some have the capabilities to go the extra mile, like Voyent Alert!, which can support sending photos, pdfs, other documents and clickable links to important information to help paint a bigger picture of the incident at hand.
4. Multi-channel delivery
Reaching citizens where they’re most likely to receive and pay attention to a message is crucial during a wildfire. It’s important to note that some mass notification systems only have the ability to send a blanket text alert, but not everyone has access to a smartphone or device.
That’s why the best mass notification systems can send messages through multiple channels to help ensure that everyone stays informed. These include voice calls, messages to landlines, emails, and mobile app notifications to cover all fronts.
Fight fire with intelligent communication alerts
The earlier a citizen knows about a fire, the sooner they can make an informed choice and get to safety or prepare to evacuate. For organizations and public safety officials, having a robust mass notification system for your team can help you escalate critical messages as soon as a fire is discovered and remain updated on its progress.
“[Competitor] was more expensive, complicated to use, and it required a difficult and intensive training course. Within a few hours I felt like I was an expert at using Voyent because the program design is so much simpler and more efficient!” – Stephanie Tucker, Communications Coordinator – Town of Portugal Cove-St. Philips.