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With the events unfolding at the Oroville Dam in California, we thought it would be a good time to talk about dam safety here. First, you should be aware that dam failures rarely occur (especially with regulated dams). With everything you are seeing about the Oroville Dam, let’s provide you some terminology that you’ll need in order to understand what people are talking about. Dams in the United States are categorized into two types, low hazard and high hazard. This does not reflect how safe a dam is or isn’t, simply the type of impact it would have if it was to fail. A low hazard dam indicates that there is a low likelihood of impact to human life. Conversely, a high hazard dam will likely affect human life because there is a population base in it’s inundation area (i.e. houses, towns, roads, etc…).
The inundation area is where computer models have forecast the water will go in the event of a dam failure. Keep in mind, these are models who’s accuracy are affected by a lot of different factors such type of failure, how full the reservoir is, amount of water coming in the reservoir and other factors. Typically when you see a mapped inundation area used for emergency planning, it is some form of a worst case scenario. Two common models used in the United States are Probable Maximum Flood and Clear Weather Breach. Probable Maximum Flood means the model is assuming the reservoir is completely full, the maximum amount of water is currently filling the reservoir and the dam completely fails at once. In a Clear Weather Breach we assume the reservoir is at a normal operating level, normal inflow to the reservoir and the dam completely fails.
There are many types of designs and configurations of dams, however the components are all the same. If the dam is power generating, typically they will have a water intake in the reservoir which funnels water through a pipe into turbines and it discharges out the bottom of the dam in a pool which forms the beginning of river or creek. Often a non-power generating dam will have a similar configuration where it may pass straight through, or may have some diverted to irrigation systems. Dam’s will also have a primary spillway which is often concrete (even in an earthen dam) and the amount of water discharge from the reservoir through the spillway is controlled by movable gates. This is the primary method many dams will utilize to control the level of the reservoir. It is common for dam operators to discharge excess water through the spillway during spring runoff to maintain the proper reservoir height or when they need to cut back on power generation. Dams can also use the spillway to control other factors such as increased river flow. Typically dams will also have an emergency spillway. The emergency spillway is often a portion of the dam that is designed to have water flow over it in an emergency. This emergency spillway sits lower than the main dam infrastructure so that excess water flows through it and not over the main dam itself. Basically it is a reinforced portion, often on one side, that channels water over the dam in a location where it won’t damage the integrity of the dam face.
Risk of Dam Failure
Overall, the risk of dam failures is very low. This is especially true of dams that are part of a regulated inspection programs. In Montana dams are typically regulated by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation or if they generate power the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. These dams following a specific inspection, maintenance, and emergency planning process as part of their license. Unfortunately there are also situations where someone builds a dam on their own (often for irrigation) and it is unregulated and unknown to the regulating agency. Despite how it may seem, a lot of science and engineering goes into a properly built dam and home built dams are a danger.
Many of the dam failures of larger dams have occurred upon the initial fill or shortly after completion. In 1908 the Hauser Dam near Helena, MT failed a little more than a year after construction. In 1976 the Teton Dam in Idaho failed on it’s initial fill with water. In 2008 the Hebgen Dam suffered a failure on their control gates resulting in uncontrolled spillway discharge. Often the dam failures that cause the most damage are from smaller dams. This is likely due to ownership and management that may not have the correct skills, belief that it’s a small dam and doesn’t pose a risk, underestimating what the risk is, or other similar issues. For example, 86% of dam failure injuries were from dams less than 50 feet tall.* Even with a low frequency of failure, when dams have failed they can cause significant damage. Like much of our infrastructure in the United States, many of our high hazard dams were constructed many years ago requiring continued maintenance by their owners.
High Hazard Dams Affecting Gallatin County
Gallatin County has 7 high hazard dams that have inundation areas in our county (3 located outside the county). These consist of:
- Middle Creek Dam in Hyalite. Owned by Montana DNRC.
- Green Hollow Dam up Spanish Creek. Owned by Flying D Ranch.
- Big Sky Dam (2 dams) Lake Levinsky and Big Sky Golf Course. Owned by Boyne Resorts.
- Hebgen Dam NW of West Yellowstone. Owned by NorthWestern Energy.
- Madison Dam on Ennis Lake. Owned by NorthWestern Energy.
- Willow Creek Dam East of Harrison (Harrison Lake). Owned by Montana DNRC.
You can read many of the emergency action plans for these dams at our Plans Page.
What Should I Do to Prepare
Being directly affected by a dam failure is like many of the hazards we face that that are a low likelihood of happening. However, if it does happen, it will be a big deal. The good news is that the preparation for a dam failure isn’t much different than anything else. Gallatin County recommends you take the following simple steps:
- Make sure you get notified in a timely manner. Each member of your house should register in our Community Notification System so we can quickly notify you of an imminent threat to you.
- Develop a family emergency plan. This doesn’t have to be complicated, visit our family emergency plan page for more.
- If you live in an inundation area, talk about your evacuation route. Move away and above the inundation area and try to avoid crossing the waterways.
Gallatin County Hazard Analysis
You can learn more about the hazards present here in Gallatin County on our Hazard Page.
Emergency Management recently finished the 5 year revision cycle of our Emergency Management Plan. In Montana, and most places, emergency management is responsible for developing a plan that identifies roles and responsibilities along with the overall system that governs your community during a disaster. While this may seem like a simple task, it actually entails a lot of work and takes a long time. During a disaster government isn’t able to conduct business like they do on a typical day. Our emergency personnel will likely be over taxed, some tools or resources may not be available anymore, and some agencies may need to perform functions that aren’t their typical jobs. All of these are examples of what we call planning assumptions.
We take these assumptions and use them to develop plans on how we would operate in these situations. We try hard to stay at a high level focusing on roles and responsibilities and not get sucked into hypothetical tactical situations. As you might guess, this can take a lot of time to get all the associated government agencies on the same page in this process. To help with the work load, Gallatin County reviews 1/5th of the plan each year and adopts a new plan at the end of the 5 year cycle which we completed in December 2016 for all municipalities and unincorporated Gallatin County.
To help emergency officials remain proficient in disaster activities we regularly test our plan with a variety of exercises. In March 2017 we will be conducting our next county wide disaster exercise focusing on escalating incidents. This exercise will likely involve around 100 emergency officials for an evening of working through a fictional incident. The fictional incident will have been developed by a planning team consisting of personnel from many agencies who will have spent 4 month developing the scenario.
You can learn more about Gallatin County’s preparedness planning on our Planning Page.
Phone Emergency Alerts Will Begin Including Links, Phone Numbers
Since their launch in 2012, cellphone emergency alerts have become a frequent tool for public safety officials to alert people to missing children, warn them of impending weather calamities or notify them of dangers specific to the local community.
But the alerts have also been criticized for their shortcomings — restricted to only 90 characters of plain text, they can’t carry images and have a hit-or-miss record of landing on the phones of exactly the people meant to receive the messages. The flaws were recently showcased by the alert in New York City that raised concerns about racial profiling as it solicited help in the search of a bombing suspect by sharing his name and age but then sending people to “media” for a photo.
The Federal Communications Commission has now voted to quadruple the maximum length of the alert to 360 characters and begin including clickable hyperlinks and phone numbers in the alerts, including Amber alerts. The phone carriers will be allowed to include the URLs and numbers within about a month and required to do so in about a year.
The rules for now still won’t allow for photos to be directly included in the messages, but the FCC is reviewing the possibility for the future. The order approved on Thursday does, however, push for alerts to be delivered more precisely to specific areas and requires support of alerts in Spanish as well as English.
The reason the change isn’t as easy as, say, texting an image to a friend is that it’s a different kind of process. Phone carriers pick up the alerts initiated by local, state or national authorities through a special computer network facilitated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The alerts then go out on a separate slice of airwaves than regular calls or texts — to ensure their delivery but also not to overwhelm the networks.
The phone companies, which highlight that they’ve participated in the program voluntarily, have warned that given the lack of existing standards for the new features, the interactive elements may create more confusion (for instance for older phones that don’t recognize links), overwhelm responders’ websites and cause network congestion. The carriers had argued for more time to prepare for more multimedia in alerts.
The FCC’s order also creates a new class of emergency alerts. Previously, there were three: (1) imminent threat (for example, severe weather or another emergency); (2) Amber alerts (for abducted children); (3) presidential messages during a national emergency (this has never been used).
The new addition will be a public safety message, defined by FCC officials as “essential public safety advisories that prescribe one or more actions likely to save lives or safeguard property.” These would be, for instance, notices of emergency shelter locations or orders to boil water before consumption.
This kind of use of cellphone emergency alerts has grown since their launch in 2012. As All Tech has reported before, so far this year, nonfederal authorities have already sent as many wireless emergency messages as in all the previous three years combined. More than 21,000 phone alerts have been sent since the launch, according to the FCC.
Many alerts are weather related, but they’ve also been used to urge people to “shelter in place” during active shooter situations or to evacuate during brush fires. Beyond images of missing children or suspects, the links could allow officials to share maps or other evacuation or safety instructions.
“When technology gives us the opportunity to save lives, to increase public safety,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said, “shame on us if we don’t seize on that opportunity.”
Article Courtesy NPR, September 29, 2016
By Alina Selyukh
October 19th is your opportunity to practice Drop, Cover, and Hold On with the rest of Montana!
Montana is a very seismically active state with 7-10 earthquakes occurring every day. We haven’t seen a local earthquake cause significant damage in recent history, but let us not forget that the 1959 Hebgen Lake Earthquake is still the 14th largest earthquake ever in the United States! The Great Montana Shakeout on October 19th is the perfect opportunity for you to practice the simple task of Drop, Cover and Hold On – no matter where you are. Join your fellow Montanan’s at register to participate in the Great Montana Shakeout at 10:19 am on October 19th.
This can be as simple as performing Drop, Cover and Hold On and 30 seconds later going back to work, or a great opportunity to review your Family Emergency Plan for the year! Material is available for a variety of settings such as schools, businesses, healthcare, government, and other organizations to easily participate. Get more information at shakeout.org/montana and earthquake preparedness at ReadyGallatin.com.
It’s been 10 years since the Derby Fire ran across much of Stillwater County, leaving more than 200,000 acres and 26 homes in ashes after 23 days of smoke and flames. The landscape has dramatically changed, but so has the mindset of government officials who create disaster plans, and rural homeowners who take a closer look at building sites and materials. Drought, steep and remote terrain, and strong winds are still factors to consider when it comes to anticipating the next big fire.
Large wildfires are to be expected on the Beartooth Ranger District, based on forest surveys and anecdotal evidence. In 1904, John Leiberg of the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that 70 percent of the Forest Reserve that now makes up the ranger district had burned in the previous 120 years. A forest study of the Benbow-Little Rocky area in 2014 reported evidence of a large fire that ran across the Beartooth Face in 1886. Pioneers from that time period recalled a fire that burned from the Boulder River drainage south of Big Timber to the Red Lodge area.
Forest Service fire records recorded 369 fires in the Beartooth Ranger District since 1970, of which 51 percent were human-caused and 49 percent were lightning-caused. Fire suppression efforts kept 85 percent of those fires under 10 acres. The rest grew large because of remoteness, steep terrain or dramatic weather events. The Storm Creek Fire burned 97,858 acres in 1988, and the Shepard Mountain Fire burned 14,890 acres and destroyed 32 structures in 1996.
Conditions in the Stillwater Valley were ripe for a large fire in 2006 – the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation reported that 98 percent of Stillwater County was in at least moderate drought, and 60 percent was in severe drought.
By October 2006, after the Derby Fire finally ended, Columbus Fire Chief Rich Cowger explained at that time that moisture came to the Stillwater region early that year, spurring plant growth in the spring. That was followed by a very dry summer that turned the lush springtime vegetation into fire fuels, resulting in 80 wildland fires, he said. The region also experienced the hottest summer since the 1930s, with average temperatures of 74.5 degrees.
The lightning-caused Derby Fire covered only 10 acres when it was discovered on Aug. 22, 2006 in the Sugarloaf/Arch Rock/Hicks Mountain ridge area, about seven miles northwest of Nye in Sweet Grass County.
An initial attack was made by Forest Service and local government firefighters. Smokejumpers who arrived first had limited success because of heavy fuels, limited access in remote and rugged terrain, and weather conditions.
The next day, the fire grew to 300 acres and crossed into Stillwater County. On Aug. 24, roads were closed in the vicinity of the fire as it grew to 3,000 acres. One day later, 170 homes were put on alert and a Type 2 incident team was assigned, as the fire grew to 12,100 acres.
An early assessment by fire officials determined residences in the area were likely threatened, but additional firefighting resources were limited by high fire activity elsewhere, with 64 large fires underway across the U.S. and seven large fires within the Forest Service Region 1. Locally, many firefighting resources had been directed to the human-caused Emerald Hills Fire in Lockwood, on the outskirts of Billings.
By Aug. 28, bulldozers were digging fire lines and burnout operations were underway as the fire grew to 18,000 acres. Residents in harm’s way were given evacuation notices on Aug. 29, as the fire hovered around 18,500 acres and headed toward the Bridger Creek drainage in Sweet Grass County.
Four firefighters in Columbus Fire Department’s Engine 42 found themselves that day in dense smoke near the Cliff Swallow Fishing Access Site not far from Nye.
“All of a sudden it got real dark,” Bob Johnson later reported. “It was so smoky, you couldn’t see.”
Suddenly a ball of embers struck the truck, which left the road and rolled once down the embankment, ending right-side up in the Stillwater River. With minor injuries, the crew waved off help from a crew in an Absarokee Fire Department truck because of the dangerous fire conditions. An hour later, an Absarokee ambulance arrived and evacuated the four men.
By Aug. 29, more than 400 firefighters were assigned to the Derby Fire, and burnout operations were underway. At the time Type 2 Incident Commander Glen McNitt praised local teams for bulldozing fire lines on the southern flank closest to endangered homes. On the north flank, fire crews were working in “tremendously steep and rugged country,” McNitt said, adding that aerial resources would be needed to handle forecasted 30-40 mph winds.
Strong winds expanded the fire overnight to 60,000 acres, as I-90 was closed from Columbus to Livingston and a Type 1 incident team was sent in. Firefighters on the fire’s swiftly moving north flank were pulled off for their own safety, with forecasts of a storm front moving in.
“We are seeing this year fire activity we’ve never seen before,” McNitt reported Aug. 30. “Drought, wind and higher than normal temperatures are making for unprecedented conditions.” The next day, 800 residents in Stillwater and Sweet Grass counties, including those in the Limestone and Meyers Creek areas, were evacuated as the fire quickly expanded to 100,000 acres. At an informational meeting in the Absarokee Elementary School gym that night, McNitt described the previous day’s conditions as “a perfect storm,” with winds reaching 40 mph. Stillwater County Disaster and Emergency Services Director Ken Mesch said the Derby Fire had moved eight miles in one day. Undersheriff Woody Claunch praised the evacuation efforts of the county’s Search and Rescue team. “I’ve been on duty 24/7 and I’m adjusting constantly,” Claunch said to an appreciative applause. “I’m running out of gas. So are my men. Please cooperate with them.”
Stacy Schweigel was evacuating 14 horses, four dogs and nine cats from her home at the end of the pavement on Stillwater River Road when she saw the Derby Fire jump the Stillwater River. Former Stillwater County Commissioner Cliff Bare said he left before being told.
“The smoke was so thick, I couldn’t see 30 feet,” he said. “I figured it was time to get out.”
Dave Sample and Bryann Hill were putting out hot spots around the Midnight Canyon bridge over the Stillwater River when the fire suddenly approached. The two men went up and down the road using wet horse blankets to extinguish hot spots. Sample and Hill said they were able to save their homes at the end of Midnight Canyon Road with help of a nearby firefighter crew.
“They were volunteers and did a great job,” Sample said. “The fire captain told me I had just had my house saved by the mayor of Troy.” On Sept. 1, winds blew the fire north toward Grey Cliff and McLeod, and the fire expanded to 156,000 acres. The Stillwater Mining Co., however, was able to resume operations, and Stillwater residents were allowed to return to their homes the next day.
On Sept. 3, it was reported that 660 firefighters were holding a 120-mile long line around the 165,000-acre fire. The next day, the Derby Fire was reportedly 25 percent contained at 180,000 acres. Three hundred firefighters were mopping up hot spots in the Midnight Canyon and Nye areas the next day. The smoke and flames along I-90 didn’t stop an estimated 4,000 people from showing up at the 18th annual Sheep Drive event in Reed Point on Sept. 3, where $1,000 in donations were collected for the fire department.
The fire had burned about 223,570 acres, destroyed 26 homes and 20 outbuildings, and was reportedly 90 percent contained by Sept. 21. Forest Service officials said fire suppression efforts became more effective once the Derby Fire left the timber and moved to grasslands. Several days of rain and cold weather in early October put a definite end to the fire danger. On Oct. 9, six inches of snow lay on the ground in Absarokee, and a winter storm warning was issued on Oct. 11.
The Forest Service pegged the total firefighting cost for the Derby Fire at about $22.5 million. At one point, the Forest Service had six teams assigned to the fire – two Type 1, two Type 2 and two Type 3. According to the Montana Department of Revenue, 15 houses or cabins that burned in the Derby Fire have been rebuilt – many the very next year. Eleven owners chose not to rebuild, and three owners rebuilt burned outbuildings. One owner put in a doublewide, and another built a dry cabin instead of a house, the Revenue Department reported. Another owner put in a home where none had existed previously, and a party that bought a burned property has not rebuilt the burned house.
Gallatin County utilizes the two step process outlined below in situations where an incident is affecting people.
When ever possible we will provide a warning to those who might be affected by the ongoing incident. This is typically a law enforcement official who will contact you and make sure you are aware of the current situation. They will provide you information on the situation and what steps you should be taking. In many situations you may also receive a phone call or other automated notification in addition to the law enforcement official.
This is your opportunity to figure out what your family’s plan will be if the situation gets worse. Think along the lines of where you will go and what you would need to take with you. This is also your notice that you should be paying attention to the incident. In some cases if you have special needs or can’t leave quickly, you may consider leaving before it gets to the point of being asked to evacuate.
If at any point you feel uncomfortable with the situation, then leave. Do not wait for someone to tell you to leave if you feel uncomfortable and think you should leave.
If the situation gets worse and local officials feel it is unsafe for you to remain, you will be asked to evacuate. Again, we will make every attempt for a law enforcement officer to contact you and advise you to leave. Keep in mind that sometimes this becomes challenging, so if you feel uncomfortable – leave. You will also likely receive a telephone call or other automated notification in addition to the contact by the law enforcement officer.
If asked to leave, you should leave. However, no one is going to force you to leave. If you do stay we ask that you stay at your house and not leave. Many people have been injured and killed after changing their mind and leaving after it is too late. Waiting and leaving during the incident exposes you to risks that you aren’t expecting and often hinders emergency responders movement while they try to mitigate the incident. So, if you are going to leave, please leave early. If you choose not to leave, then stay put.
How quickly and through what process a local community gets help in a large disaster is often hotly debated when something happens. Fortunately Montana has a fairly decent process and our laws support the local governments fairly well. The simplest way to look at the process is that when a local political subdivison exceeds their capacity for an incident, they can go to the next level for assistance. Typically this is an incorporated city (town) or a county government going to the State of Montana for assistance. Generally speaking the State needs a request from a local government accompanied by an emergency or disaster declaration before they have the ability to help (due to the law and ability to incur costs).
The same similar process takes place if the State of Montana’s capability is exceeded. The Governor of Montana can also declare an emergency or disaster and submit a request to the regional administrator of FEMA in Denver, CO. The regional administrator then forwards the request to the President of the United States who also has the ability to declare a variety of declarations. If declared by the President, this allows access to a variety programs and resources through what is known as the Stafford Act.
Of course this is simplified, but that is the general concept. The other big question is who covers the cost. There is a wide variety of ways this can play out, but here is a simple general rule. Local government’s are responsible for the first 2 Mills of incurred costs for the jurisdiction. The jurisdictions are required to assess their taxpayers for 2 Mills of their assessed values to cover these costs by Montana law. Eligible costs beyond that are typically covered by the Montana Governors Disaster Fund. If there is a Presidential declaration (note there are a lot of federal programs, each with different rules), then in broad terms the Federal Government will begin covering 75% of the eligible costs. So you could look at it as the local government pays the first 2 Mills (of their valuation) of the costs, then the state covers the costs until 25% is reached, and the federal government covers the remaining 75%. Obviously this is a simplified version, and assumes a big event that receives a federal declaration.
2016 2 Mill Emergency Levy Valuations for Montana
So many of us intend to sit down with our family, or assume everyone is already knows, to talk about what we will do if some sort of disaster affects us; but we unfortunately never actually do it! Spending as little as 30 minutes talking about what we will do often makes all the difference when something happens. Each family’s needs are different, and they will therefore develop different family plans to meet their needs. However they will cover similar scenarios of if we can’t go home where we will meet, who our emergency contacts are and other similar information we want everyone to have the same understanding about. We also encourage everyone to think about what you would need to take if you ever have to leave your home. Obviously items like clothes and the family are important to take, but people often forget important items during the stress of a disaster such as medication and what your pets need.
We’ve outlined some sample templates from various sources. They are all different and provide different ideas. The important thing is to look over examples that may remind you of something to plan for that you haven’t thought of yet. We recommend taking the pieces that you like from the various examples and addressing what is most important to you and your family!
- Family Emergency Planning Guide by FEMA
- Federal Emergency Management Agency Website @ http://www.ready.gov/make-a-plan
- American Red Cross @ http://www.redcross.org/prepare/location/home-family/plan
- Or simply do a Google Search for Family Emergency Plan
As we move farther into winter our historical winter flood season is approaching. Winter flooding in Gallatin County is typically caused by freezing of the rivers and ice dams forming. When we see sustained sub zero cold we often have rivers (and other waterways) that begin to freeze up. When ice forms in these waterways the ice takes up the space that the water used to occupy which forces the water up. As this cycle continues with more ice forming under the water, the water level rises. In other situations a obstruction occurs forming an ice jam. In this situation, it causes the water to slow forming more ice and the water backs up behind the ice jam (like a lake). This also causes the water level to rise and also presents a down stream risk if the ice jam suddenly releases everything trapped behind it.
The questions for residents in Gallatin County is if you have a waterway near your house, have you ever seen it flood in the winter? If you have, it is recommended that you develop a plan on what you will do to protect your property if you observe it beginning to flood this winter. Fighting a flood is an offensive sport. Once flooding has occurred and affected your property, it is often too late to prevent the damage. The best strategy is to have a plan on what you will do, identify where you will get the needed supplies, and closely monitor the waterway. If you see flooding begin, you should implement your plan before you are flooded. More on flooding at https://www.readygallatin.com/flooding-in-gallatin-county.
It is also important for winter river recreationalists to be alert while when on the river. If you have heard about an ice jam being present on a river, recreate someplace other than below the ice jam. Even if you haven’t heard of an ice jam being in place, that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Be alert to your surroundings, pay attention to strange sounds or sudden changes in water level, and if in doubt – get out of the river. Several years ago Search and Rescue had to rescue a winter fisherman from the Gallatin River when an ice jam let loose. The fisherman had walked out to a gravel bar where he was fishing when the ice jam released. He was quickly surrounded by water and trapped on what had become an island due to the river water flow that was now released.
Sunday, November 1st is the end of Daylight Savings Time here in Montana. When you set your clocks back an hour, it’s a great time to change the batteries in your smoke detectors! Smoke detectors are the best way to be notified in the event of a fire in your home – providing the batteries aren’t dead. So start winter off right with fresh batteries in you smoke detectors.
Information on smoke detector installation is widely available including these sources:
Join us at 10:21 am today in practicing “Drop, Cover, Hold on.” Today is the Great Montana Shakeout, a nation wide earthquake exercise. Practicing this simple action in preparation for an earthquake can make all the difference.
Follow along with the video below at 10:21 today while you practice where ever you are.
Today our vendor for the Middle Creek Early Warning System began conducting testing and upgrading the system. In this process they discovered that one of the sites had been shot with a high power gun. Fortunately the bullet didn’t strike anything critical and the site is still running and repairable.
This system was installed in 2010 to provide some level of advance warning for those living in the Middle Creek Inundation Area. Approximately 3,000 people live in the inundation area and the system provides a potential 30 minutes of warning time that may not otherwise be available. More information on this is available from our Middle Creek Early Warning System page.
At 10:21 a.m. on October 21, 2015, Montanans will simultaneously “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” in what has become the world’s largest earthquake drill. Joining millions of others across the United States and around the world, Montanans will practice the earthquake safety technique that is widely regarded as one of the best ways to protect against injury during major earthquakes.
“The Montana ShakeOut is a great and simple way to prepare for earthquakes. These three steps— Drop, Cover, and Hold on— can save lives if the ground starts shaking,” Governor Steve Bullock said. “The ShakeOut is one day a year when multiple groups across the state—schools, businesses, healthcare facilities, even state agencies—are simultaneously participating in an earthquake drill. The widespread involvement is a testament to how much we value safety and preparedness in Montana.”
Participants can take part in the ShakeOut drill wherever they find themselves on October 21 at 10:21 AM—at home, at work or while traveling. Here is how “Drop, Cover and Hold On” works:
- Drop to the ground
- Take Cover by getting under a sturdy desk or table, and cover your head and neck.
- Hold On to your shelter until the shaking stops. Be prepared for aftershocks.
To learn more and sign up for the Great Montana ShakeOut, go to http://www.shakeout.org/montana/. Registration takes only 5 minutes and will add your name to the growing number of registrations in Montana. Find out who else is participating by visiting www.shakeout.org/montana/whoisparticipating. Sign up today!
Drones are fun, but potentially deadly in the wrong place
Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), generally called drones, are gaining in popularity. Although drones are fun to fly, they can be deadly if flown near wildfires. Drones can interfere with wildland fire air traffic, such as air tankers, helicopters, and other firefighting aircraft that are necessary to suppress wildland fires. Aerial firefighting missions including aerial supervision, air tanker retardant drops, helicopter water drops, and smokejumper paracargo occur between ground level and 200 feet above ground level, which is the same altitude that many hobbyist drones fly.
Hobbyist drones and firefighting aircraft don’t mix. All authorized aircraft on an incident maintain radio communication with each other to safely coordinate their missions, but aerial firefighting flight crews have no way to communicate with drone operators. Aerial firefighting aircraft have no way to detect drones other than by seeing them, and visual detection is nearly impossible due to the small size of most drones. These factors make a mid-air collision with an unauthorized drone a distinct possibility.
If You Fly, Someone Could Die
Even a tiny drone can cause a serious or fatal accident if it collides with firefighting aircraft. In most situations, if drones are spotted near a wildfire, firefighting aircraft must land due to safety concerns. This prolongs firefighting operations; in many cases, wildfires become larger when aircraft are not able to drop fire retardant, water, monitor wildfires from above, or provide tactical information to firefighters. Homes and other values at risk could burn needlessly, firefighters or others could be injured, or worst of all, a fatal accident could occur.
Flying a Drone Near a Wildfire is Breaking the Law
Per the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, 43 CFR 9212.1(f), it is illegal to resist or interfere with the efforts of firefighter(s) to extinguish a fire. Doing so can result in a significant fine and/or a mandatory court appearance. So, be smart and just don’t fly your drone anywhere near a wildfire. No amount of video or photos are worth the consequences
Please, don’t fly your drone near a wildfire!
Content from: http://www.nifc.gov/drones/
Have you heard stories about how the cellular providers will put service into an area where it didn’t previously exist in a matter of a day or two?
Most of the cellular providers in the United States have systems in place like Verizon’s Crisis Response Team that can deploy temporary cellular networks into places that have had catastrophic damage from natural disasters, have never had coverage and have a large event such as a wildfire, or just need additional capacity for a special event. They accomplish this with devices such as the Cell on Wheels, known as a COW, or similar types of tools. A COW is simply a cellular tower that is portable and towed to the temporary location and setup. The trick is that they need line of sight back to their network from the COW, or some other connectivity, to create a link that gives the COW access to phone lines. Sometimes this is a simple task, other times the technicians get really tricky to make it work, and other times it just won’t work.
Residents in several fire districts in the Gallatin Valley will not be able to activate burn permits starting this week. As of Tuesday, June 30, 2015, Three Forks, Willow Creek, Clarkston, Fort Ellis, Manhattan, Big Sky, Bridger Canyon, Gallatin Rural Fire (areas outside of a fire district), and Gallatin River Ranch have closed their fire districts to any open burning that requires a burn permit.
As the weather continues in a warm and dry trend, fire officials are concerned that the fire danger is too high in some areas for residents to safely burn. All remaining fire districts are watching the weather closely and may also be closing their districts to any burning that requires a burn permit. Permits are required to burn natural vegetative material accumulated in a pile that is greater than four feet in diameter. Campfires do not require a burn permit.
Fire activity is starting to increase around the state and fire officials in Gallatin County urge residents to use caution with any open flame and when using fireworks over the 4th of July holiday. Residents are encouraged to delay their open burning activities until the weather improves and to be aware that they may not be able to activate their burn permits until late in the burning season. Permits can be activated at http://burnpermit.mt.gov if your fire district is still allowing open burning.
With the 4th of July coming up, many are looking forward to celebrating with friend and family – and many are planning on using fireworks.
While many are planning their celebration, firefighters are putting their plans together on how they will handle the inevitable wildfires.
Our community is quickly jumping into wildfire season with fires beginning to appear all around us and officials are well aware that many of the wildfire risk factors are present here in Gallatin County. Our mountain snow pack melted early, we had well below average spring rain, and now we have above average temperatures. These factors combined with a fire getting ignited can often lead to rapid fire growth and a large wildfire escaping initial attack.
Local officials highly encourage our community to recreate with common sense over the 4th of July. Be careful with your campfire, tend it closely and make sure it is completely out. If you use fireworks, always use extreme caution as their exact behavior can be unpredictable. Here are a couple tips to keep in mind:
- Never set off fireworks near dry grass or other vegetation.
- If the wind is blowing, don’t light your fireworks.
- Always have water and/ or an extinguisher available in case something does catch fire.
- If a fire starts, call 911 immediately. The longer you wait, the harder it is to put out.
- You are responsible to any damage caused by your fireworks, so consider playing it safe and attend a commercial fireworks show.
Local firefighters have been preparing in case a fire does get started. On Saturday, June 27th local firefighters trained on the use of helicopters in suppressing wildfires near Bozeman Pass. This training was conducted in cooperation with the Montana Department of Natural Resources Helitack Crew, Custer Gallatin National Forest Rappel Crew & Carisch Helicopters.
More information on Wildfire Preparedness is available at: https://www.readygallatin.com/?page_id=1597
Courtesy Missoulian, Rob Chaney June 7, 2015
There’s a painting hanging in the Central Intelligence Agency’s Langley, Virginia, headquarters called “Khampa Airlift to Tibet.”
“You look at the canopy of the parachute and you can tell they are smokejumpers, and the suits are smokejumper suits,” said retired jump trainer Chuck Sheley. “You could figure out where they got their training.”
Artist Dru Blair’s nighttime image depicts a man in a parachute and several loads of cargo dropping into a moonlit mountain valley.
It recounts more than a decade of CIA efforts to support Tibetan resistance movements against the People’s Republic of China during the 1950s and 1960s.
And this summer, that chapter of covert history will get another quiet acknowledgement when the National Smokejumper Association brings its 75th anniversary celebration to Missoula on July 17.
The three-day gathering will focus on the thousands of missions these uniquely trained individuals confronted since Rufus Robinson and Earl Cooley jumped into a wildfire on the Nez Perce National Forest on July 12, 1940.
But as government documents have been declassified over the years, more and more of the secret spy work smokejumpers did has also come to light.
“For a long time, the guys that did it were told they couldn’t talk about it,” said reunion spokesman Bob McKean, a retired smokejumper and former school administrator in Missoula who now lives in Oregon. “Also, there was that ethos about not really talking about what you do that much – it’s just part of the gig. Braggadocio doesn’t work outside the organization.
“But there’s quite a few people right around Missoula and Helena and around the country who were involved, and they’re starting to die off right now. A lot of their stories will go to the grave.”
The idea of parachuting into remote wildfires got going before the military thought of parachuting soldiers or spies into danger.
McKean said as World War II spurred the hunt for new ideas and tactics, military planners started taking notice of the U.S. Forest Service’s program out West.
“Smokejumpers had that skill set for landing in inaccessible areas and dropping cargo to those areas,” McKean said. “Add to that the nature of the individuals who become smokejumpers – they’re people with the self-sufficiency and mindset to do some of that covert work.”
Sheley publishes the National Smokejumper Magazine. His latest issue includes a list of 96 smokejumpers who had CIA experience. Six people asked for their names not to be published.
In the article, Sheley quoted former smokejumper Jim Vetch, who worked with many of the people on that list. Vetch told Sheley the CIA found smokejumpers an ideal fit for the jobs it needed done.
“I think it was because we could go anywhere, any time, and do a tough, confusing job and then keep our mouths shut,” Vetch said in the article. “I think smokejumpers have what it takes. They are not just fit and strong, but have the ability to think independently and work toward a solution, no matter what the odds.”
After the missions in Tibet, smokejumper/CIA agents worked in India, the Congo, Cuba, numerous South American countries, Vietnam and Laos. The story of Missoula smokejumper Jerry Daniels and his efforts to save refugees from Hmong General Vang Pao’s resistance forces has been well chronicled.
“I trained a lot of these guys in the ‘60s,” Sheley said. “I knew what was going on at that time. So when I heard on the news that we didn’t have people in Laos from President (Richard) Nixon, I remember thinking: ‘Holy Toledo – that’s not true.’ ”
Since then, there have been urban myths and occasional references to the CIA’s airborne agents in movies like “Air America” and “Rescue Dawn” that Sheley said inaccurately portray what the smokejumpers did.
Better books like Gayle Morrison’s “Hog’s Exit” (about Jerry Daniels) or the University of Texas-Dallas library archives are better sources.
Just don’t expect a lot of stories at the Missoula reunion. Sheley said he’d been working on the list of smokejumper CIA names since 2002, and only published it now because some who resisted its release had died.
“It was just a coincidence that we’re having it at the same time as a reunion,” Sheley said. “I didn’t want to offend any of these guys. A few didn’t want the names published, although most of them have been out in books or on the Internet for years. At the same time, about 70 percent of the guys would like the list released.”
CIA ties to Forest Service smokejumpers documented, names released.pdf
|Date:||June 11, 2015|
The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) observed the 30th anniversary of the Montana Dam Safety Act on May 31, 2015, which was also designated as National Dam Safety Awareness Day.
Laurence Siroky, chief of DNRC’s Water Operations Bureau and one of the original architects of the 1985 Dam Safety Act, noted the law was aimed at protecting Montanans from dam failure and encouraging responsible use and maintenance of dams.
“Under this law, dam owners are responsible for scheduling an engineering inspection of their dam at least once every five years,” Siroky said. “They’re also required to perform proper maintenance and have an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) that outlines notification procedures to local law enforcement and emergency management agencies, including evacuation maps for all areas that could be impacted.”
The act also requires dam owners to outline strategies for repairing a dam in danger of failing, Siroky said.
This year’s Montana Legislature implemented new dam safety laws focusing on impoundment structures for mine tailings ponds. Siroky said the law was proposed by the Montana Mining Association after a tailings pond breach in August of 2014 at the Mount Polley Mine in British Columbia. The breach released millions of cubic yards of mine waste into a local creek and lake.
“Dams provide critical water storage with a broad range of benefits for our state – irrigation, hydroelectric power, flood control, recreation and municipal water supplies, among others” said DNRC Director John Tubbs. “DNRC owns and manages 20 water-storage projects statewide and we place a premium on dam safety and maintenance.”
Along with managing its own water projects, DNRC also operates the state’s Dam Safety Program, which regulates the construction, operation and maintenance of Montana’s dams to protect life and property. The program provides training and outreach to dam owners and engineers, and assists with emergency preparedness activities.
Of the thousands (estimated 3316) of dams in Montana, an estimated 183 are structures that could pose a threat to downstream residents. Siroky said there are two or three incidents each year involving dam malfunctions; most of these involve small dams and are caused by deterioration of the outlet works.
It’s a shared responsibility between state and federal agencies, dam owners, emergency responders and citizens to know their roles in the event of an emergency. For the estimated 160,000 Montanans and businesses living downstream of a dam there are actions they can take for their own safety, including:
- Knowing the benefits and risks associated with dams
- Knowing evacuation routes and areas that may be inundated by water and debris
- Maintaining flood insurance
- Having an evacuation plan
Siroky also encouraged citizens to contact local law enforcement or emergency responders if they notice anything unusual or suspicious at a dam, such as significant water seepage.
National Dam Safety Awareness Day is held each year on May 31. The date corresponds to the failure in 1889 of the South Fork Dam in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. More than 2,200 people lost their lives in what is regarded as the most catastrophic dam failure in US History.
To learn more about dam safety in Montana, visit the DNRC Web at http://dnrc.mt.gov/divisions/water/operations/dam-safety
May is Wildfire Awareness Month here in Montana, and many other states in the West. When I think about wildfire awareness, my mind focuses on two area that people can make a difference in; preventing a fire from starting and mitigating their property’s fire risk. Both of these can be done with a little time and common sense by anyone with the potential payoff of avoiding a really bad day down the road!
We won’t know how bad the 2015 fire season in Montana will be until winter, but we do know we have some enhanced risks this summer. Snow packs are generally below average around Montana, and in some places significantly below normal. Last summer was also fairly wet in our area compared to usual. This means that in many area we likely have thicker grass and the vegetation is drier, which provides fuel for a growing wildfire. Keep in mind this doesn’t automatically mean we will have massive wildfires this summer as a lot of other factors play into the mix. For those of you familiar with the Swiss cheese Model, wildfire acts much the same way with multiple factors needing to align to cause problems. The amount of rain we receive this spring will dictate how long things stay green (i.e. wet) and conversely how high the grass grows. Summer thunderstorms with lightening and no rain are frequently a common contributor to wildfires starting around here while windy days help the fire grow quicker once they start. Sometimes the difference between catching a new wildfire, and it escaping, is how much stuff you can throw at it which the availability of resources here in Montana is proportional to what else is going on around the rest of the country.
The single best thing people can do is don’t let a fire get started or let a controlled fire get out of control. This year’s theme of “One Less Spark, One Less Wildfire” captures the concept well. Following these simple practices will go a long way in keeping a bad day from starting:
- When you conduct controlled burns, always activate your burn permit at burnpermits.mt.gov.
- If you aren’t positive on the weather conditions, don’t burn. A calm morning often turns into a hot windy afternoon!
- Always clear the area around your burn and have the water and tools needed to control your fire. The difference between under control and out of control is pretty small.
- Always stay with the fire until it is COMPLETELY out.
- If it starts getting out of control, call 911 immediately.
- Enjoy your campfire in a safe setting and never leave it burning. If it is too hot to touch, then it is too hot to leave!
- Avoid driving in dry grass and use spark arrestors on engines. It is a really bad feeling when you look behind and see fire!
- Fireworks are by their nature unpredictable and great fire starters. Consider attending a public display in the community.
Despite trying to prevent fires from starting, fires will occur. With a little effort over time property owners can do some simple work around their property to make it more resistive to fire. Once a wildfire occurs, it is often too late to do the work that is needed for a home to be resistant to an approaching fire. Despite emergency officials’ desire, time and available resources often don’t make it possible to do the work that should be done ahead of time. A home that has had work done ahead of time in making it fire resistant stands a much higher chance of firefighters being able to save it, and if necessary surviving on its own. Montana has adopted a program known as Ready, Set, Go! and produced a specific Ready, Set, Go! Montana Guide. This guide will provide information on activities that any property owner in Montana can do with a little work. Remember, a little time on the front end could help your family avoid a really bad day!
We never know when or where a wildfire will start, however in you live in Montana you are likely at risk. Living in a subdivision doesn’t mean you’re safe from fire, time spent making your house resistant to fire will benefit anyone. Learn more at ReadyGallatin.com/Wildfire.