Drill reveals flaws in fire plan | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Drill reveals flaws in fire plan

Gregory Crofton

Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Karen Kerley of Douglas County Search and Rescue goes door-to-door to alert Glenbrook residents of the drill.

GLENBROOK – None of the narrow, tree-lined roads were clogged with traffic, but the 300 residents who participated in a fire evacuation drill Friday on the East Shore learned Douglas County’s emergency phone notification system has problems.

Automated calls from a community notification system made to 277 homes in Glenbrook took 52 minutes to complete instead of 12 minutes, the time frame predicted by emergency officials.

“It’s just a matter of refining how (the system) works,” said Dick Mirgon, director of communication for Douglas County Emergency Management. Mirgon and other officials spoke to about 200 residents gathered at the edge of Lake Tahoe after the drill.

“The Reverse 911 product has been out seven or eight years – Sparks has it; Carson City has it,” Mirgon said. “We need to do more research into what the device is doing. We may have to shorten the message and add phone lines – increase them from eight to 16.”

The phone message – that there was a fire burning at the east edge of Glenbrook – reached residents at 71 homes. Fifteen of those homes declined to participate in the drill by pressing No.2 on their phone pad.

“It has been a learning experience,” said Dr. Steve Dow, a Glenbrook resident for 25 years and founder of the Glenbrook Project, which organized the drill and has worked since 2001 to reduce fire danger around homes. “One of the reasons we did the drill was to identify potential problems.”

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Another problem the drill identified had to do with a circuit that connected two pumps that can draw water from the lake.

“The circuit blew,” said Bill Schroeder, a manager for the Glenbrook Homeowners’ Association. “We could only use one pump. We didn’t know that was going to happen.”

The people who participated in evacuation were told prior to the drill where they should go after they left their homes. Some were directed to the beach, others to the Glenbrook Golf Course and the rest went to Whittell High School. Residents directed to Whittell traveled by car, but residents who went to the beach or the golf course went by golf cart, which many residents own, to reduce the chance of traffic congestion.

The Douglas County sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team followed up the phone notification system by knocking on the doors of 35 homes in an attempt to get more people to evacuate.

“Attention residents of Pray Meadow Drive,” said Myles Eshelman, a Search and Rescue team leader, who used a loudspeaker on his truck to remind residents that there was no real emergency. “Douglas County Search and Rescue is conducting a drill and evacuation. This is only a drill.”

Emergency officials who spoke after the drill emphasized how they hoped other communities in the Lake Tahoe Basin would make an effort to be as proactive as the Glenbrook community has been regarding wildfire danger.

“We need to have (an evacuation) plan for every community,” said Douglas County Sheriff Ron Pierini. “I bet a lot of other communities in the Tahoe basin will use Glenbrook as a model and say ‘We should do the same thing.'”

Elwood Miller, director of the Nevada Fire Safe Council, of which Glenbrook is a chapter member, wrapped things by complimenting everyone’s work.

“I take my hat off to this community,” Miller said. “It’s about being proactive, gaining confidence and the ability to ensure your safety. I give everyone an ‘A’ plus for their effort.”

The agencies that participated in the drill will reconvene Thursday to go over the facts and see what changes need to be made to the Glenbrook evacuation plan.

– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com