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Colorado floods: Flash flood a good reminder to have a home evacuation kit ready

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The afternoon that the Lower North Fork Fire started, I received a text alert on my cell phone from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department. It was a mandatory evacuation notice, and my heart leapt into my throat. I looked out my home office window in Arvada to see a huge plume of smoke to the south.

My immediate thought went to our Evacuation Plan. In my head, I started our four step process:

1) Where is Claire, my kindergartener? (in her room playing)

2) Where are my cats? (both asleep on our bed)

3) How quickly can I get to the three “Go-Bag” backpacks we have hanging downstairs? (less than 30 seconds)

4) Do I have my cellphone to call my husband at work from my phone when I get to the car? (My cellphone connects through my car stereo, so it’s hands-free.)

Fifteen seconds later, I read the text again and realized that my cell number had been lumped into a group of numbers in a different area of the county. The evacuation didn’t apply to me.

But it could have.

Could you evacuate your home in less than an hour? What about 15 minutes? Could you leave right now? Would you know what to grab and where it is, right at this moment?

We do. We have an evacuation plan in place — more than one, actually, depending on the emergency. We also have our “go-bags” ready. (“Go-bag” is what my husband and I have always called them. This may be trademarked. No infringement intended.) They are with the copies of our important documents, easily accessible in case of emergency.

What’s in our go-bags? Each of the three of us has a backpack containing a headlamp (the headlaps are actually clipped to the outside for easy access and battery checks); a change of clothes; hygiene items; basic first aid; dried food packs; water bottle and water purifying tabs. We also have a pocketknife multi-tool and a roll of duct-tape. No, we wouldn’t be allowed to get on a plane with our Go-Bags, but we would be able to evacuate and be somewhat prepared.

Admittedly, we need to revisit our go-bags. They’re not perfect, but they’ll do in a pinch. To be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve looked in them, and I’d almost bet that Claire’s bag has clothes that are way too small. (I remember finally taking the diapers out of her go-bag). Also, we switch out the dried food packs when we go camping, but I need to check them to be sure nothing is expired.

The Red Cross has a great checklist of what should be in your go-bag. If you haven’t already, please give it a glance. 

That’s the silver lining of getting an accidental “mandatory evacuation” text. It is a good reminder to adjust Claire’s bag for a kid who is completely mobile and growing. It is a good reminder to practice our fire evacuation plan. The last time we practiced, she was portable. Elementary school kids aren’t portable. Babies present their own set of challenges, but there are new challenges when that baby has grown into someone who is cognizant of her surroundings.

It’s a good reminder to talk to children about how the “treasures” we have at home are just things, and that in the case of an emergency, the things stay behind. It’s a good reminder to reassure her that Mom and Dad have a plan, and we’ll be fine.

The evacuation text I got shook me to the core, and my husband teased me about it. He asked if I’d already driven away (as per the plan) before I confirmed that it was legit. I told him that the information in the text didn’t seem to fit our area, so before we fled, I called the Arvada Police Department’s non-emergency number; they transferred me to our fire department to confirm that we were indeed safe in our area. We did not need to evacuate. We were safe … this time.

We had a bittersweet laugh about it, because it WAS a real mandatory evacuation notice for people who did lose their homes and their lives, and our hearts go out to them.

Do you have a go-bag? Do you have an evacuation plan?

-JoAnn Rasmussen

Author: JoAnn

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