Shawnee County increases emergency preparedness after Hawaii wildfire

Shawnee County’s Emergency Management team say they’re taking notes after Hawaii’s devastating wildfires.
Published: Aug. 17, 2023 at 10:28 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Shawnee County’s Emergency Management team say they’re taking notes after Hawaii’s devastaing wildfires.

“It starts with us recognizing what threats can happen here based on historical events or stuff that has actually happened so we’ve built what we call a THYRA a threat hazard and identification risk assessment then we prioritize those things. Then we start training our communities and first responders there based on those most likely threats that could happen,” says Dusty Nichols, Director of Shawnee County Emergency Management.

Nichols says it all comes down to recognizing a community’s culture.

“In Hawaii their culture is going to be surrounded basically with these sirens for two maybe three different threats, the tsunami threat where you’re telling people go to high land or something at the top telling people to go down. In this particular situation, mostly their culture is used to hearing those sirens and they go up. That would have put people right into the fire. So their decision to not sound that siren was based not only on the danger they’re dealing with the misunderstanding that communication but the culture of the people that are there,” says Nichols.

Nichols says the county’s 24-hour operation systems are always being updated and checked to ensure they are ready for any situation.

“We rely heavily on backups to backups to backups, redundant systems so while our primary may run off of a wired system, or Bluetooth or even a siren system on basic power, not all of them are that way,” says Nichols.

“Should something happen for us and we lose all power, everything, we have a couple of different ways to warn communities. So we could get law enforcement or fire trucks on a PA system. Our team could be out in trucks and our PA system is telling people there is a problem and that they need to move. We can get volunteer groups to go out and knock on doors,” Nichols says.

But he also says while most of the responsibility falls on them, it’s also the public’s job to pay attention to warnings and alerts.

“We don’t want people to rely on the sirens because they are an outdoor warning system. That’s why we encourage people to have multiple ways of getting the warning, like all-hazards radio, most people have the apps on their cellphones etc. Having multiple ways to get the warning is in part responsible of the individual and those individual families that are in our jurisdiction, which is why we continuously promote that but we will still be there to sound our systems the best that we possibly can,” says Nichols.

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