As prep for fire season is getting into full swing, I wanted to update you on the committee’s discussions of House Bill (HB) 4087, which establishes media access for wildfires and other natural disasters on public lands starting January 1st, 2023. The required committee of news media and public safety agency stakeholders has begun their work to start building a work plan to ensure the new law requirements are met.
The government/media workgroup that collaborated on the bill between the 2021 and 2022 legislative sessions had OFCA and OSFM representation. There will be an opportunity to continue our participation and workgroup participation options moving forward. In addition, OSFM will work with our partners to gain operations and public information expertise to help inform and guide the committee’s work.
I know folks have questions about what this all means for wildfire operations, both now and in the future. Much of what the bill will look like in practice will be determined by the committee’s work, so there are still some big unknowns. Here’s a quick overview of what we do know right now so you can help inform your local communities, partners, media partners, and others who are interested in this topic:
Media access—Fire season 2022
The bill doesn’t go into effect until January 1st, 2023, which means ops normal for this fire season. So one of the committee’s first tasks will be to ensure this is broadly communicated to our media partners well in advance of fire season. This effort is already underway.
Media access—Fire season 2023 and forward
After the bill goes into effect in January 2023, news media representatives will be allowed to access wildfire or natural disaster scenes on public lands otherwise closed to the public.
- When on scene, media may not impede response, which includes actions such as not yielding to emergency vehicles or parking in a way that limits emergency vehicle access.
- Please note that there is no requirement or expectation that any public safety agency determine who counts as a “news media representative.”
Applies to: Scenes of wildfires and other natural disasters on public lands that are closed to the public.
- For clarity, “public lands” does not include federal lands.
- Additionally, it would not apply to easements because those are a right to use private lands, but don’t change the private lands into public lands.
- Finally, this legislation only applies if the public lands must be closed because of wildfire or natural disasters. If the lands aren’t closed or closed for a reason other than a natural disaster, the access requirements will not apply.
Limitations on access:
- On-site scene commanders have sole discretion to deny access if it would threaten responder safety, the effectiveness of operations, and/or the integrity of an investigation.
- The development of standard operating guidelines (SOGs) on this topic is a top priority for the committee. These SOGs will support responders by establishing a shared understanding of when access may be denied and why between public safety agencies and media representatives.
- Media representatives are required to have their own personal protective equipment that is appropriate for the type of incident scene they’re attempting to access.
Expansion of access: On-site scene commanders may grant media unescorted access to a scene if they have documentation that they’ve completed approved site safety training. Unescorted access is solely at the discretion of that on-site scene commander, but there is no requirement to allow it.
- This will likely mean an expanded need to have personnel available to escort media for situations that don’t meet the criteria to deny access unless on-site scene commanders want to allow unescorted access. Unescorted media accept both risk and liability.
Safety training and guidelines: The committee is tasked with developing:
- Recommendations for the content of safety training for media representatives (but not required to develop or deliver that training, nor are public safety agencies)—from training content and credentialing/documentation to enforcement and support.
- Guidelines for implementing the bill, which will include content such as examples of when circumstances warrant denial of access and PPE standards for different types of natural disasters.
Some of the initial products that will likely come out from the committee will be helpful resources for public safety agencies and media representatives, such as FAQs, fact sheets, and talking points. There are also conversations about establishing a webpage to house these resources and other 4087-related content in a single, easily accessible place. These products will be shared as they’re available, along with updates on the committee’s work.
Feel free to reach out to me with any questions. I might not be able to answer many of them just yet, but I will be keeping a list of questions to help the committee as it builds out information resources.
Public Affairs Director
Office of State Fire Marshal
Oregon State Police
Phone 503-934-0225 Mobile 503-983-5739 Email Alison.Green@osp.oregon.gov