Van Beek: Preparedness is not just for scouting |

Van Beek: Preparedness is not just for scouting

September is National Preparedness Month. The theme for 2019 is “Prepared, not scared.” For an adventurous community such as ours, preparedness is a way of life, yet it’s helpful to review things we may take for granted. 

Unlike our Front Range neighbors, our daily gear changes completely, as does our lifestyle. That change is what attracts most of us to Eagle County, yet it comes with inherent dangers that can become life-threatening if we don’t prepare accordingly. In addition to the usual safety precautions regarding driving and various other safety measures for this time of year, we must add precautions that match our sense of winter adventure.

During this time of year … you can almost smell snow in the air. The trees are like something out of Central Casting, hues of green, gold, and just like a sunset, shades of orange, turning darker, as they descend, letting go of summer to land on what will soon become a bright white landscape.

With these changes come new toys. Gazing toward the horizon, that annual bittersweet feeling washes over us as we pack up our summer gear, winterize motorbikes and trailers, wash tents, store hiking boots and fishing rods, drain boats, and give a tearful goodbye to warm sunny days.

That sadness is only momentary until we run across our reason for existence … ski season! There is a new gleam in our eyes as we begin pulling out skis and boards, warming up the wax, and fluffing up the down, thinking of those double diamonds — even if our skill level has now made blue our new mountain color. 

The motor toys now have different wheels, and snowmobiles dominate.  We’ve moved from linen to wool, bundling up like a burrito barely able to move, yet like a swaddled baby, we are comforted in those layers, which provide a stark contrast to the cold wind hitting our face as we descend that first run, bringing a frozen smile on our face.

Heat check

Let’s start with heaters. We must always keep in mind that these are mini, electrical versions of a fireplace, and just like fire, must be monitored continuously. If it’s hot enough to heat a room, it is hot enough to start a fire. 

Stability of the unit is critical. Even those heaters that shut off whentilting take some time to cool down. During that time, they may catch a curtain or other item on fire. Pets running around the house can easily tip one over. 

Radiant heat is generally safer than blower heaters. Check wiring, as normal wear and tear can take its toll. Also, always plug the heater directly to the wall to reduce the chance of tripping over. Also, most extension cords are not rated for the same voltage as a strong heater. 

Clean off all elements before turning on heaters. Spiderwebs and other debris can accumulate during the summer months and may ignite with heat.  Also, make sure the heater is placed in a well-ventilated area and away from potential fire hazards.

Be smart about wildlife

Be extra cautious about wildlife as we enter hibernation season. Bears, mountain lions, and other creatures will become more aggressive about securing food. This is the time of year where home break-ins occur from food left in the kitchen and open windows — inviting furry creatures to dine in. 

Open garage doors with accessible trash cans also invitations to unwanted visitors.  The same holds true with cars; leaving a grocery bag in a car with an open window creates a scent trail that is an “open” sign for bears who have become quite familiar with locks and will enter by sheer might, if necessary.

Begin to consider backups to power outages, avalanches, fires, pet safety, medical emergencies and accidents (particularly if located in a rural area), escape routes and plans to reconnect with family during emergencies where you are separated. Set up a winter go-bag and supplies to be kept in a car if stranded and check your first aid kits in both your home and auto, check fire extinguishers, and keep extra batteries and a walkie-talkie handy and some food and water that doesn’t require refrigeration or preparation. It’s also smart to learn some survival skills in case you’re stranded outdoors for a long period of time.

We will be covering specific items and strategies for winter emergencies over the next few months. Meanwhile, head over to for some very effective tips on multiple areas of emergency preparedness.
Stay safe and enjoy our transitional season!

James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at

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