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Author Topic: Gatlinburg Fire (EmComm Failure to provide Warning)  (Read 31495 times)
W4XKE
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« on: December 05, 2016, 04:03:02 PM »

In spite of all the preparations and the SETs, warnings came too late.

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/12/02/504126390/emergency-evacuation-notice-arrived-after-the-flames-for-some-in-tennessee

It would be interesting to learn what went wrong. (Huh)
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W8JX
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« Reply #1 on: December 05, 2016, 04:53:00 PM »

It my understanding that the fire was man made and moved very very fast and depending on cell phone alerts was a bad idea because coverage is spotty in rural areas there and a few cell tower were destroyed too. I really do not think the area was even prepared for this as far as alerts.
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Ham since 1969....  Old School 20wpm REAL Extra Class..
W4XKE
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« Reply #2 on: December 05, 2016, 05:04:03 PM »

It has been our understanding that the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) conducts routine drills for various types of emergencies, including evacuations.

http://nbc4i.com/2016/12/04/officials-no-text-alerts-during-gatlinburg-evacuations-because-of-communications-failure/

It would seem that some part of the exercise must have been overlooked for such a failure to occur.

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KC2MMI
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« Reply #3 on: December 06, 2016, 10:12:43 AM »

As they said in "Cool Hand Luke" it sounds like they had a failure in communications. According to the article:
 "The citywide evacuation order was never relayed directly to area mobile devices due to the constraints of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, which limits the text messages to 90 characters, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency spokesman Dean Flener confirmed Thursday.

" 'You cannot just tell them (to evacuate.) You have to tell them what to do,' Flener said.

This just means that no one at the local level had ever planned for an actual evacuation, or had any idea that when you need to send more than 90 characters, you do it by sending two or more messages. The same way you send a long SMS or text message on a cell phone. Duh?

Nothing wrong with the system, just someone who didn't know how to use it.

The emergency warning system itself isn't perfect. I've seen a major carrier sending "routine test messages" at 2AM and 5AM, which is also guaranteed to ensure customers will simply TURN OFF the alerts completely. A call to the carrier's EAS rep got that fixed rather hastily.
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KG4RUL
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« Reply #4 on: December 06, 2016, 10:16:00 AM »

if by "EMCOMM" you are referring to Amateur radio, keep in mind that we only relay information provided by served agencies.  If the information was late in being disseminated, there was nothing Hams could have done differently.
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W8JX
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« Reply #5 on: December 06, 2016, 12:20:03 PM »

I have been to Gatlinburg many times over the years and as recently as 6 months ago. In some ways it was a accident waiting to happen. The way houses and cabins are built with limited access and a patchwork of state park and private land mix together little thought was given to what could happen if a major forest fire started as it could quickly block escape routes. If anything is learn from this it is not above improve advance warning as much as improved build practices and restricting it in limited access area that could easily become cut off in a fire.
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KF7CG
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« Reply #6 on: December 06, 2016, 02:11:03 PM »

To add to the problems with emergency notification in that area, landline phones are not all that prevalent or reliable.

The ARES groups in central Tennessee were on alert and ready if called upon, but there was no reasonable communications duty to perform. We did not get called and didn't deploy, it was just to hot.

Evacuation from some of those areas is a nightmare even without 80 mph winds, and tinder dry forest. The roads are steep, narrow, twisty, and run through steep forested canyons that act like chimneys. Even if the alert had not been delayed, this fire had deadly potential. Too many people in steep terrain with only one narrow road in and out. Houses built as part of the forest, too. Some of those that died, died after their vehicles were disabled by accidents or road debris.

KF7CG
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N8EKT
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« Reply #7 on: December 16, 2016, 05:51:04 PM »

I would think some community alert sirens would have helped

Losing power is a given in any major event and cell towers become overloading immediately

With the billions invested in the area, a few million on emergency notification sirens should have been done decades ago

A simple thing like the distribution of weather radios with S.A.M.E. to the general public could have helped as well

Mandatory building codes that require metal, tile, or other such fire proof roofing on all buildings would help

I've hiked those mountains for decades and have had to radio for help for other hikers on several occasions

Another big problem is that visitors have no clue about back roads and ways to evacuate and avoid areas

I've learned most of the back roads and ways around over the years but most wouldn't stand a chance if their main route was blocked

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W4XKE
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« Reply #8 on: December 17, 2016, 03:33:37 PM »

Timeline of the fire:

http://wate.com/2016/12/13/timeline-gatlinburg-wildfires/

It looks like the Verizon cell phone tower went down at 8:40 pm and that was what the emergency communication message to evacuate relied upon. 
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NA4IT
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« Reply #9 on: December 18, 2016, 11:44:32 AM »

First of all, I don't believe Gatlinburg Fire Dept is to blame.
Below is a snippet from a WBIR TV news story, "Officials had troubles with Gatlinburg fire evacuation warnings" dated Dec 13, 2016
(http://www.wbir.com/news/local/officials-had-troubles-with-gatlinburg-fire-evacuation-warnings/369628700)

"...Sevier County officials tried contacting TEMA about sending an evacuation notice to people's cell phones, but shortly after that conversation was initiated, two Verizon cell towers went down and mobile service was cut - between 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.

"TEMA could not send the message because the verbiage had not been approved," Miller said. "That's important to note because we didn't want an inappropriate message to be disseminated, which could have evacuated people towards an area of concern rather than away from it."

Around that time, the National Weather Service, independently, reached out to Sevier County 911, after finding themselves unable to reach the Sevier County EMA director, and asked if they could assist with an alert message.

As a result, the NWS sent out an EAS message, which is delivered via TV and radio broadcast, about the evacuation notice.

Nobody in Sevier County got an official text message (called a WEA message) about an evacuation - only one, around 10:40 p.m. that Monday, urging people to stay off their phones unless it's an emergency."


So it seems that the EMA couldn't decide on a message to send, and once they decided, they were relying on cell phones for communications, which failed because of tower loss (what happened to the TNEMA statewide system???).

Never, never, NEVER rely on a cell phone as your primary means of communications.
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W8JX
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« Reply #10 on: December 18, 2016, 12:38:06 PM »

First of all, I don't believe Gatlinburg Fire Dept is to blame.
Below is a snippet from a WBIR TV news story, "Officials had troubles with Gatlinburg fire evacuation warnings" dated Dec 13, 2016
(http://www.wbir.com/news/local/officials-had-troubles-with-gatlinburg-fire-evacuation-warnings/369628700)

"...Sevier County officials tried contacting TEMA about sending an evacuation notice to people's cell phones, but shortly after that conversation was initiated, two Verizon cell towers went down and mobile service was cut - between 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.

"TEMA could not send the message because the verbiage had not been approved," Miller said. "That's important to note because we didn't want an inappropriate message to be disseminated, which could have evacuated people towards an area of concern rather than away from it."

Around that time, the National Weather Service, independently, reached out to Sevier County 911, after finding themselves unable to reach the Sevier County EMA director, and asked if they could assist with an alert message.

As a result, the NWS sent out an EAS message, which is delivered via TV and radio broadcast, about the evacuation notice.

Nobody in Sevier County got an official text message (called a WEA message) about an evacuation - only one, around 10:40 p.m. that Monday, urging people to stay off their phones unless it's an emergency."


So it seems that the EMA couldn't decide on a message to send, and once they decided, they were relying on cell phones for communications, which failed because of tower loss (what happened to the TNEMA statewide system???).

Never, never, NEVER rely on a cell phone as your primary means of communications.

If there is anyone blame it is with those that allowed houses to be built in areas that were vulnerable to fire damage and had limited access that could easily be cut off and those that pushed to have them built for profit. As typical those that profited the most for this questionable building practice lost the least and have no liability civil or criminal.
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Ham since 1969....  Old School 20wpm REAL Extra Class..
NA4IT
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« Reply #11 on: December 19, 2016, 08:35:42 AM »

W8JX, I feel the same way about people that build homes on the coast. Hotels, motels, condos, yes. Houses, no.

I have a fried that many moons ago, built some of the first chalets in the mountains of Gatlinburg, including building the roads. He, as well as everyone that owned one of the chalets was told up front before they built that insurance companies would not insure them against fire loss, and that fire departments would not be able to protect them, because of the long distance to reload with water. They built them anyway. One deranged individual lit one of them, and all of them burned....
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ND6M
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« Reply #12 on: December 22, 2016, 04:21:32 PM »

I would think some community alert sirens would have helped...
With the billions invested in the area, a few million on emergency notification sirens should have been done decades ago...

Sirens should have been done away with decades ago.

Sirens are pretty much useless, Yes, you can guess that "something" is going on.
Tornado's are about the only thing they are regularly used for in Tn.
 expecting residents to connect a major fire with a tornado siren is a far stretch.  even if they do, just what real, accurate info is relayed?

a program that operates seamlessly with the National Weather Service, with alerts directed to specific area encoders is a much better option.
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W8JX
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« Reply #13 on: December 22, 2016, 06:34:42 PM »

I would think some community alert sirens would have helped...
With the billions invested in the area, a few million on emergency notification sirens should have been done decades ago...

Sirens should have been done away with decades ago.

Sirens are pretty much useless, Yes, you can guess that "something" is going on.
Tornado's are about the only thing they are regularly used for in Tn.
 expecting residents to connect a major fire with a tornado siren is a far stretch.  even if they do, just what real, accurate info is relayed?

a program that operates seamlessly with the National Weather Service, with alerts directed to specific area encoders is a much better option.

I do not think anything would of really helped much. Their fate was pretty much set the day they let them build in limited access areas with no fire breaks and exit routes that were easily blocked.
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Ham since 1969....  Old School 20wpm REAL Extra Class..
KG7LEA
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« Reply #14 on: December 24, 2016, 07:17:21 AM »

Tight turns, foliage close to buildings, and building built close to each other were important factors in the Oakland Hills, California, Fire of 1991.
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