Paradise, California ignored warnings. They made decisions against the advice of traffic engineers. They thought they knew how to answer, “What is the worst that could happen?” Here’s how Paradise ignored warnings and became a deathtrap.
This is one of the best articles I’ve seen on the Camp Fire.
The fate of Paradise was cast long before a windstorm last month fueled the deadliest fire in California history.
The people in charge locally (city and county) and at the state level are wringing their hands and saying the disaster was unforeseeable. But there are examples listed in the article of other fires that moved in similar ways. The whole place was a forest in the middle of a state known for fires.
A Los Angeles Times investigation found that Paradise ignored repeated warnings of the risk its residents faced, crafted no plan to evacuate the area all at once, entrusted public alerts to a system prone to fire, and did not sound citywide orders to flee even as a hail of fire rained down.
This is the 2nd story I’ve read that contains concrete examples of someone who refused to believe that this fire would be a problem. No other fire had been a problem, and no one – not even the town or county leaders – seem to have read the 2005 report saying that Paradise could be in the same position as Berkley and Oakland were in 1991.
The City of Paradise narrowed the main street, Skyline, to make it more pedestrian friendly. The result was that fewer cars per hour could traverse that section of town, and it became one of the bottlenecks.
The engineering firm that designed the project said it would reduce the number of vehicles that could pass through and advised against further “improvements,” such as a concrete median, citing the need to remember that the road was a fire evacuation route.
I love it when politicians think they know more than the engineers. Witness the result.
Traffic simulation software showed that Paradise would need 8 hours to evacuate under ideal conditions. The fire started at about 6:30 in the morning. The first mandatory evacuations of Paradise were called at 7:57 with the complete town being called for evacuation at 9:00. (Not that many people knew about it.) By 10 or 10:30 AM Paradise was completely involved in the fire.
The big problem is with plans. They planned for what they always saw. And they had drills that always worked. (This is endemic of disaster planning.) They never had a Plan B on anything.
Failing to prepare for the larger disaster is hardly unique to Paradise, said former FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate.
Flaws in such planning are so common that Fugate describes them as the “deadly sins” of emergency management: Practicing drills that guarantee success; assuming that plans can be scaled up when a massive disaster strikes; relying on government systems to work under pressure; failing to plan how to protect vulnerable populations, such as the elderly; and mistrusting the public, which often leads to not warning the public early enough.
You plan for a disaster, but you plan that everything you need will not be impacted by the disaster. Communications. Transportation.
Paradise police abandoned their dispatch center without ever sending a citywide order for other residents to flee.
And it isn’t only the .gov that falls down on that score. I saw it in Corporate America, because planning for the loss of a data center is expensive. Testing your backup plan is expensive. Most individuals are also not prepared for any kind a disaster, let alone what hit Paradise. If you had to evacuate right now, how much gas is in your vehicle? How many routes away from your area do you know? Are there bridges that might be out? Where is the traffic likely to be insane? Where would you go? How soon could you leave? What would you need to take with you?