Editor’s Note: Part one of a three-part series.
RIO GRANDE COUNTY — Rio Grande County Emergency Manager Art Wittner is working to educate people on how to be prepared in case of an emergency, how to react if an emergency occurs and what to do to recover in the wake of an emergency.
“I feel that the more time we spend spreading information to the public the better the public can respond in the event of an emergency. Even if only five people read this series, that is five people we have reached,” Wittner said.
Wittner, like other officials throughout the San Luis Valley and the State of Colorado are spending a considerable amount of time educating the public on what to do to prepare for a Colorado emergency considering the condition most of the state’s forests are in due to the lack of snowpack and precipitation.
“We can’t skirt around the reality of the conditions in the forest this year. Unless we see some considerable moisture, we are looking at a very active fire season,” he said.
Preparing to evacuate and actually evacuating are two completely different processes as this article will show. Living in an urban interface area surrounded by national forest is a challenge. During a high fire danger season, it can be even more important to be prepared in case of an emergency and evacuation than in high moisture years. Being prepared is as simple as having an emergency evacuation plan and supplies that can last a family for at least three days.
“It is important to have cash, fuel for a vehicle, water, food and clothing to last three days for each person in the family. Being prepared means always being ready,” explained Wittner.
Wittner added that it is part of best practice to consider routes for pre-evacuation planning and to stay in contact with family and friends while relocating.
“Sometimes for example, mom and dad live near where a fire is happening, and the children are trying to locate them, but mom and dad ended up heading down to Mexico for some fun in the sun instead of staying home and dealing with the chance for a fire. If they would have let their family know where they were, their family wouldn’t be calling us worried. The same goes for people out recreating in the forest,” said Wittner.
One of the main concerns for local officials throughout the San Luis Valley is the increase in dispersed camping.
“We really want to emphasize the importance of letting people know where you are and if you happen to move locations, take the time to tell someone your new location,” Wittner said. “I have first responders to think of as well as your safety. We need to know where you are if you plan on heading out to enjoy time away from the crowds. Especially if it comes down to needing to evacuate. This should be a top priority in being prepared in case of an emergency.”
Having a three-day emergency kit put together, a plan for evacuation and being in contact with family and friends is all part of being prepared for emergencies in Colorado.
“We always hope that the need to evacuate will never come about but if we can help prepare even one more person for those chances, we feel that much better about the situation,” he said.
Wittner and other officials will be weighing in throughout this series so be sure to check back next week to learn more about how to handle the evacuation itself in case of an emergency.
For more information, contact Wittner at 719-480-5273 or by emailing at [email protected],org.