When the late-spring and summer “wet” season turns dry, Florida becomes a tender-field primed for wild fires.  In 1998, the headlines across the nation were “Florida on Fire” because the conditions of dry, hot weather became the perfect recipe for tragedy.  Because of great fire prevention efforts by our fire departments, we have avoided a similar experience until this spring.

In 1998, I went to our Special Gathering Daytona program without any concerns about the fires that were burning in other parts of the state.  They were hundreds of miles away.  However, during the hours of our program, numerous wild fires broke out in Central Florida.  One was only a few miles from our Daytona program.  When we exited the building, it was evident that there were problems.  Over the treetops, we could see the flames lapping into the western skyline.   After insuring that everyone was home safely, I was caught in Daytona with basically no way to drive south to my home in Brevard County.  I went west by way of Interstate 4 into Orlando, then took Highway 50 back to the east coast.  The highways were being closed behind me as I traveled.  Fires were everywhere along the roadway.  While I normally would be home by 7pm, it was 11 before I pulled into our driveway.

Yesterday a similar thing happened, traveling 100 miles to Daytona for a Volusia board meeting, I saw a large fire burning to the west of I-95 in the county south of Daytona; but the winds were blowing the smoke toward the west.  I could not even smell the smoke.  By the time our meeting started, however, I-95 had closed. 

Our meeting ended at 5pm.  I turned on my car radio for the most current fire alerts.  I-95 and US 1 had been closed and A1A was the highway recommended if you were heading south.  Because of numerous wrecks in Orlando, it was recommended that people not detour by way of Orlando.  I began my winding way home.  At one point I was within a few miles of the raging forest.  Without incident, I reached my house only two and half hours later than originally planned.

When facing emergencies or local disasters, it is good to have a plan in place before you must confront the lions of fire, tornado, riot or tumult.  Understand, I’m not suggesting that you put your members in the middle of such danger but danger may happen suddenly and unaware.  It is godly wisdom to prepare for the eventuality of such events. 

  • First, put your plans in writing so that all staff and volunteers are on the same page in the event of natural or man-made disaster.
  • Second, be sure that all your members are safely returned to their homes or caregivers before you leave the area.
  • Third, in the event that your members cannot be transported to their homes but you have the ability to transport them to another location, try to take them to the nearest police station.  This a safe haven where they will be protected and secure.  When things are calmer, caregivers can pick up the individuals from the police station.
  • Fourth, notify, if possible, the families or caregivers.  Let them know the exact location of their children. 
  • Fifth, if you are using a cell phone, begin your calls as quickly as possible, before the lines become jammed with calls. 
  • Sixth, try to maintain the location of a land line so that you can make calls should the cell connections be interrupted. 
  • Seventh, stay with your members until all of them are safe.  That may mean that they have been picked up by their families or that they have been taken by local officials to a secure place, even if it is temporary. 
  • Eighth, if for some reason, a member cannot return home and they are taken by local officials to a secure location, be sure to get exact information regarding their location or how they can be located.  Get exact names and phone numbers.  Be sure that a family member or the caregiver is given this information.
  • Ninth, if you are not able to leave the location where you are when the disaster strikes, keep your members calm and quiet.  Pray often, soothe and quiet them with your calmness.  Let as many people as possible know where you are located.  Using a cell phone, call 911.  Call family members and your family. 
  • Tenth, when you are traveling with your members, do not pay with cash.  Use your credit card.  This will give local officials the ability to track your activities and your estimated location. 
  • Eleventh, it is best that only one person speak to the press.  That person should be the one person who is in charge of your program.  All other staff and volunteers should be asked to not give any press statements.  Give the press as little information as possible.

It is our prayer that we never have to face down calamity; but there is a good possibility that it will happen.  While Florida was fighting wild fires, a fast-moving blizzard was moving through the northwest part of our nation.  Each part of the world has a unique natural disaster visage.  Preparation is wisdom; and wisdom is a virtue that God commends and blesses.