A fire drill is something you might remember from grade school. An alarm sounds, you get in line, leave the building, and the teacher called roll. It’s a simple drill. However, planning a fire drill for an entire neighborhood is a bit more complicated.
Our neighborhood group, CABS, is defined by four streets (Colton, Asilomar, Balboa and Snake) and has approximately 87 homes. We formed over 15 years ago as a first line of defense in the event of an emergency, and became recognized by the Firewise USA program in 2022. In our first-year Firewise plan, we worked on reducing fuel loads around our homes and neighborhood. As we entered our second year, we had to come up with a plan to not only keep our homes safe but our neighbors and families as well. We needed to get back to basics and practice like in school with a neighborhood evacuation drill.
First, we had to come up with a plan.
We decided to do the drill in October, historically one of our state’s most disastrous fire times. Our Firewise Core Team met with our CABS Organizing Committee, many of whom have completed Oakland Community Emergency Response Team Training (CERT), to figure out what an evacuation drill should look like.
We all agreed planning a day, time, and meeting location would be a good place to start. Getting informational resources to neighbors would spark awareness and be an excellent reminder for households to get ready. Our goal with this was not for perfection but an excuse to get ready. Getting everyone to participate would be impossible, but doing the drill would allow us to test our neighborhood alert system (One Call Now) and get people thinking of their emergency plans.
We came up with a two-week timeline for the drill.
- First, we sent a save-the-date explaining the drill and provided online resources for neighbors. Go bag information, evacuation maps, area alert sign-ups, and emergency planning guides were a few of the resources we thought were most important for people to review.
- In week two, mailbox fliers went out, along with a guide from the Oakland Firesafe Council. (Guide #07 – Evacuation and Go-Bag Checklists)
- Drill alert messaging was crafted and scheduled through our alert system.
- The day before, we sent a final reminder.
We never know when a disaster may strike. So, for people who weren’t home, we encouraged them to get their emergency plans ready. We asked them to consider: What would happen to pets or family members if this was an actual evacuation? Who might be home (non-driving family, visitors, babysitters, housesitters), and how can they get out?
We had no idea how many homes would participate…
The day of the drill.
At 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, October 7th, the following text and voice alert went out:
“This is a drill and not an actual emergency. Your CABS neighborhood group is holding an evacuation drill. If you’re participating in this drill, please prepare to evacuate in the next half hour and meet up at noon on the top floor of the Montclair Parking Garage at 6235 La Salle Avenue. Again, this is a drill and not an actual emergency.“
We encouraged neighbors to take one car and practice taking different routes. We also provided a Google Drive version of our neighborhood evacuation map for people to save and make available offline in the event of slow or no internet. We told neighbors to be aware of tight roads, potential obstructions, and overhead trees, which can be dangerous in the event of an actual evacuation.
At noon, we met at the top of the parking garage. Incredibly, we had almost half of the neighborhood show up!
Families and neighbors gathered with their pets and go bags. Neighbors talked about how they updated their go bags, prioritized what to bring, packed their cars, drove different routes, and asked questions about where to evacuate in the event of an actual emergency.
It was remarkable to have so many people take time out of their day to prepare for an emergency. The opportunity to practice different routes, planning what to take, and engaging in conversations with kids and others helped neighbors think through what they’d do when an actual emergency happens.
The outpouring of support and participation shows how needed this drill was not only for our CABS neighbors but for all those living in severe fire zones in the Oakland and Berkeley hills.
We hope this drill sheds light on potential hazards we encountered along crucial evacuation routes (i.e., Snake, Colton, Arrowhead, Shepherd Canyon, Skyline), cars parked on both sides of roads, overhanging tree canopies, and flammable eucalyptus trees. Following lessons learned in fatal fire scenarios, addressing these issues and focusing on hardening evacuation routes can be life-saving.
We are thankful for the help from the Oakland Firesafe Council in providing information to help neighbors, the Montclair Village Association, and the Montclair Parking Garage for providing us the space to meet and practice. We could not have done this drill without the hard work of neighborhood volunteers. Without their support and dedication, none of these efforts would be possible.
~ Maryanne Hubbard, CABS Firewise Team Member and Communications Director
~ Marty Kaplan, CABS Core Team Leader