A cornerstone of spiritual growth is accepting responsibility for one’s experience, like the Sufi saying, “Trust Allah, but tether your own camel.” Given that every community faces certain possible natural disasters, it seems obvious that learning what they are and being prepared as possible for those events is an act of personal responsibility— whether or not one was concerned with their spirituality.
In my community, for example, we’ve been put on notice by the Director, Office of Emergency Preparedness that “…if there’s a large-scale disaster that affects a large population of this community,” we’ll be on our own, and that “…emergency responders will be limited in what they can provide.” Nothing new, in my experience. Being “on your own” is what this community is all about, but not without some help.
In my very first year in this mountain community, over thirty-five years ago, I learned some basic things about how to take care of myself. My first partner taught me how to dress: layers, wool socks, water-proof boots in winter, sunscreen and hats year-round. A highway patrolman taught me how to drive: “…don’t take your foot off the gas to slow down when you’re on ice, because your car could spin out of control resulting in an accident similar to one caused by jumping on the brakes in a rainy climate when the roads are slick with water.” Every autumn, locals are encouraged to practice their winter driving skills— before the roads get icy.
When I was a consultant to schools throughout the state and drove over hazardous mountain passes in winter, a colleague taught me how to equip my car for emergencies: blanket, water, non-perishable foods, flashlights with extra batteries, flares, snow chains, etc. My first experience underlining the need for all this was the return trip from Denver in my boyfriend’s 280Z when a sudden white-out forced all travelers off-road for hours. He didn’t have any of this stuff, and I will never forget how quickly the storm came up and what it was like sitting in that tiny, cold car–tomb-like with no visibility beyond the interior and breathing stale air.
Another time, in July, a colleague and I got hit by a sudden blizzard on a mountain pass returning from a conference. Wearing short shorts and a sleeveless tee shirt, I put snow chains on the tires. Weather can change suddenly here.
People in this area generally purchase and carry with them the Search & Rescue Emergency card—even if we’re only going hiking. Visitors who don’t will be presented with the tab for their rescue if they have to be extracted by emergency responders when they get altitude sickness and slip off a trail, drive off the narrow highway winding through the Red Mountains, or ski into a tree. Cost for such extractions can be upwards of $50,000. That little card costing less than $10 is a good investment even if you’re only going sight-seeing or shopping in nearby communities.
Our most threatening natural disasters are wildfires, heavy snowfall, flooding and freezing temperatures. The Missionary Ridge fire destroyed more than 70,000 acres and 56 homes, created floods and mudslides threatening homes in those areas, and washed out roads. Robert Winslow documented that event with his powerful photos.The acrid smoke was so bad in Durango that even my tiny apartment was affected because I couldn’t open my windows that summer, and I live in a refurbished attic of an old house that is incredibly hot in the summer.
The community responded in force, volunteering to assist the huge teams of firefighters from other communities who camped on the lawns of the high school. I joined the team that packaged personal items donated by the community for those firefighters and learned ways to help in a future emergency. Community leaders learned, too, and now we have the La Plata Community Wildlife Action Plan and a Uniform Fire Code. Like those who play in the forest, those who choose to live there will have to accept more personal responsibility for their homes.
Heavy snow isn’t typical in town, but when it comes, it comes constantly.Recent winters brought shoulder-high snow to my neighborhood along with the possibility of being snowed-in, because my entry door has no protection from heavy snowfall. It certainly added yet another item to my “be prepared” list: savings account for relocation. At the very least, having a neighbor’s phone number– someone who would be willing to move the snow away from my door would help. Because I do not have such a neighbor, I simply don’t sleep those nights during a week-long storm, but lie on the couch resting while I gaze out the window to watch the buildup on the railing signaling that it’s time to shovel again. Five inches? That’s enough to block the door.
When regular snowstorms knock the power out in my neighborhood, I learned long ago to simply put on the boots and coat and slog to town for my cup of coffee—in a shop on the side of the street where lights are visible.
If you haven’t already, please do start noting the kinds of natural disasters your particular community faces and all the prepared responses you could make to be responsible for yourself.
Generally, in all places and for all relatively short-term events, we are advised by Ready Colorado to have “…supplies for 72 hours in an easy-to-carry container, such as a plastic bin or duffle bag:”
- Water: one gallon per person per day
- Food: Non-perishable, high-protein items like energy bars, ready to eat soup and peanut butter. Foods should require no cooking and little or no water.
- Medications: Prescription medications, eyewear and over-the-counter medications, including vitamins.
- flashlight: Pack extra batteries.
- First-aid kit: Include bandages, safety pins, cleansing agents, gauze, scissors, tweezers, sunscreen, etc.
- Tools: A wrench, hammer, knife, tarp and garbage bags with ties.
- Clothing: A change of clothes for everyone, including sturdy shoes and gloves.
- Personal items: Include copies of important papers.
- Sanitary supplies: toilet paper, feminine hygiene items and bleach.
- Money: ATMs and credit cards won’t work if the power is out.
- Contact information: A list of family phone numbers and email addresses.
- Pet supplies: Food, water, leash, litter box, tags and medications.
- Special items: Any necessary items for infants, seniors, and people with disabilities.
- Meeting place: Pick a place for family members to meet in case your are separated during a disaster.
Other such lists are available and were included in a previous post along with links to websites who specialize in “72-hour kits.” I include “double-duty” products like Tea Tree Oil and Grapeseed Extract for numerous first aid use, and Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap which replaces a handful of personal hygiene products.
The last time the power went out in winter, I was really thankful that I had candles for light, a battery-powered lamp, all those items on the above list for preparedness, AND really warm, insulated long-johns to layer under my clothes. When it’s below freezing outside, it’s really cold inside if you’re without heat.
Finally, in the event of a pandemic, we are advised to “Close down everything. Go home and stay home. In a couple of weeks. It will be over.”
It has not been my intention to fan the flames of sensationalism with this article. Instead, it comes as part of my stated focus for this blog: “document events leading to 2012.” This weekend I will be filling the gaps of my own “be prepared” list. For example, I already have an excellent water filter, but I’m not sure I could lay my hands on those tablets and/or drops that purify water if I needed them now.
How about you? How well are you prepared?
Till next time,