By Allison G.S. Knox
Contributor, EDM Digest
Considering the numerous natural disasters that have taken place in the United States within the last month, it is hard to imagine that one area of the country could be flooded with too much water, while another simply doesn’t have a desperately needed drop. California is currently experiencing terrible wildfires in its Napa and Sonoma counties – a beautiful place often referred to as “wine country.”
According to an article published by the San Francisco Gate, hundreds of homes and businesses have burned - forcing many to evacuate their homes. Napa and Sonoma Counties are currently in a state of emergency, (as declared by Governor Brown). According to another article, the fires ignited on Sunday night and have been fast moving with little warning over where it threatens next. The fires could have serious repercussions on the community and the state resulting from damaged crops and a loss of revenue, not to mention the numerous homes and businesses that have gone up in flames.
Perhaps one of the most frustrating things about the wildfires in California is just how many times they have occurred in recent memory. We have gained tremendous insight into managing emergencies from the frequency of the California wildfires. For example, the Incident Command System was developed from managing these types of disasters. The damage from these fires, however, is substantial and devastating.
The United States has a few policies in place to help manage wildfires at the local, state and federal levels of government and also has a few policies in place to help mitigate them. The frequency of these events makes one ponder whether there’s more that could be done to prevent wildfires. Do we have enough policies in place to prevent them? Could our emergency management budgets possibly be to blame?
The California Wildfires have happened with such frequency that they’ve changed the way emergency management is handled in the United States. Wildfire Mitigation has also changed how we mitigate fires by working to eliminate some of the most flammable sources from property and land. Fire breaks have also been successful in preventing a fire from continuing and causing greater damage.
Policies and Wildfires
Policies have had a tremendous impact on working to help manage and mitigate wildfires. But, wildfires still happen with such frequency that government officials should be asking the question, “what else can be done to help prevent this?” Emergency managers often have a good idea of what they need to effectively manage all of their emergency management programs – programs that also include mitigation efforts. The Forest Service recently published an article entitled, The Rising Cost of Wildfire Operations: Effects on the Forest Service's Non-Fire Work. The report highlights how the costs of fighting wildfires has gone up, and what these effects are to the environment. A recent EDM Digest article explains that the budget for fighting wildfires is becoming tight in Montana, particularly as the fires are becoming more frequent. Wildfires are expensive – just like many other types of emergency situations, but the frequency may be creating a major headache for local and state budgets.
Emergency Management Budgets
This wouldn’t be the first time that an emergency management budget has been tight. Emergency management has often been threatened with budget cuts. President Trump’s recent proposals may further tighten the emergency management budget as funds may be cut from the program. Further, Beverly Bell argues that budget cuts will result in a loss of personnel and resources desperately needed to help manage major catastrophes. Where wildfires are concerned, it will become more difficult for local and state governments to effectively manage the fires if they don’t have the appropriate budgets or resources in place – in many respects, volunteers won’t be able to assist either, since there appears to be a growing national shortage.
The wildfires in California are serious and are symptomatic of climate change and infrastructure problems the United States is experiencing when it comes to emergency management efforts. Policies like the Incident Command System and Wildfire Mitigation are particularly important for how they help to manage and mitigate these emergencies, but – the problems run much deeper than that. As the frequency of wildfires continues to increase, so should the emergency management budget. In recent years, this hasn’t been the case because of numerous budgeting problems within the government. Ultimately, government officials need to reassess the emergency management budget to stay ahead of wildfire emergencies to protect life and property.