Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Being Prepared is more than having a swiss army knife in your pocket

While we watch the catastrophe of the Front Range ravaged by flooding we should be thinking of friends, families and neighbors who have been impacted. We should also be thinking about how to prepare ourselves for the inevitable hazards of living in the mountains. The Front Range is the center of our state population, industry and services. Look at the damage, the impacts to people, agriculture, services, and the loss of life.
What if we had a County or region wide storm event that flash flooded our rivers?

  • All the streams and tributaries would flood as well
  • We would have water in places that may have never had water
  • Roads and bridges would wash away or become impassable
  • Utilities and Communications would be down
  • Water, wells, sewer and septic systems will be compromised
  • Dams would overflow, or have to perform an emergency release
  • People would be stranded on roads, in homes, at work, at school
  • Flood water would cut off portions of 160 and 550 and Main Street
  • Our first responders would be taxed beyond their limit
  • You have to assume you would be on your own for a while


Mountains don't have rising water like the midwest or battering winds like a hurricane on the coast. We have flash floods. These forces of nature carry not just water, but water laden with debris: rocks, sand, boulders, trees, anything else in its path. This makes the water faster, more dense, and more destructive. Look at the difference between what happened in the Big Thompson or Left Hand versus out on the Platte. Big difference!

While the chance of a region wide storm is very small An isolated incident dumping several inches in several hours over a single drainage is almost every year. 

Regulations only require management of the 100 Year Flood Plain (areas that have a 1% chance of flooding in any given year).  Those areas require things like flood insurance and building above the flood water. 500 Year Floods (.5% annual chance), and in the case of the Front Range, 1000 year floods (.1%annual chance) are not regulated. Most in the 100 year flood plain have flood insurance. Most outside the area don't. Most home owners and renters insurance policies don't cover flood damage. If where you live looks like a 1000 year old river bed; it could be again. If you live on a gentle slope next to a creek at the mouth of a canyon, it is probably a debris fan coming off the mountains. Those didn't stop because people came, they just have a long rate of return. 

FEMA can only help with portions of cost and temporary housing. FEMA doesn't fix everything. We must take care of ourselves. 

You should have a plan and have supplies. Do you have enough food and water for your household (including animals) for at least 72hrs? Do you have a plan to meet up at an alternate location in case of disaster? Do you have a plan for neighbors to help with kids at home or elderly? check out www.ready.gov for more on this.

Sometimes things happen so fast there is no time to evacuate, all you can do is run up not run away. When we know something is coming that will cut you off we notify you to evacuate. When asked to evacuate; please do. Staying is not simply about you. It is about your family and friends wondering if you made it, it's about rescuers having to at least verify if you made it, it's about a week later when you need help and it takes the national guard and ten rescuers to come get you. 

Don't drive over washed out roads unless instructed to do so. Flash floods wash away under and around roads in ways you may not be able to see on the surface. When your front end falls in a hole, your car washes away. 

Have a plan, have insurance, get ready and get out early so you can take what you need and come back later. Remember that even if you aren't in the 100 year flood plain you can still be flooded. Since La Plata County participates in the National Flood Insurance Program, all property owners are eligible to get flood insurance. It is a relatively reasonable cost outside the flood plain. 

For La Plata County, it has been over forty years since the last big flood and over a hundred since the biggest known flood covered our land. We now have many times the population and more dependence on outside services. Disaster will strike here again, the question is when. The "Big Thompson Flood of 1976" was the worst disaster this state knew of until last week.

1 comment:

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