Sunday, June 24, 2012

Be Prepared For Emergency Evacuations

I've just spent about 2 hours watching the most recent forest fire to hit Colorado spread at a very rapid pace. Forest fires are always a scary thing, but this one  - right at the edge of Colorado Springs and threatening many, many homes - really drives home how important it is to be fire safe and evacuation ready if you live anywhere near a wildfire or high-tree area.

The pictures I'm using for this post were taken by my wife and I, from my driveway and areas right around my home. Fortunately no homes have burned so far, but with mandatory evacuations taking place across the front range, our city is getting first-hand experience of just how dangerous and fast-moving a wildfire can be.
The first thing to do is make sure you're signed up for emergency notifications with your local 911.  Registering your cell phone for emergency notifications will help insure you get the message if you need to evacuate your home and head towards a safer area. In El Paso and Teller counties, you can register your phone at
If you do receive the call (or just feel it's the prudent thing to do) to evacuate your home, here are some important tips and things to remember to keep your family safe:
  1. Know how you are going to get out: The first step is to make sure everyone in your family knows the escape route from your home as well as your neighborhood. If you have a home fire, everyone should know the quickest way to get out of your home, and if your neighborhood has a disaster, everyone should know the best way to leave the area. Take the time to practice, as a family, your escape route and have a backup route in case your first way out is blocked.
  2. Know what you are going to take: Have an evacuation preparedness bag ready for everyone in your family. Keep a few days worth of clothes and medications inside so you don't forget them if you are in a hurry. Have a gallon of water for each person as well as a bit of non-perishable food ready in case it takes a longer amount of time to get to a safe area. Know where your important financial and family documents are and be ready to gather them up if needed. If time allows and you are wondering which items from your home you should take, start with things that are irreplaceable. Your insurance policy will help you replace your TV if it is destroyed, but your old photo albums, baby books and mementos are a completely different story.
  3. Know what you will do with your pets: Make sure your pets are ready for travel as well. Have a few days worth of pet food ready to go and have a plan for pet shelter in place in case your pet or animal is unable to stay with you.
  4. Know where you are going to meet: If your family is not together when an evacuation happens, everyone should know where they will be meeting, and it should be somewhere that is a safe distance from your home. If local phone service were interrupted or cell phones were down, you may not be able to reach everyone in your family at the time of an evacuation.
  5. Know when it's safe to go back: Stay informed with local authorities to know what is happening in your area. Phones, TV and power may all go out in an emergency, so keep a hand-held radio with your emergency kit. If your radio is battery powered, keep an extra set of batteries on hand as well.
Natural - or man made - disasters can happen at any time. Being alert and prepared to deal with an emergency will help keep your family safe and protected. Have the conversation about emergencies with everyone in your family as soon as possible (before an emergency happens) and practice dealing with an emergency 1-2 times per year. Evacuations can be scary for kids but if you practice and prepare for what to do they'll handle things much better if a real emergency were to occur.

For a complete list of items to keep in your evacuation bag and other tips on emergency preparedness, visit the Red Cross emergency preparation page at

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