Preparing for Disaster Emergencies

John Kefalas

By John Kefalas

Why is it important to prepare for disaster emergencies such as wildfires and floods? Consider the flash flooding that has occurred in the burn scar areas during the current monsoon season. Tragically, there has been a loss of life, and damage to private property and public infrastructure. During the past 10 years, Larimer County has experienced significant natural disaster emergencies and extreme weather events that are becoming more frequent and intense due to climate change and unusual weather conditions.

In 2012, the High Park Wildfire burned 87,250 acres and destroyed more than 259 homes. In September 2013, the Front Range Flood impacted Northern Colorado with torrential rains and flash flooding. Eight people died in that flood. In 2020, we experienced the Cameron Peak Wildfire — the biggest in Colorado history — which burned 208,913 acres and destroyed 469 structures, including 224 residential structures. The fire started on Aug. 13 and burned for almost 4 months before being 100% contained. In 2020, the East Troublesome Fire that started in Grand County exploded and extended into western Larimer County, prompting evacuations in Estes Park. In July 2021, we experienced the Black Hollow Flood and debris flow in the Poudre Canyon burn-scar that destroyed five homes, damaged the road, and killed four people.

In Larimer County, natural hazards include flash flooding, wildland fires, winter storms, lightning, hailstorms, and tornadoes, and now we can add extreme heat from hotter days and droughts. Persistent drought affects Colorado’s forested watersheds, affecting water supplies and water quality, outdoor recreation, farming and ranching, and forest health – making forests more vulnerable to insect outbreaks like beetle kill and huge wildfires. Everything is connected, and more people are living in the Wildland Urban Interface, a transition zone between urban areas but close to or in natural terrain and flammable vegetation.

The good news is that there is an incredible amount of public and private sector collaboration to address these issues, and resources are available to help us prepare for disaster emergencies and to be a more resilient community. Through our Larimer County Office of Emergency Management (OEM), Larimer County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) Emergency Services, the Larimer Emergency Telephone Authority (LETA), and various local, state, federal agencies, and community partners, we’re working together to prevent, mitigate, act, and recover from disaster emergencies. It’s a team effort that requires everyone to do their part.

I encourage you to sign up for emergency alerts at www.nocoalert.org, and www.leta911.org which provide relevant information about LETA and 911. You can register your cell or VOIP phone for emergency alerts (these are sent when there is an imminent threat to life) and learn more about the text- to-911 option. If you have a landline phone, it will automatically receive emergency alerts. Another excellent resource is the Larimer County Emergency Preparedness Guide developed by our OEM, which contains a wealth of information, larimer.gov/emergency. Our LCSO Emergency Services manage and fight wildland fires on private and state land and support other agencies when needed. Take a look at their site, too, to learn more about preparedness at www.larimer.gov/sheriff/support-services/emergency-services-and-fire-rescue. From a climate action perspective, we also have our Climate Smart and Future Ready: Strategies for a Sustainable Larimer County, with opportunities for folks to engage in the development of our action plan, larimer.gov/climate-and-sustainability.

We live in unprecedented and uncertain times, but the Larimer County community has always unified to address the complex and interconnected issues that we face today as we prepare for the future. John Kefalas is a Larimer County commissioner representing all of Larimer County.

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