During the Gatlinburg fires of 2016, many people were not well-informed enough to make their way out of dangerous areas. Information was not clearly spread, and in addition, the fires that started in the Great Smoky Mountains National park were accelerated by a drought and raging winds that surpassed 85 mph. This combination of unfortunate circumstances unfortunately lead to 175 injuries and 14 deaths.
However, the Sevier County Emergency Management Agency has now implemented many different protocols in order to help try to prevent that an event like this does not happen again. Here’s a look into what each one of them does for the citizens of the county.
Basic Emergency Operations Plan
The first priority after the event was for the county to update the basic emergency operations plan, as required by Tennessee law. The plan has to be reviewed and approved every 5 years by the Tennessee Emergency Management agency.
Even before the fires had happened, the plan was already scheduled to be reviewed in 2017. However, after the fires, the Emergency Management Agency decided to update the plan earlier than scheduled.
This operations plan works through mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery against all natural and man made hazards.
Emergency Communications Plan
During an emergency, alert and warning officials need to provide the public with life-saving information as quickly as they can.
As a part of the emergency plan, Sevier County has created an emergency communications plan. The communication to Sevier County citizens works with CodeRed and Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, two public emergency notification systems. CodeRed delivers information through voice, email, SMS, IPAWS and more, and the system has been implemented in 15 states.
New emergency staff and connections
In addition to the new plans set in place, the county also hired a fire administrator, obtained inter-operable communications with local, state and federal agencies, conducts exercises with local, state and federal agencies and works with the National Weather Services to identify potential fires in rural areas. All of these connections work to assist in creating more awareness of fire hazards.
Before the 2016 fires, county mayors did not have the authority to order evacuations outside of incorporated areas. However, state leaders have now changed evacuation rules to allow county mayors to do just that. This helps in making sure everyone, even those outside of county lines, is aware of emergencies and makes it out safely.
The Sevier County Emergency Management Association Director Joe Ayers commented on all of the protocols that have been put into place.
“All of the items have been put in place to prepare, alert, inform and protect the community from any potential hazards,” Ayers said. “We have used the experience from the fires to improve our emergency response in all areas. Our emergency personnel during the fires did all they could to save lives and property.”