The wildfire season has started in many countries. With rising temperatures and below-average rainfall, comes an increased risk of extreme fires, which are now worsening and becoming more frequent worldwide, including in the US, Europe and the UK. As we are in peak wildfire season, which runs through to October, International SOS advises organisations on preparations required to best protect their people and ensure business continuing through to the autumn.
“Wildfires hold a major threat to businesses on the ground and business travellers,” said Tyler Hosford, Regional Security Manager of International SOS. “It’s important for organisations to have a plan in place ahead of an emergency. Not only is a plan key for business continuity, but also for the health and safety of employees, travellers and their families.”
According to the US EPA, wildfires have the potential to harm property, livelihoods, and human health. For example, in the USA, before the start of the season, 3.9 million acres have burned from 1 January through 30 June 2022, which is nearly 2.3 times the average across the country during those months1. The impact of climate change, human factors, fire suppression and winds are worsening wildfire concerns in western, southwestern, and eastern regions of the US, and the threat of wildfires is only set to increase as more people live in and around forests, grasslands, and other natural areas.
“Due to the pandemic, businesses across the country have a better understanding of the value in preparation and communication during a crisis, and wildfires should be treated with the same vigilance,” said Dr Myles Druckman, Global Medical Director of International SOS. “Organisations should be aware of the top considerations during this time which include air quality concerns, overstretched local and national emergency services, access to shelters, need for stand-fast alternatives and financial constraints at all levels – all which are critical to ensuring the safety of staff.”
International SOS has more than 35 years’ experience providing security and health advice and support to organisations facing extreme nature events, as well as being uniquely positioned to advise on additional challenges posed by the ongoing pandemic. Managers with operations in at-risk areas during wildfire seasons should ensure they have comprehensive procedures in place to guarantee business continuity, factoring in the potential need for evacuation or relocation of the workforce. Below are some best practice tips for wildfire preparedness:
- Ahead of a wildfire, you should prepare your property. Remove flammable materials and vegetation in a 30-foot radius of structures. Outdoor furniture should be brought inside or placed in swimming pools. Close all windows and doors and leave them unlocked. Take down any drapes and curtains; consider fire-resistant window coverings. Shut off sprinklers and running water to preserve critical water pressure. Turn off gas and electricity supply to minimize residual damage.
- Consider evacuation options. Identify potential alternative accommodations in case evacuation is necessary, such as friends’ or relatives’ homes in other towns, public shelters or hotels. Ensure you know how to reach your pre-identified accommodation and be ready to take alternative routes if major roads are disrupted. Have a disaster plan in place, including meeting locations and communication plans, accounting for potential power disruption. Keep an emergency supply kit ready. Plan multiple evacuation routes.
- Know who to contact. Ensure you save contact numbers of the police/emergency services, your nearest Assistance Center and other local numbers that could be helpful in an emergency. Write down these details in the event that your phone runs out of power and is unable to be recharged. Designate an out-of-area contact person in case of group separation.