Using LRAD to alert for fire emergencies

One of the lessons learned from the recent wildfires, including the deadly Camp Fire that destroyed Paradise, is that evacuation alerts have to be faster and far more encompassing. 

LRAD, meaning Long Range Acoustic Device, is a high powered speaker system that North Bay fire departments are interested in acquiring.

The system emits a shrill sound followed by spoken instructions such as "shelter in place" or "wildland fire, evacuate now."

The speakers would be strategically mounted on structures to cover wide areas or be mobile to evacuate specific areas.

While all kinds of media will remain crucial, everything from mass media to social media to wailing air raid sirens, this is the system that cannot only wake you up, but inform you as to what's going on, immediately.

"It was a third to a half mile away that we had an engine company positioned and it wasn't a straight shot. it was down the road and around a turn a little bit, and they were hearing the message loud and clear," said Marin County Fire Department Deputy Chief Mark Brown.

The biggest lesson: the earlier the alert, the better for everyone.

"And then, having early notification and strong education and understanding of the public of their responsibility of what they can do to evacuate, even before we tell them," said Chief Brannigan of the Berkeley Fire Department.

"It's not just fire and law enforcement providing the tools to the community. The community has to be part of that; neighbors have to be helping neighbors to evacuate or to be aware," said Deputy Chief Brown.

Many Bay Area communities have, in part, based their wildfire plans on those drawn up a decade ago by Paradise officials after a previous major fire.

"And it was advice given from Cal OES, Cal Fire to look at the Paradise and adapt what we could from it for our own city," said Berkeley's Fire Chief.

Berkeley adopted some procedures dealing with complicated narrow streets, dense vegetation and having a large wildland park system on its borders.

And, based on what might start a fire and where that fire may spread, Berkeley adopted a system of manageable, pre-identified evacuation zones to concentrate alerts and evacuations there.

"Ideally we'd be able to tell the whoever the recipient of the alert is, where the fire is, where it's expected to be and which direction they should go," said the Chief.

There is no longer a choice. "Cal Fire's Director Pimlott put it put it very well, "there's no reason to believe that these fires are going to stop they way they're burning," said Chief Brown.

That's why Paradise perished. Even the best plans can fail in the face of fires, the likes of which, we've never seen.