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Vail webinar: Planning now can prevent panic, save lives

You need to be ready to leave your home in five minutes, with three days worth of essentials

A view of the Grizzly Creek Fire from Dotsero. If you're preparing a disaster kit, don't forget to include supplies for your pet(s).
Kim Fadick | Special to the Daily
More information To learn more about the town of Vail’s emergency evacuation plan, go to https://www.vailgov.com/evac

Can you leave your home for three days with five minutes’ notice? Given how fast wildfire can move, that may be all the notice you get.

Vail Fire Chief Mark Novak and Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger Monday hosted a Facebook Live session detailing some of the town’s evacuation plans and offered some advice for residents.

Novak noted that while people living near the Grizzly Creek fire received pre-evacuation notices, wildfire doesn’t always give people time to gather their possessions — or their thoughts.

A fire could spark so close to a neighborhood, and move so quickly that the first call a resident gets is the call to get out.

Henninger said town officials have prepared for that possibility with a comprehensive evacuation plan. But getting the word out to residents requires some planning.

The cell phone-based Integrated Public Alert and Warning System provides alerts similar to Amber Alerts that inform users about endangered children or similar emergencies. But, Henninger noted, the local system has a bit of overlap with Summit County.

The best bet is to subscribe to the Eagle County alert system. Those alerts will come in real time to a user’s phone or email address.

The town of Vail has produced a flyer detailing the essentials of a quick evacuation.
Special to the Daily

If trouble comes

If the alert comes, Henninger said residents need to both be ready and know what they’re going to do.

The first part of evacuation is knowing what to take, and preparedness to leave home for three days.

The town has published a guideline sheet boiling down evacuation essentials to six items, all of which begin with “P:”

  • People and pets
  • Papers, phone numbers and important documents
  • Prescriptions, vitamins and eyeglasses
  • Pictures and irreplaceable memorabilia
  • Personal computers, along with other information on hard drives or other media
  • Plastic: credit and debit cards, along with cash

In addition to get-out supplies, people evacuating their homes need to leave on a porch light and put a white sheet of paper or cloth on the front door to show officials that the unit isn’t occupied.

“It’s all about having a plan,” Novak said. “If you don’t have a plan, that can lead to panic.”

Avoiding panic requires planning, Novak said, quoting 19th-century scientist Louis Pasteur, who said, “Luck favors the prepared.”

Most people will be able to leave by car, but some can’t. The town’s plan includes ideas for those who might not have cars, or can’t get to them right away.

Those on Vail Mountain are asked to go to the nearest building on the mountain and wait there for help.

People in town without cars are asked to go to the nearest town bus stop. From there, they’ll be taken to shelter areas.

For those who can’t get to a bus stop, Henninger recommends getting to a safety zone clear of trees and shrubs. Those zones include the West Vail shopping area, Vail Mountain School and the town’s parking structures.

As a last resort for those who can’t drive to the East Vail interchange, Henninger said there’s a dirt road at the far end of the neighborhood, near the U.S. Forest Service campground. That road will lead to the interstate. There will be traffic control on hand to get people onto the highway and heading away from smoke, he said.

The town also has plans to evacuate those who can’t get into a car or to a bus stop. Those residents should call 911 and ask for assistance. Help will be dispatched.

It isn’t just you

In addition to a personal plan, Novak and Henninger told residents to have a group plan.

Cell phone voice service may be spotty, so texting is more reliable. Families or rooommates need to plan ahead how to contact one another, Novak said.

While evacuation plans have been developed over the past several years, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed some of those plans, particularly regarding shelter.

Vail’s Town Hall, Dobson Ice Arena and other spaces are limited in capacity due to social distancing requirements. A lot of people will be asked to shelter in their vehicles in the town’s parking structures.

Some may be sent to local hotels. That won’t work over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, Henninger said.

In case the town is full, some people who have been evacuated may be asked to spend a good bit of time in the parking structures. In the winter, people will be directed to the lower levels, which are somewhat warmer than the upper levels.

Most important, though, is getting people and pets safely to shelter. Novak and Henninger both have experience with large-scale wildfires and disasters in California that required large-scale evacuations.

That’s why both say people can save time, memories and lives if they plan now.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com.


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