May to October is the annual flood season in Colorado. And, like most of the natural happenings around the state, the swollen rivers and creeks are naturally beautiful, but they are also powerful and very dangerous.
In fact, 2023 marks 10 years since Jefferson County’s last major flood event. The photos capture the damage done to roads, trees and trails by the powerful flood water.
Christine Billings of Jeffco Public Health said the best thing anyone can do before a natural event is to plan and practice. She offered 10 things you can do now to stay ready during this year’s flood season. Some are measures that are well-known in the community. However, this is your reminder to check, practice and plan for floods, fires and other weather disasters.
1. Keep your pets' immunizations (and yours) up to date.
“Sometimes shelters won't take (the pets) unless there's documentation of full vaccinations," Billings said. "So, make sure that you're up to date on vaccines for your pets. In addition, make sure that you are up to date on your vaccines.”
Billings said that flooding brings a high risk of tetanus exposure.
“The recommended (booster) is every 10 years, so it's not often. But in a flooding event, there is a lot of debris and a lot of unexpected injuries that can occur when you are cleaning up,” she said.
Getting caught in flood waters also brings the danger of tetanus exposure as well.
2. Keep those documents dry, safe and easy to reach.
Billings advises placing the pet’s immunization records and those of the family in a safe place with other vital information. Put these documents in a place that everyone knows and that’s easy to access in the event of a flood or natural disaster.
Add the pet’s license, as a shelter may require that information before allowing your pet into the facility.
3. Take pictures of your property inside and out on a regular day.
Pictures aid in insurance documentation and help emergency agencies in the area after a disaster. Billings urges everyone to “take a video of your property and your house to document what it looked like before the disaster happened.”
Add these to a USB drive and stash it with the vital records. You can also store the file on a cloud drive or on your phone.
4. Map and drill on evacuation plans and routes.
Billings said that the best way to know what to do during a disaster is to practice it beforehand until it is routine.
“Practice your driving route. So, when you're in that emergency, and the 'fight or flight' brain takes over, it's kind of second nature, to know which way you’re going to drive," she said.
Billings added that practice also makes it easier when the main route is unusable.
“What are my alternate ways out of my space?" she said. "If something happens, what are two or three additional ways to get out of where I am?”
Figure those out and then practice.
5. Select an emergency contact person to check in with when disaster hits.
According to Billings, an important piece to a communication plan is having an out-of-state contact.
“If something happens, we're all going to call grandma in Utah, or we're all going to call Uncle Eddie down in Alabama. Just get an out-of-state contact, who is likely not impacted by the local disaster, and everyone's touch base with that person as well," she said. "That's a good key component of that communication plan."
6. Be your own hero.
Billings offered up a slogan created in 2022 to promote emergency preparedness in Jeffco: Be Your Own Hero.
“We want people to be their own heroes," she said. "To take that empowerment step, to take the information into their own hands, to be informed and to know what their plan is should something happen in their area.”
7. Remember to accommodate people with disabilities in the plan.
There are a few questions that Billings suggests for families who have disabled members:
- Do you have an extra stash of medication?
- Is there a way out of the house for those who need assistance to walk?
- Do we have individuals with disabilities who may need extra assistance extra time moving?
- Do people in my house need a little bit more time to evacuate from their space?
Ask yourself these questions when making your plan and when practicing escape/evacuation routes.
8. Add your pet’s food to the emergency food stash, along with a dish for food and water. Don’t forget about pets. Billings said to consider animal meds, special diets and toys for soothing them if you have to evacuate to a shelter. Think about the things you would need to be well away from home and apply that to your pet.
9. Think of the mosquitoes and rodents after the flood.
“After the flood events, it warms up quickly," Billings said. "You will have a risk of increased mosquitoes and with mosquitoes in Colorado comes West Nile virus.”
She said that rodents and animals take shelter during flooding, and that may mean in and around your house. Stay vigilant when returning home, and pack bug spray in the emergency kit while you are planning.
10. Know how to get your well tested after a flood or disaster.
“Thinking about the integrity of those systems after a flooding event is really important," Billings said. "Thinking about water and wastewater quality, those are messages that we as health departments send out to the community to remind individuals to think about water and wastewater safety when returning to their space after a flood event.”
Figure out where to go to get testing done before the flood event. This way you won’t forget it later when bigger issues are taking your attention. You can find information about well testing here to get started.
Billings urges everyone in the county to sign up for the natural disaster alerts as well. Do that now, before the disaster hits. She said communication is key and being connected to information about the event is what the community needs. It’s a lesson that Billings says the department learned in 2013.
“We just assumed that electronic communication would be the way to go," she said. "But it was quite literally printing out hard copies of information, taking them to the community and meeting the community where they were at.”
So, get informed, prepare, practice and stay alert. We can’t avoid these beautiful weather disasters, but we can be prepared to weather them when they hit.
For more information, check out the Jefferson County Public Health Emergency preparedness website.