Officials: Be prepped for disasters | VailDaily.com

Officials: Be prepped for disasters

J.K. Perry

EAGLE COUNTY ” In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, valley emergency officials say they are fairly confident in local disaster plans.

But effectiveness relies on individuals gathering supplies to survive the three days following a disaster, authorities say.

“My feeling is that there is going to be a lot of needs for people on the Gulf Coast,” Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger said. “If people want to do something now, I think people need to make sure they’re prepared, at least for three days.”

The gulf hurricane highlighted the unpredictable nature and aftermath of disasters, Eagle River Fire Chief Charlie Moore said.

“This tragedy in New Orleans has really opened the eyes of a lot of emergency managers,” Moore said. “How do you deal with this many people?”

Eagle County Emergency Management has plans in place to deal with forest fires, snow storms, flooding and other disasters, emergency director Barry Smith said.

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Agency involvement can vary in different emergencies, Moore said.

Emergency management asks county departments, town governments, fire and police personnel, and aid organizations such as the Salvation Army to cooperate and perform certain tasks.

The winter storm plan calls for people to be evacuated if electricity goes out. Roads will be plowed to get people to shelters provided by the Salvation Army in the east part of the county and the Red Cross in the west.

Fire departments will bring food and pillows for the shelters, as well as respond to emergencies.

“Nothing is 100 percent fool proof,” Smith said. “We’ve tested it in simulations, but until you get the real thing you don’t know for sure.”

Depending on the size and nature of the disaster, state and federal agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency, also known as FEMA, can be contacted for support, Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy said.

A wildfire warranting evacuation of homes starts with 911 dispatchers calling people and asking them to leave the area, followed by door-to-door notification, Moore said. People might then be asked to take shelter at a school or other evacuation center.

In Aug. 2002, portions of Wildridge were evacuated when a five-acre, 15-foot to 20-foot wall of flames temporarily threatened some homes. Officials said the evacuation was a success and good practice for the future though no homes were damaged and no one was hurt.

Disaster plans rely on people being equipped with three days of survival supplies, such as food, water, flashlights and other necessities, Smith said.

Moore said county resources such as food and water, though significant, would be taxed when lots of visitors are in town during the ski season if a large-scale disaster like that in New Orleans took place here.

The county can provide dehydrated meals for about 500 people for three days after their initial three-day supply runs out, Smith said. Six days is enough time to collect more food and supplies.

To get prepared, Henninger packs a trash can with food, water, garbage bags for human waste, a heat source for food, first-aid kit, radio with extra batteries, and a can opener, among other supplies.

These supplies are particularly useful during a snow storm that could cut off daily supplies from Denver, he said.

That almost happened in 2003, when a blizzard shut down I-70 between Summit County and Denver. Though heavy snow didn’t fall in Eagle County, supermarkets shelves emptied and some restaurants ran low on food because delivery trucks couldn’t get through.

Edwards resident Donna Griffin said she does not have a cache of supplies for a large snow storm or any other disaster.

“It’s a good idea, though,” she said. “I think here in the valley since we don’t often have situations like (the gulf), we’re just not used to it.”

Nancy Brown, representative U.S. Homeland Security Department’s Citizen Corps, said a supply kit is important because emergency personnel might not make it to hard-to-reach areas in the first 24 to 72 hours during a snow storm or other disaster.

Brown said it is also important to know neighbors and know if a neighbor might need physical or medical assistance.

Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or jkperry@vaildaily.com.

Vail, Colorado