With instances of natural disasters and extreme weather sweeping across the nation, it’s time to ask ourselves how to best prepare for such emergencies here in the Bay Area.
Just this past year, a thick layer of smoke engulfed the Bay Area as fires raged in Northern California, burning over 150,000 acres. Recently, the San Francisco Chronicle published 911 calls from roughly an hour before emergency officials would urge a mass evacuation of residents in Paradise, California. Despite the flames, which spread towards Paradise less than five miles away, dispatchers informed residents that there was “no threat.” Shortly after 8 AM on November 8, 2018, the Butte County Fire Department ordered the evacuation of all Paradise residents.
If Berkeley emergency officials have anything to learn from efforts in Butte County, it’s that we are better safe than sorry in potential emergency situations. Evidently, there is major room for improvement, as hundreds of lives became endangered and many lives were lost due to the failure of emergency officials to alert residents properly this past fall.
So what can we do to ensure that when an emergency arises, we are prepared to take action accordingly? First and foremost, the idea that Berkeley residents could face a similar situation in the future is not far-fetched. Wildfires in California, which have only become more frequent within the past decade or so, have crept their way into urban environments, like Santa Rosa.
Creating an efficient, accessible alert system for all Berkeley residents is necessary. In a Berkeleyside article published in 2018, Berkeley filmmaker Stephen Most warned that “even though residents who live in the flats have historically felt safe from wildfires that are more likely to threaten the hills, that sense of safety may no longer be warranted in the age of megafires.” Emergency officials can issue a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA), which is essentially a widespread Amber alert, intended to aid in emergencies such as wildfires.
In the era of increasing instances of “megafires” and global warming, Berkeley officials should prioritize fire preparation and prevention. Releasing WEAs is just one crucial step in ensuring minimal damage if disaster strikes. Along with preventative measures such as engineering reviews and vegetation management, all things that the Berkeley Fire Department focuses on, we can decrease the severity of wildfires and act accordingly when an emergency occurs.