After the Colorado Wildfires: 3 Lessons in Disaster Preparedness

By David Leasure, Ph.D.

Dr. Leasure is just one of the many members of our CTU family who witnessed, or was personally affected by, Colorado wildfires late last month. In this post, he offers lessons learned through his family’s firsthand experience in Waldo Canyon, near Colorado Springs, CO.

Colorado WildfiresThe Waldo Canyon fire is mostly gone, now, but has left its mark on the mountainside, the neighborhood, and the hearts of people. My thoughts go out to those who lost their homes.

In discussing my experience with our Dean of Security Studies, Dr. Nadav Morag, he encouraged me to put the lessons I learned down in writing while the memories were still fresh. The result is my personal list of disaster preparedness myths – three beliefs I had prior to the fires and the realities I discovered during the experience.

Myth #1 – I would be there to help my family.

When the fire near our home in Waldo Canyon started, I was out of town and could not get back right away. My readiness planning assumed I would be there. Now, I know to have a plan B, a plan C, and most importantly – that all family members should have their own plan, a meet-up point, and good communication.

Myth #2 – I would have time to react.

Actually, we did have time to react; but no one expected the fire to move as quickly as it did. Many members of the CTU community did not have time to grab all their important items and some were not even home. From this, I took away a few key lessons. First, it is important to have a solution in place to protect your most important documents (deeds, birth certificates, etc.) from fire and water so you can recover them later. Beyond this, store important digital data like family photos and records securely in multiple places. Lastly, take organizations like FEMA and The Red Cross seriously when they say to be prepared to evacuate at any time and to be gone for at least three days. The Red Cross offers free classes and a checklist.

Myth #3 – It would be clear what to do.

We live with many sources of information – TV, radio, Twitter, Facebook – and I used them all to stay informed. What I discovered was varying degrees of late or conflicting information, especially during the rapidly developing events on June 26th. The solution, if there is one, is to be best prepared to remain informed. Register for reverse 911, keep your cell phones charged and handy, keep an emergency radio ready, and bookmark the URLs for your local emergency agencies. On top of having access to good information, know your plans and adjust them as current information or changes require. Knowing the threats and your options help you make good decisions when the time comes.

The damage was horrendous and our hearts go out to all who were affected. Our thanks go out to those professionals and agencies whose planning and execution limited the impact and helped us all get through the crisis.

Dr. Leasure is a thought leader on adaptive learning and institutional effectiveness.

Photo credit: Dr. Mark Pieffer