Do You Have Your Emergency Action Plan?
I don’t know about you, but EVERY command at which I served had an “Emergency Action Plan” that was part of the command instructions for everyone. It told you where to go, what to do, and addressed various emergency situations that you might encounter at the command.
After 20 years of service, I retired and entered the civilian world and never gave emergency action plans another thought…that is, until this past January.
You see, I was in the mandatory evacuation zone for the Marshall Fire (above). That fire completely destroyed over 1000 homes and damaged many others. What is miraculous is that there were only TWO deaths—both elderly and infirm who were unable to be reached before the fire overtook their home. The winds were 100+ mph!! As a result, fire fighters simply could not fight the fire—it moved too quickly and would over-run the responders. So they focused on saving lives.
Thursday, 30 December 2021
It was around noon or a bit after. My daughter called to ask me if I could see the smoke from the Davidson Mesa fire (part of the Marshall Fire area). Davidson Mesa is up the road2-3 miles from my home, and the two roads through my housing area are the only way up and down from the fire area on the mesa. I looked out my window at the Flatirons of the Rockies (west) and said “Nope, everything looks pretty clear.”
She said the fire was moving fast and heading my way—I should probably think about getting out pretty quickly and come over to them (she and her family live in Thornton, about 18 miles to the east). I wasn’t concerned.
About 15 minutes later, my phone rang, and the answering machine identified the CallerID as “call from Boulder County Sheriff’s Office”—I figured I should probably answer that one. After all, it could be a shooting incident, major traffic accident, or something else. So, I picked up the phone on the SECOND ring and the automated voices said “…and this order will remain in effect until further notice.”
WHAT ORDER? No opportunity to replay the message, it just hung up.
I went out to my front porch and looked to SOUTH (toward the Davidson Mesa): there was a huge smoke plume boiling and moving my way (pushed by 100+ mph winds). I figured I probably ought to grab some “essentials” and head out to my daughter’s place. I figured I had about 10 minutes to safely grab things and leave. I found about 6000 – 8000 other Boulder County residents trying to evacuate the community at the same time; it took me three hours to travel 18 miles to my daughter’s home. Every time I got to a juncture where I THOUGHT I could take a shorter route, I was blocked by police because the fire was overtaking the area.
Basically, I grabbed my medicines, computer, essential documents, credit cards, and a few important family things—packed my car and hurried out.
The National Guard was mobilized; their Humvees were parked at the entrances to many of the fire-impacted areas they allowed NO ONE except emergency personnel to enter those areas.
Sunday, 2 January 2022
About 2200, I was at my daughter’s home when suddenly my RING doorbell went off. You see, when the fire was being fought, the power company threw a switch and turned off power to the entire area quickly and easily. The gas company turned off gas service at main arteries, and then sent in crews to areas not specifically under the fire itself to turn off home service individually. By Sunday night, the fire was under control and mostly smoldering, so power was restored and Xcel Energy had crews from neighboring states helping them go door-to-door to turn gas back on. But, you had to be home for them to do it—they also had to come in and re-light your pilot lights. When I opened the RING app, I saw two guys wearing reflector vests and helmets (they were from Kansas Gas, helping Xcel).
I answered and asked what they needed. They said they were there to turn my gas back on and wondered if anyone over 18 was in the house. I told them that the entire area was CLOSED and no one was allowed back in except emergency crews. The guy answered, saying: “Well, THAT would explain why no one is answering their doorbells then.” Yep.
Monday, 3 January 2022
Turns out I was allowed back into my home at 1800. Electric power had been restored, but not gas. I have circulating hot water baseboard heat, no forced air fans. So, I was fortunate in that I had no smoke damage. Also, my house was completely intact, but my neighbor across the street about 20-30 yards was completely destroyed. My housing area of 52 homes lost two homes and 2 others smoke damaged.
While I was staying at my daughter’s, she told me she found this “Emergency Evacuation Checklist” on the internet and I should take a look at it—it addressed examples of what you should gather if you have 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 1-hour, or 2-hour notice for an evacuation. So, I’m including that here, but please remember—it’s an EXEMPLAR—a strawman for lack of a better word. Look it over, MAKE IT YOURS because there are three things in the 15 minute section that I don’t have (safety deposit box, pets, hearing aids). You may feel that some things in another area deserve higher priority. And, you have to realize you will NOT be able to gather EVERYTHING and get it out in a short period, so prioritize what you need to load into your car to get safely out of danger.
In conclusion, I was EXCEPTIONALLY LUCKY—this time. After something like this, you really do take a look at things and realize that MAYBE you really should have your own Personal Emergency Action Plan.
As it turned out, there was another fire less than two weeks later (with snow on the ground) about 4 – 5 miles away at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) campus at the bottom of the foothills to the Rockies. It was a different kind of fire—winds only about 20 mph, no structures endangered because the fuel was on the ground (dead grass, needles, etc.) and few trees to spread the fire.
The mandatory evacuation zone came within one mile of me, but, fortunately, I didn't have to evacuate again. After that, I went into the basement and picked up a number of plastic bins and placed them upstairs NEAR where I might have to gather things (medicine, food, clothing, documents). I didn‘t put anything in them; just had them NEAR so I wouldn’t have to run down to bring them and use them. After all, at 75, I’m not anxious to go up and down stairs to get stuff and evacuate the area.
Consider Building Codes & Insurance
The towns of Louisville and Superior (near me) that were most impacted by the fire LOOKED LIKE Sarajevo, Yugoslavia after that civil war. Nine months later, most of the debris is gone, but only a handful of sites are currently rebuilding. What people found out is that homes built in the 1970s that were grandfathered over the years no longer met current building codes.
One NCVA member who lived in the zone a mile or so from me lost his home. He told me that USAA estimated $200 per SqFt to rebuild a home. His home was probably 3500 – 4000 SqFt, so that would be a $700K–800K home – nice house.
But, there are suddenly 1000+ homes in need of a contractor to rebuild, and there aren’t that many contractors in the area plus the logistics and supply pipelines aren’t in a position to make for a smooth construction process. Not to mention local jurisdictions that had “waived” 2022 codes and allowed home construction to use the 2018-era code. As a result, he found that contractors he contacted quoted between $500–$1000 per SqFt to rebuild!!! Part of the problem stems from updated construction codes.
For example, Boulder County requires you to have an electric vehicle (EV) charging port in the single-car garage of new construction or reconstruction/overhaul whether or not you have an EV. If you have a two-car garage, you must have TWO EV charging ports. The codes doesn’t force you to eschew gas appliances, but they strongly suggest you build all-electric homes. You want a hot tub? You have to have suitable “alternative energy generation” (e.g., solar, wind) to offset the power requirements of the spa PLUS 30%. Same for pools. There are also “build green” restrictions that come into play.
As a result, many people are told they are “under-insured”, which is kind of a misnomer in that if, as an individual homeowner, you lost your home (not in a massive loss like this one), your $200 per SqFt insurance would probably come close to suffice even though you would have to foot a bill to bring things up to current code.
So, the lessons are:
- HAVE AN EMERGENCY ACTION PLAN for yourself and your family.
- REVIEW YOUR INSURANCE POLICY for your home to make SURE you understand your coverage limits.
We never know, FOR SURE, when or how disasters will happen. I’ve survived TWO incidents—first, the 2013 1000-year flood—I watched the water flowing down the street in front of my house overwhelming the ditches and coming up into my yard. I figured I would have a flooded basement, but the water began receding before it got up to the point where it would impact my basement. My neighbors—on both sides—both had flooded basement damage. Now, this fire and my neighbor across the street lost everything. Sooner or later, our luck will run out. So, please, at least think about what you might have to do in an emergency. After all, we have earthquakes, floods, fires, and other situations which might necessitate leaving your home for an extended period of time.
|U.S. Department of Homeland Security||Build A Kit|
|Chubb||Emergency Action Packing List|
|U.S. Department of Labor/OSHA||Evacuation Plans & Procedures Tool|
|National Fire Protection Organization||How To Make a Home Fire Escape Plan|