When the fires began to spread in Superior and Louisville in Boulder County on December 30, 2021, tens of thousands of residents were asked to evacuate. Many went to evacuation centers with their children, partners, pets and small personal items they could grab on their way out. For many fire victims, what they brought with them is all they have left.
Facing an emergency like the Boulder County Fires isn’t something everyone wants, but it’s something everyone can prepare for.
Whether it’s fires, floods, or active shooters, knowing what to do in an emergency can save your life. Micki Trost, communications director for the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, spoke with Nathan Heffel, co-host of Colorado Matters, about the key ways people can prepare for a difficult situation. ’emergency.
Start with a plan.
A preparedness plan should incorporate a few elements: how you are going to evacuate or where you are going shelter in place, meeting points and supplies you will need to get hold of, contact numbers for friends and family. Your plan may differ depending on the situation. With a house fire escape, for example, you may be able to get to a nearby location, such as a neighbor’s house. But in a large-scale emergency, like a forest fire, you may need to evacuate to a more distant location. Study the routes you would use if you were to leave your neighborhood completely, and share this plan with everyone you live with, as you could be separated in the event of a disaster or evacuation.
Sign up for emergency notifications.
It is one of the easiest ways to prepare for a disaster. Most phones are automatically enabled to receive Federal Alerts, which are issued in an emergency (older phones may not be able to receive these messages, and others may need to have this option enabled). But, in any event, Trost said it’s critical that you don’t “opt out” of federal notifications and pay attention to them when you receive one. “These alerts are not being sent because we think something could happen,” she said. “We know there is a danger somewhere near you. ”
Almost every county in Colorado has a local emergency alert system which you must register online to receive. These alerts can be information about emergencies, but can also include updates on unexpected road closures.
Decide how you will communicate with family members.
In a major emergency, your family may be in separate places with different means of communication available. Phone systems can be overloaded or not work at all, Trost said. Designate an out-of-state relative or friend and share their contact information with your immediate family. Thus, if local systems are overloaded or irregular, someone outside the disaster area can be notified and be a point of contact.
Trost also said having family group text activated during an emergency can help update everyone’s location and movement after an evacuation; FEMA says texting is the best way to communicate during a disaster. However, if you need to make a call, be brief and only share vital information with rescuers or family members to prevent the network from being overwhelmed.
Have a plan for your animals.
Whether you have dogs, guinea pigs or horses, have a plan for your animals will save you precious time in the event of a disaster. Know where your pet can hide when stressed and practice catching the animal. Register and tag your pets can help you find them if you separate. Set up a buddy system with neighbors, if possible, so they can catch your pets if you’re not at home.
There is no guarantee that an evacuation site will allow you to bring your pet. So, before a disaster strikes, check with area hotels for their pet policies, including whether a no-pet rule would be lifted in an emergency. Also check with local fairgrounds, as they might be the designated evacuation point for people with large animals.