By Avery Martinez
Preparing or planning for an emergency may seem unimportant in every day life, but, luckily, San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) and Lori Zazzaro, the agency’s regional emergency preparedness and response coordinator, spend their time preparing and training for any emergency that may present itself.
SJBPH has the emergency preparedness and response staff (EPR), which helps plan, train and exercise for emergencies.
Zazzaro spoke with The SUN and offered some tips on emergency and evacuation preparedness that can be used in any home for any type of emergency.
Emergency preparedness and response staff
SJBPH has an entire team dedicated to helping prepare for and respond to emergencies of all types for Archuleta and La Plata counties.
“At San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH), our Emergency Preparedness and Response staff continually work to plan, train, and exercise for a range emergencies and disasters in our communities,” the SJBPH website states.
The Emergency Preparedness and Response (EPR) program is a mandated public health requirement from the state, and its duties include training, planning and exercising for all sorts of incidents, such as fires, floods, disease outbreaks, terrorism and other forms of challenges, according to the SJBPH website.
The program does not just plan for disasters, however, as the EPR program makes sure that local residents receive “basic everyday necessities” during a disaster or emergency, and also helps the community recover from such events, the website explains.
The EPR program works with the Southwest Colorado Healthcare Coalition, “ … which is a collaboration of healthcare organizations, providers, public health departments, emergency medical services, emergency management agencies, and community partners,” the website states.
According to the website, SJBPH “leans upon lessons learned” from certain aspects from the response to the Lightner Creek Fire in Durango in July of 2017.
“The agency’s considerations during [the Lightner Creek Fire] event were to provide community guidance on evacuations, special medical and assistance needs, air quality information, and to support and find resources for facility evacuations,” the SJBPH website states.
During the Lightner Creek Fire, the EPR program helped to evacuate locals from affected areas.
“By utilizing our healthcare coalition, SJBPH was able to coordinate transferring patients from an assisted living facility to unaffected facilities in the region,” the website states.
But individuals can help themselves and first responders before an emergency.
“The most important step you can take in helping local police, fire, and EMS is being able to take care of yourself and those you care about for at least a short time following an incident,” the SJBPH website states.
The EPR program assists in several counties, including Archuleta, La Plata, Mineral, Dolores, Montezuma and San Juan.
The EPR also assists the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes’ “ … effort to build community resilience through emergency preparedness,” according to the website.
Emergency planning for the home and parents
Zazzaro gave some tips to think about when it comes to emergency preparation.
On the SJBPH website there are resources on emergency tips, including lists and suggestions about preparing, communicating and successfully completing an emergency evacuation.
One page in particular, titled family prepared emergency, offers information for emergency preparedness.
“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half of U.S. adults do not have resources and plans in place in the event of an emergency, and 48 percent of Americans do not have emergency supplies,” the SJBPH website states.
The SJBPH website explains that the last year has been “one of driest winters on record” and SJBPH has been preparing for a high fire season.
According to Zazzaro, there are four basic questions you should discuss with friends, family or the household:
1) How will I receive emergency alerts and warnings?
“Remember Internet and cellphone services may not be available during an emergency,” Zazzaro said.
2) What is my shelter plan, and does it account for pets or livestock?
3) What is my evacuation route?
4) What is my family/household communication plan?
“Parents should call a family meeting and make a plan together with their children,” Zazzaro said.
Zazzaro suggested picking one person within the household for each member of the household to contact to say they are OK.
Zazzaro suggested having children memorizing the contact person’s telephone number.
Picking a meeting spot in case of an evacuation and practicing meeting there, Zazzaro explained, can help plan for a real evacuation.
Zazzaro suggested the Colorado Children’s Hospital website (www.childrenscolorado.org/conditions-and-advice) as a great resource for tips for parents about emotional needs and well-being of children during an emergency.
“When you need to evacuate quickly, it is natural that your stress level will elevate, making it difficult to think through what you need to do during the situation,” Zazzaro said.
Having a well-thought-out plan for you and your family/household that can be followed can help individuals focus on what they need to do during an emergency situation, Zazzaro explained.
On the Family Prepared Emergency page on the SJBPH website lists some suggestions for items to be brought along in case of an evacuation or emergency situation.
According to the family prepared emergency page, there are several items that you should take with you in case of a evacuation or emergency:
• At least a three-day supply of food and water. SJBPH lists this as being one gallon of water per person per day.
• Food that is easy to make and doesn’t spoil easily. The website also suggests bringing along a manually operated can opener.
• Bring along a three-day (at minimum) supply of all medications that you may need.
Zazzaro recommended an individual bring any prescription drugs and a list of all medications they take.
• Bring some personal care items, such as a toothbrush, soap, glasses or contacts, toothpaste, etc.
In addition, Zazzaro explained, an individual should bring any specific necessities their group may need, such as wheelchairs, travel scooters, formula for babies, diapers, hearing aid batteries, etc.
• Pack your cellphones, electronics and charging cords, including flashlights, radios, cellphones and extra batteries.
• Bring copies of all important documents.
Zazzaro said that SJBPH recommends that any individual take a government-issued photo ID, an inventory of valuable goods in your household, a list of important phone numbers, insurance policies, family records and a list of important account numbers when evacuating.
• Pack a first aid kit and emergency blanket.
• Pack some extra cash.
• Bring along your pets and any supplies that they might need.
Zazzaro explained that this is just a suggested list, however.
“Since you are the expert in your life, you are going to know better than me what’s important to have in your preparation for a disaster,” Zazzaro said.
Beside just a list of things to pack, the SJBPH website suggests talking with your family members and making plans in case of an emergency.
“ … the more prepared community members are, the quicker our community can recover,” the SJBPH website states.
Concerns for wildfires
According to Zazzaro, the biggest concern to Archuleta County residents in regard to the fires in nearby counties is air quality that reaches unsafe levels.
The main health risk from short-term wildfire is smoke exposure in the form of particulate matter exposure, according to Zazzaro.
Staying indoors, using air conditioners on a recirculating setting, reducing sources of air pollution and using respiratory protection can help protect your health from wildfire smoke exposure, according to Zazzaro.
Zazzaro also mentioned that talking with a physician about respiratory conditions an individual may have may lead to other recommendations for prevention.
PurpleAir, an online map at www.purpleair.com/map, can help individuals monitor their local air quality online, Zazzaro explained.
Information and news
According to Zazzaro, SJBPH disseminates information about evacuation shelters in the community via its social media pages, website and email distribution lists.
“Locations of shelters in Archuleta County may vary by season and are determined by our partners in Archuleta County Social Services,” Zazzaro said.
In an evacuation or emergency situation, Zazzaro explained, anyone in need of crisis support can call the state hotline at (844) 493-8255 for help.
Mike Le Roux, the Archuleta County director of emergency management, gave a presentation on preparedness in May and listed several sources to look for news and information for the Archuleta County area.
Those that Le Roux highlighted for information were: 911, the ACSO Facebook page, KWUF, The Pagosa Springs SUN, the Archuleta County website, the OEM’s Twitter account, the Forest Service Pagosa Ranger District and the county’s community notification system at 888-777.
According to Le Roux, the 888-777 community notification system is for immediate information on emergencies within Archuleta County.
Both citizens and visitors can sign up for the service to receive up-to-the-minute information on whatever is going on in Archuleta County, Le Roux explained.
For more information on emergency preparedness or tips, visit the SJBPH website at http://sjbpublichealth.org/family-prepared-emergency.
Preparing for an emergency: Planning, forethought, communication
By Avery Martinez