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Monday, October 25, 2010

Arkansas campground had no warning system in place where 20 died in flash flood

Back in June I reported on the flash flood that overwhelmed the Albert Pike Forest Service Campground in western Arkansas at two o'clock in the morning leaving 20 dead campers in that horrific catastrophe. At that time I wrote, "The nearest authority that could physically go and wake up campers was an hour away, there was no cell phone tower anywhere nearby, no warning siren, and broadcast warnings were no more than static on the out-of-signal-range radios--if anybody was listening at that time."

Now the Forest Service acknowledges in a new report released last Friday that the agency had no warning plan in place the night those campers died in a flash flood. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the Forest Service will make changes nationwide as a result. The Forest Service says it will put in place an emergency notification system and evacuation plans. It will also train staff and volunteers on the plans.

It's unfortunate that 20 people--including seven children--had to die before such emergency plans were enacted, and though this is a good thing, it does not excuse us--RVers and tent campers alike--from taking responsibility for our own safety.

Finances of the Forest Service, as nearly all agencies in this economy, are stretched, and we should not assume that any emergency warning systems will actually work or official and rescue personnel will be available when needed the most.

It is still imperative that we who choose to camp in the great outdoors take the precautions that will improve our chances when natural catastrophes happen--as they will. Following these "common sense" rules may make that difference, as it would have for those in the Albert Pike Campground.
  • Don't take needless chances if storms are predicted--as summer storms often are in mountainous areas--by camping beside a river that flows through a steep sided canyon.
  • Avoid entry roads to campgrounds vulnerable to flooding, washout, or fallen trees if a storm is possible, the aftermath of which could prevent your departure.
  • Check that your campsite is not over-hung with heavy tree limbs that could come crashing through your roof in the event of heavy winds, or nearby dead trees that could topple.
  • Get the latest updated weather forecast before entering the forest since reception of all your communication devices will be limited or non-existent by the terrain.
  • Have alternative plans or options if your first choice campground appears too vulnerable.

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