Fredrickson: Take a proactive approach in preparing for disaster

Michelle Fredrickson

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board.  

The zombie apocalypse hit Fort Collins last weekend. Of course, it was all a simulation, but it had a very valid point: We’re nowhere near as prepared for a disaster as we might think we are.

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We mobilized, sealing off the roads to stop hordes of the beasts from entering the city, ordering citizens to shelter in place, and developing a vaccine to combat the zombie virus. We dealt with confused citizens, incorrect information, and the network of aid organizations in the area.

The local branch of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) put on the Halloween-themed simulation last weekend, assigning everybody roles ranging from citizen to external volunteer to doctor to journalist. While the zombie apocalypse subject matter may seem silly, it’s actually a real trend to use the idea of a zombie apocalypse to encourage disaster preparedness.

I pay attention to disasters, and to disaster preparedness. Lately, disaster preparedness is an important part of public health. I’m getting my master’s in public health, so I should have been totally prepared, right?

Wrong. It was eye-opening just how ill-prepared I was. From the beginning of the simulation, it was a fast-paced, hectic mess. I was simulating a role in the department of public health, so I did my best to pretend I knew what I was doing to help “survivors” when they came to me for help, medical advice, or questions. I had to deal with effective vaccine distribution, debunking harmful social media trends, and providing simulated medical treatment for people who needed it.

Of course, in a real disaster, things would be way worse.

The Simulation was an excellent experience because I learned so much about how local organizations would respond, and what steps everybody should take to prepare in the event of a disaster.

It might seem like the disasters we read about are far away, but Colorado has had its fair share. In Fort Collins and the surrounding area, we’ve had disastrous snowstorms, floods, fires, tornadoes, and disease outbreaks. Any of these could result in shelter-in-place, evacuation, or quarantines.

Maybe we aren’t at risk of hurricanes here, but we are still in the destruction zone of Yellowstone; we still have West Nile Virus. With climate change exacerbating extreme weather events, it’s impossible to know when we’ll be hit with something we’re completely unprepared for.

Disaster relief supplies being unloaded from a Red Cross vehicle.

Larimer County has an Office of Emergency Management (OEM), which puts out suggestions for citizens to prepare themselves for a disastrous event, whatever that may be. They suggest a 3-day disaster supply kit prepared in the event that you need to leave your home in a hurry. This should include non-perishable food, water, clothing, batteries, first aid kits, disinfectants, and other useful items. They advise, though, that in rural areas of the county, a 72 hour kit may not be enough and that if possible, one should prepare for longer.

Furthermore, the OEM recommends always maintaining a half tank of gas, which I know I never do–I’ll leave the gas light on for 30 miles. But you never know when you’ll have to leave quickly, and it’s smarter to be prepared. I always keep a blanket, flashlight, and box of granola bars in my car, just in case.

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Also, if you’re like me and you have a pet that you love more than life, plan ahead for them. I have an emergency kit already made for my guinea pig Cashew, because leaving him behind in the event of an evacuation wouldn’t be an option for me. But if for some reason you had no choice but to leave the beloved pet behind, then get an ASPCA sticker to put on your door. This lets officials know that you have a pet inside that might need help after you’d had to evacuate.

The Larimer County Emergency Preparedness Guide offers detailed advice on what to do in the case of hailstorms, windstorms, snowstorms, extreme cold, tornadoes, fires, and more. You can view these on the Larimer County’s emergency website.

Larimer County has a system called Everbridge, which is a reverse-911 system that will call residents in times of emergency to keep people informed. Cell phone users need to opt in to this program

The simulation also mentioned the Larimer County 211 line. Dialing 211 during an emergency will connect a person to information from the OEM, and will also provide information on volunteering and offering assistance.

There are many ways to get involved, and many organizations to work with – the public health department, the Red Cross, the Humane Society, VOAD, and many more.

It is important that everybody take a proactive approach in preparing for a disaster. The more prepared a community is, the less harmful the disaster can be. So make your 3-day kit, and encourage your friends to do the same. Put that blanket in your car. Sign up for the emergency alerts. And wherever you are, wherever you live in the future, check out the local OEM to figure out what risks exist in that area and what you can do to mitigate them.

This might seem overly cautious. Then again, it might also save your life.

Michelle Fredrickson can be reached at letters@collegian.com or online at @mfredrickson42