Are you ready for an emergency?

“Forewarned is forearmed,” say Gilpin County’s first responders

by Patty Unruh

It could happen at any point – a wildfire, flood, hazmat spill, or a cybersecurity attack. Do you have a strategy in place to handle these and other emergencies? What about Gilpin County as a community? We need to be prepared to look out for each other.

These possibilities were food for thought at an emergency preparedness seminar held on Wednesday, March 8, at Christ the King Community Church. Sgt. Kevin Armstrong of the Gilpin County Sheriff’s Office (GCSO), Bonnie Albrecht of Gilpin County Public Health (GCPH), David Taylor, Wildland Coordinator for Timberline Fire Protection District (TFPD), and Gary Allen, Central City Fire Chief, presented the eye-opening and informative seminar. Attendees learned how to prepare themselves and how to get involved in helping their neighbors.

“The idea is to build strong community networks,” Armstrong declared.

Armstrong is the GCSO coordinator of Gilpin County’s emergency preparedness team. GCSO partners with the Black Hawk Fire Department, Gilpin Ambulance Authority, Gilpin County Animal Response Team, and the Gilpin County Commissioners. The team’s goal is to get everyone in our community educated and prepared for emergencies.

“Forewarned is forearmed,” TFPD’s Taylor emphasized.

Armstrong focused on the term “resilient.” How can you withstand disaster or recover quickly as an individual, as a group, and as a community?

The first responders referred to the unpredictable nature of last summer’s Cold Springs fire near Nederland. Ashes fell miles away from the original source, which could have started multiple fires. Responders were within hours of starting to evacuate Gilpin County residents. Many who were evacuated from Nederland needed gas in their cars – they lined up forty deep at Taggert’s Convenience Store. Where will you go if you have just a quarter of a tank?

Also, livestock and pets had to be evacuated from the Cold Springs area. GCART provided care and shelter at the Gilpin County Fairgrounds for everything from cats to yaks.

We all know some of the natural risks to watch out for, such as wildfires, floods, and blizzards. What about earthquakes? A fault line runs along Highway 93. If there is a 7.0 earthquake, how will we get resources up here from Denver? Potential man-made risks include household chemicals, a crash of a semi on Highway 119 involving hazardous materials, and home-grown or international terrorism.

Casinos provide a target where terrorists might attack. With this in mind, the GCSO works with the Black Hawk and Central City casinos on evacuation plans. On September 11, 2001, there was a nine-hour backup on 911 calls when the Twin Towers were struck. A terror strike would overload Gilpin’s communications system. Those are extreme cases, but even an extended power outage can cause difficulties with getting water or using the toilet.

We tend to believe things that aren’t necessarily true: We will be home with everyone present when an emergency happens. We’ll have all of our important stuff with us. We’ll be able to phone for help. We can get home to get what we need. There will be only one disaster, which must be directly where we are to be dangerous. Others will be provide what we need.

Imagine a scenario and ask yourself: Where are you and your family members when it happens? How are you going to communicate? Cell phones don’t always work on Highways 46 and 119, and phone towers may go down. Do you have what you need with you, such as your nightly medications? What are you going to do if you can’t get home? Do you have a “where to reunite” plan? Do you have a back-up communications plan? Do you have what you need for 72 hours or longer? Are you prepared to shelter-in-place or evacuate?

We should all be ready, because first responders make up only about one percent of the population. Life safety is their first priority, and when disaster strikes, they will be busy handling the event, and you may have to help yourself. Call centers and phone services will quickly overload. Studies show that retail stores’ shelves will be empty in 72 hours.

Armstrong advised of the basic “Rules of Three’s.” Three time frames: pre-event, the first 72 hours of an event, and post 72+ hours. Three preparedness levels: individual, group, and community. Three government responder levels: local, state, and federal. Three assets in emergencies: a prepared individual, a prepared group, and a prepared community.

Levels of evacuation also come in three’s. Level 1 evacuation is voluntary and means “Be Ready.” Danger exists in your area; prepare and monitor local media. Level 2 is “Leave Soon.” There is significant danger potential; relocate to a shelter or with someone outside the affected area as soon as possible. Level 3 means “Leave Immediately!” There is no time to gather belongings. You have only seconds to get out.

You can get the most up-to-date and reliable information on the Gilpin County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page and their Twitter feed (social media). TV alerts, NOAA weather alerts, and Reverse 911 calls through the Code Red system are also valuable. You can sign up to receive Code Red calls at gilpincountysheriff.com. If there is a criminal on the loose or another issue, they will call you. If you have registered in the past, it is recommended that you re-register; they upgraded and lost some info.

Plan as a family what you will do in an emergency. Pack an emergency supply kit. Keep a list of important addresses and a video of your home’s belongings and put all this information on a thumb drive to carry with you, put in a safe deposit box, or keep with a friend. Note all exits from your home. Designate a contact person to take roll and relay information for your family. Identify two or three safe places around your neighborhood and further from home to meet. Know the evacuation location for your area and know all routes to it. (Gilpin County has two emergency evacuation shelters – Gilpin Community Center and Gilpin County School.)  Decide if you’ll evacuate or shelter-in-place. Being prepared can help you and your family stay connected in an emergency. And practice your plan!

“Don’t expect to be able to execute your plan if you have never tried it before,” Taylor advised. “You’ll have a better chance if you practice, because you’ll be very stressed in an emergency.”

Businesses, faith-based groups, and other organizations should know their membership. Does it include infants, the elderly, and handicapped persons? What are the human resources, facilities, and supplies? Learn how to prepare or operate a shelter for your group or community, and arrange training for members. Look out for neighbors who may have special needs.

An emergency kit can save valuable minutes and help you survive. Include basic supplies for your family and pets for three to four days. Prepare a full kit for home and evacuation, a smaller kit for car and office, and add a travel kit. The most important items are a dust mask for smoke and a whistle to blow if it’s too smoky to see. Also include first aid, toiletries, a weather radio, emergency drink water packets, emergency food rations, duct tape, LED flashlight, a collapsible water tank, emergency poncho, and batteries. Update your kits regularly!

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have learned that “top-down” emergency management doesn’t work. These agencies are shifting to a “whole community” response, where emergency response is from local agencies working in partnership with whole communities to help each other.

You can help by getting involved. Build partnerships through your homeowners’ association, school, church, and service organization. Get American Red Cross training in CPR and emergency shelter set-up and operation. Join a Citizen’s Emergency Response Team (CERT). These teams assist the sheriff’s office in emergencies by helping with roadblocks, closures, and shelters.

If you see something that seems out of place, say something. Call the GCSO, and they’ll check it out. Don’t assume that someone else will call. You could save a life.

Gilpin County received a $16,000 grant from the North Central Region Citizen Corps Council. The County matched that grant to enable the GCSO to outfit an emergency control center with smart boards, phones, desks, chairs, computers, and secured servers for emergency management.

Gilpin residents may obtain an Emergency Preparedness Guide at the GCSO office or at gilpincountysheriff.com, and Armstrong is happy to give a presentation to any group.

72-hour emergency kits are available at readycolorado.com. Other helpful sites are ready.gov, readyrating.org. (Red Cross Ready Rating Program), and fema.gov/community-emergency-response-teams.

About Aaron Storms

Publisher & Managing Editor Weekly Register-Call
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