Eagle County Sheriff: Should tragedy strike, Emergency Operations Center is ready (column) | VailDaily.com

Eagle County Sheriff: Should tragedy strike, Emergency Operations Center is ready (column)

James van Beek

With the horrific incident in Las Vegas, we can see how quickly a mass event can turn tragic. How long will it take to respond? How and where can we transport 500 people? Delays cost lives. Can local hospitals handle massive casualties? What resources are available regionally, statewide and federally? Where is the contact point? The answer is the Emergency Operations Center.

While life in Happy Valley seems far removed from these situations, it is the job of Eagle County’s Emergency Operations Center to be prepared. An active shooter, suicide bomber or, as in the resort town of Nice, in France, a vehicle used to mow down pedestrians can occur anywhere. And while the likelihood of such an incident occurring in Eagle County is small, it is our job to be prepared.

More likely, we would face natural disasters such as flash floods and wildfires or airport emergencies or perhaps a hazardous materials incident, with the proximity of commercial traffic on Interstate 70 increasing that possibility.

According to Emergency Manager Barry Smith, the common functions of the Emergency Operations Center are to collect and analyze data, make decisions that protect life and property, maintain continuity of the organization within the scope of applicable laws and disseminate those decisions to all concerned agencies and individuals. We regularly engage in preparedness exercises, evaluating plans and procedures in coordination with affiliated agencies.

Knowing which resources are available, when, where and under what conditions, along with how each agency works and what we can expect, is the Emergency Operations Center’s primary responsibility. Some incidents expand beyond our county into regional, state or even federal jurisdictions, with forestry being a common connection.

People’s safety is at the heart of Emergency Operations Center’s mission. They will do all in its power to handle any conceivable public emergency, keeping in mind that they are only activated when more than one agency is necessary to contain a situation.

As we’ve seen with the current wildfires in California, devastation can spread quickly, and even if all resources are implemented, there are simply not enough to reach everyone at once. Individuals must have their own plan for surviving an unexpected and perhaps life-threatening emergency.

In Eagle County, we are used to semi-rural living and the grit and independence that it encompasses, from sharing space with mountain lions to wrestling trashcans that are bear-safe and people-proof. While we anticipate the best, we must also prepare for the worst.

Local authorities can handle most valley incidents. Larger events require additional preparation, including instructions on sheltering in place and recovery measures. Many of these can be found at http://www.ready.gov.

Aside from direct damage to person and property, there may be a loss of utilities, including compromised cell coverage during the emergency. What is your family’s evacuation and communications plan if that occurs? What if your escape route is blocked?

Create an alternate plan. Find a destination that is clear of flammable vegetation, ideally an open field at a higher elevation, where air rescue might be easier and cell reception greater. Practice hiking this route several times a year to become aware of seasonal impediments. Leave a note at your home, listing your intended destination, cellphone number and names of those with you. If possible, then check on neighbors, who may be second-home owners, unfamiliar with alternate escape routes.

Have go-bags (preferably backpacks) for each person, including duplicates for your car. They should include copies of important documents, medications, warm and waterproof clothing, sturdy shoes, water, protein bars, dried fruit, pet food and leash, flashlight, portable two-way radio, first-aid kit, cash, whistle, eyeglasses/contacts solution, batteries, baby food, diapers, matches, moist towelettes, feminine hygiene, mess kit, space blankets and, if possible, camping gear, flares, a fire extinguisher, chlorine bleach for water sanitation and dust masks to filter smoke. Valuables that you are unable to take can be placed in a dishwasher because it’s airtight and waterproof — but not infallible.

The Sheriff’s Office and its affiliates are continually preparing for any possible emergency to maintain the safety of our communities. Special recognition and thanks goes to our Emergency Operations Center.

James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at james.vanbeek@eaglecounty.us.

Support Local Journalism