Monday Medical: Prepare for wildfire emergency

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Wildfires are popping up daily in drought-stricken Colorado. Close to home, residents are on edge, wondering if a serious fire will threaten their families and homes.

“We are constantly educating people that it could happen here and it will happen here,” said Jim Johnsen, emergency preparedness and response coordinator at the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association

The unpredictable nature of wildfire could leave a person very little time to evacuate. Four civilian deaths have resulted from Colorado wildfires so far this year. All the victims were found in or near their homes.

“You never know if you will have the luxury of one half hour or two minutes, so you’d better prepare for two minutes,” Johnsen said.

Here are several things you can do, starting now:

■ Enroll in CodeRED, Routt County’s emergency notification system. Visit www.co.routt.us and click on “Emergency Management” on the left side of the page. You can receive alerts via land line, cellphone and/or email. The system works well and is tested often, but overloaded phone lines and other problems could prevent a person from receiving an evacuation notice.

■ Monitor wind and weather and listen to the radio for updates. Use good judgment — if you see smoke or fire, don’t wait for an evacuation order to leave. If you do receive an evacuation order, follow it. Otherwise, you will be putting yourself, as well as emergency personnel, in more danger.

■ Put together a basic “go-kit” in an old duffel bag. It should include: a three-day supply of medication and copies of prescriptions; cash (credit/debit services may not be operational); disposable cellphone and coin/prepaid phone card for pay phones; list of contact information for doctors, family, neighbors and law enforcement; names and contact information for rendezvous locations where family members can meet if they are separated.

■ Other key items to include are bottled water and nonperishable food; sleeping gear (pillows, old sleeping bags, padding), extra clothing and footwear; important papers (insurance documents, legal papers, etc.), identification with photo and address; games, cards, books, paper and pens; radio and flashlight with extra batteries and photos of family members in case someone is missing. For a more comprehensive list, visit www.whatifcolorado.com.

■ Make an evacuation plan and share it with your family. Your plan should include a meeting place outside your neighborhood where family members can reunite if they are separated. Designate emergency contacts outside the region that family members can call to keep track of one another if they are not together.

■ Have a plan for horses, livestock and pets. Routt County’s emergency management page has evacuation planning tips, including how to evacuate animals. Pet owners should have a go-kit for their pet, including carriers, leashes, medication, litter and litter boxes, vaccination records and food and water.

Emergency shelters might not accept pets, so have a plan for where to take or stay with your animals during evacuation, including pet-friendly motels, boarding facilities, friends and possible emergency animal shelters such as veterinarian offices and fairgrounds.

■ Do a home inventory for insurance reporting purposes in case your home or belongings are destroyed. Go from room to room and write down, photograph or video items including furniture, appliances, clothing, jewelry and contents on bookshelves and in drawers, closets, garages, basements, attics and patios.

■ Make a note of computer programs and other intangible valuables. Gather warranties, receipts and insurance policies and write down the make, model and serial number of electronics. Check your policy limits to be sure certain valuables are covered. Keep video/photos and paperwork in a fireproof or safe deposit box. Update your list regularly.

Tamera Manzanares is a community outreach specialist for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

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