Phone trees

A phone tree is a prearranged system that can help you quickly spread a brief message to a large number of people.

In its simplest form a phone tree is a list of phone numbers of members in the community. In a more complicated form, it may have a defined structure and an agreed set of rules.

You will need the

  • name
  • home phone number

of each member of the group.

More information may be useful but consider whether you really need this. From experience 'the simpler the better'.

You may also include:

  • work
  • mobile numbers

Remember there may be little residents can do if they are at work when there is a fire near their home. Attempting to return home through a fire-affected area is a highly dangerous activity. We recommend you do not consider this as an option.

There are four basic types of phone trees:

  • Simple - a list of numbers in no particular sequence.
  • Linear - a list of numbers with a well-defined start and finish.
  • Circular - a list of numbers that may start and finish anywhere in the circle.
  • Combination of circular and linear.

The size of your group will most likely determine the type of phone tree you develop.

Ideally, you should aim for the message to go around the group in 7 to 10 minutes.

It may be necessary for larger groups to have a number of sub branches with the person(s) at the head of the phone tree making two or three calls initially to set the process in motion.

Small Groups (less than 10 members)

A simple linear list will suffice. The person who activates the tree is at the top of the list and rings the person after them, who rings the next person and so on.

Medium Sized Groups (10 to 20 members)

A simple linear list may suffice. To speed up the process the person who activates the tree may ring two people who then each activate a separate branch of the tree.

If the phone tree is a circle, any person who becomes aware of a fire can activate the tree.

Using a circle can indicate when the message has gone around. If the person who activates the phone tree rings the person on each side of them this may speed up the process considerably.

Larger Groups (20 members)

This option may involve a couple of circles. An inner circle of people who are usually at home and an outer circle of work numbers and mobiles for people not at home during the day. The inner circle is activated first, then the outer circle.

Where groups include a number of different streets or geographically isolated residents, each street or area can have its own phone tree branch. The activator of each branch would belong to an inner circle that activated first.

Who should activate it?

A member of the group must be responsible for activating the phone tree.

A member who lives in a prominent position with good views of the surrounding countryside would be ideal.

Alternatively, a group member may have their own listening set or scanner programmed for CFS radio channels. If you have designed a circular phone tree, it will not be necessary to appoint one particular member of the group to activate it.

How do I use it?

When operating a phone tree allow the phone to ring until it rings out.

If no one answers, and you do not have an alternative number, ring the next person on the list.

If the alternative number is a work or mobile number, ring the next person on the list first to continue the phone tree as quickly as possible, and then try the work or mobile number.

To make sure the phone tree is effective it is important that you speak personally to the person next in line. If this is not possible, ring the next person as well to ensure that the tree continues.

Let the people in your phone tree know the evening before a Total Fire Ban day if:

  • you are going to be away from home
  • you will be unreachable during a fire emergency
  • someone else is minding your house
  • you are incapacitated in some way.