Oklahoma Agencies To Improve Communication Prior To Wildfires

Monday, May 12th 2014, 4:32 pm
By: News 9

Oklahoma is making a change aimed at improving its approach to fighting wildfires, according to several state agency officials. Better communication between the Office of Emergency Management and the Oklahoma National Guard is the issue.

National Guard officials know when their helicopters are performing training exercises, but officials with Oklahoma's Office of Emergency Management do not have the same knowledge most of the time. That lack of knowledge could potentially delay response times. During low-risk wildfire time periods, emergency managers don't have a clue where air support resources are located when pilots are performing training exercises.

"Sure, we probably need to have a calendar on when they're training," said emergency management director Albert Ashwood on Wednesday. "That's something we haven't had in the past."

Knowing when National Guard helicopters are in the air can have a huge impact on getting water above the flames quickly, according to forestry services officials. During high fire danger, OEM says it knows when helicopters are in the air. However, OEM was left in the dark during the recent Logan County wildfire.

5/7/2014 Related Story: Wildfires Spark Questions Over Need For Additional Air Support

National Guard spokesperson Lt. Col. Max Moss tells News 9 that OEM's knowledge of air support location would not have made a difference in Guthrie due to the timing of dispatch and sunset. However, better communication can make a difference in the future, according to both agencies.

"We can always make the system better," Ashwood said. "I think there's no such thing as being perfect. We always learn from each disaster."

The learning can extend to the National Guard in a different way. In April, News 9 did a report on new Lakota helicopters purchased by the federal government. At the time, the Oklahoma National Guard told News 9 the choppers can drop water during wildfires. However, the aircraft are still sitting near Will Rogers World Airport with no buckets.

4/15/2014 Related Story: OK National Guard Choppers To Help Squash Future Wildfires

Oklahoma's Forestry Services is in charge of purchasing buckets, according Moss. The department says there is no timeline to buy the buckets -- funding is an issue. Forestry officials tell News 9 they will discuss the issues in meetings between agencies this week.

Although, the National Guard says OEM's knowledge of training exercises would not have made a difference in Guthrie, there are critics inside the National Guard who doubt that assessment.