Be prepared for home-town emergency
by Linn and Ari Armstrong
The following article was originally published by Grand Junction Free Press on October 17, 2005.
On October 12, 2000, the USS Cole was taking on fuel at Aden, Yemen. Members of Al Qaeda rammed the ship with enough explosives to rip a forty-foot hole in the side, nearly breaking the destroyer in two. Seventeen U.S. service personnel were killed. Yet a common thread is heard from the lowest seaman to the commander. Despite the death and confusion, their training kept the ship afloat. Realistic training saved lives and saved the ship.
On September 11, 2001, as most were starting their day, going to school or work, life in the U.S. changed forever. Although 2,973 husbands, mothers, sons, and daughters were killed, Al Qaeda had hoped to kill perhaps 20,000 Americans. The previous bombing of the tower had given much real-life training on evacuation. Many others escaped because their employers were concerned about the towers' continuing high threat from Al Qaeda. The employees were given realistic training on evacuating. Women were told to bring shoes that they could change into, as high heels are not good for running or walking down many flights of stairs.
In the last few weeks, devastating hurricanes smashed the Gulf Coast. Even though thousands of miles of land were affected, the death toll was considerably lower than some initially feared. Extensive advanced warning certainly allowed many to reach safer areas.
The Boy Scouts' motto is "be prepared." Are you prepared? Is your family and government prepared? What is meant by being prepared? Being prepared for what?
In a recent Free Press article, Kimberly Bullen, Mesa County Emergency Management Director, said she was answering some questions by Mesa County citizens. But, after reading the article, her "answers" left me in the dark.
Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey puts preparedness this way: "The Sheriff's Office is a natural fit for a leadership role in a disaster. Mesa County is lucky that it is a small, isolated community."
Some people in the county have questioned what Mesa County's response would be if several thousand travelers were trapped on this side of the Eisenhower Tunnel. Or what would happen if thousands or tens of thousands of people were evacuated from Denver to the Western Slope?
Hilkey raised another possibility: a large influx of people could enter Mesa County from Salt Lake City. Salt Lake City sets on a fault. A serious earthquake could strike. Is Mesa County prepared for such a large natural disaster?
The events of recent history have shown that advance warning, preparedness, and realistic training can save thousands, or tens of thousands, of lives. Does your family have an emergency plan? And, more important, have you practiced your plan? With the current threat from Al Qaeda, perhaps there's a greater role for local government agencies to work with citizens who volunteer for training. Good training would test your family's preparedness and give government agencies a realistic look at how their efforts would work when involving large numbers of citizens.
Emergency preparedness can also help you help others in time of crisis. For example, Jeff Wright from near Colorado Springs helped out with the hurricane crisis. He organized a caravan that hit the road from September 10-16 to deliver supplies to southern Mississippi. Wright said, "What a God-awful mess. It's unbelievable -- it's just so huge." Wright said the people there appreciated his efforts, and he ran into "a lot of little individual efforts like ours."
Wayne Laugesen wrote an extraordinary article for the September 22 Boulder Weekly. He reports that Tom Hastings of Omaha, Nebraska sent a generator to Mississippi, "where it powered a triage center set up at a military base." Hastings also personally delivered 22 tons of bottled water. Hastings told Laugesen that his group was stopped at a checkpoint in Louisiana. A police officer asked, "Is there a weapon in the truck?" One member of the party said, "Yes, a shotgun." The officer said, "Good. Keep it loaded, keep it handy, and here's a map."
It so happens that an entire article of the state's constitution -- Article XVII -- covers the militia. Here's what it says: "The militia of the state shall consist of all able-bodied male residents of the state between the ages of eighteen and forty-five years... The governor shall appoint all general, field and staff officers and commission them." But where are the governor's appointed militia officers?
Following the 9/11 attacks, Coloradans including Ralph Shnelvar from Boulder and Steve Gresh from Colorado Springs called on the governor to obey and implement this article of the constitution. Gresh said, "We owe it to our children and our grandparents to protect ourselves and our communities."
The time seems appropriate that the Boy Scouts motto, "be prepared," should be applied to our own families and local governments.