Emergency Plans at Santiago Elementary School: Are Current Plans Adequate for Responding to Wildfire Threats? [open pdf - 124KB]
"Schools within or adjacent to wildland urban interface areas are at risk of exposure to wildfire. The problem is that while school emergency plans address building fires, school emergency plans do not always address wildfire threats, and this could lead to inappropriate emergency response actions. The purpose of this applied research was to evaluate the effectiveness of current wildfire emergency plans at Santiago Elementary School by comparing the calculated rate of fire spread through a Eucalyptus forest against the observed speed of the school's evacuation. The researcher examined the following five questions: (a) What are the school's current emergency plans for wildfire threat?, (b) What is the maximum theoretical calculated rate of spread of wildfire through a Eucalyptus forest?, (c) Under ideal conditions, how fast can an elementary school evacuate all students?, (d) Given the speed of a wildfire and the speed of evacuation, is it possible to evacuate a school before the fire impacts the school?, and (e) For schools adjacent to fire-prone forests, what protective options should be included in school emergency plans? To answer these questions, the researcher reviewed emergency plans for three schools districts, assessed fuel hazards in 10 Eucalyptus forest plots, observed one school evacuation drill, and observed the fire resistant features of school buildings. Results indicated that a fully developed wind-driven fire could spread from the northern edge of the Eucalyptus forest to Santiago Elementary School at the forest's southern edge within 21 minutes. Observations also showed that, under ideal conditions with pre-staged buses, the school could evacuate in nine minutes. This discovery suggests that a fire closer to the school or a prolonged evacuation time could place children directly in the wildfire's path. It is recommended that vulnerable schools include multiple protective options specifically for wildfire in their emergency plans."
United States Fire Administration: http://www.usfa.fema.gov/