A flash flood warning compelled me to abandon my Boulder home late in the evening. I returned home four days later to find that the Colorado floodwaters had missed my home by a matter of fourteen inches. In the in-between time, I was grateful for my disaster planning and also learned how to be more prepared in the future.
Here’s what I learned…
Know the risks of your area, and have a plan
I knew I lived on the first floor in a flood plain, and had thought often about how I would act if there was an imminent flood. “If I have enough time, cross the creek up the hill. If it’s unsafe to cross the creek, head to the four-story apartment building a block away. If floodwaters are here now, go to the upper floor or the roof.”
If your area offers them, sign up for emergency alerts
I was headed to bed when my phone beeped with the first emergency text notification. Over my six years here I’d received several flood alerts, all of which (thankfully!) ended up being false alarms, but I always took them seriously and was glad to be able to act early.
Know the best place for real-time emergency information for your specific location
As soon as I got the first text message I went straight to the Boulder Office of Emergency Management Twitter feed (as has become my routine with each emergency notice) and found it being updated rapidly. The scrolling feed on the bottom of the live TV news out of Denver was not fast enough — especially as many other cities started flooding, too — but I could scan the BoulderOEM tweets to quickly find what I needed to know now about Boulder like evacuation notices and road flooding.
Pack a grab back, or — if you have time — know what you will need and can grab quickly
Before running out the door I tossed my laptop, some clothes, and an extra pair of shoes in my laundry hamper, which took less than 15 seconds. If you have important medications or documents, grab those. In hindsight I wished I had grabbed my phone and computer chargers as well as my passport. Of course, if you have no time leave everything behind and head for safety immediately; you are way more important than anything you own.
Let loved ones know you’re safe
At one point after the flood there were over 1000 people missing or unaccounted for; I can’t imagine the stress of their families not knowing if they were safe! As I was evacuating I contacted my family, and once I arrived at my friends’ house I put a status on Facebook saying that I was out of danger.
Have all the phone numbers you think you could potentially need
I spent much of the first day of the flood on the phone with my boss and coworkers, making sure everyone was safe and coming up with response plans. My hard copy of phone numbers was abandoned inside my car, but thankfully I had programmed some of the numbers into my cell phone. For the future I will also be e-mailing a copy to myself and keeping it in an accessible location via e-mail.
Make sure you have accessible emergency money
I have an emergency fund, but it takes two days for the bank transfer to go through. Luckily I had enough in my banking account to get things like a toothbrush, hair brush, deodorant, a backup phone charger, and just enough to get my car’s waterlogged brakes fixed. This is where an emergency credit card would have come in handy.
Don’t watch the news too much
It was a struggle to pull myself away from the 24-hour coverage on the TV and the internet, but it was consuming me and very unhealthy. I talked with friends about non-flood topics. I washed dishes. I read.
Take care of yourself mentally and physically
When you’ve reached a safe place, give yourself permission to sleep, shower, escape, whatever you need. My phone was regularly buzzing with texts and calls. Exhausted, I finally handed my phone to the friend I was staying with and said, “If it’s a call from [person I hadn’t heard from that may be in danger], wake me up. Otherwise, I need to sleep. Now.”
There’s a lot of waiting in the midst of and in the aftermath of disaster. Waiting to hear from people to know they’re safe. Waiting for evacuation orders to be lifted. Waiting for power and hot water to be restored. Waiting for debris removal. Waiting weeks/months/years for roads to be repaired. Deep breaths. Many of these things are not in your control, so do your best to release them. I was anxious to know if my home had been spared, but had to remind myself that whether it had or hadn’t there wasn’t anything I could do about it until evacuations were lifted. When I realized this and focused on the things I could control, it helped decrease my stress.
As the apostle Paul said, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” No matter what there’s something to be thankful for, and I saw so many people step up to help out or work hard. Thank every single friend who helps you, or reaches out with offers of help. Thank your apartment managers for all the e-mail updates. Thank the tow-truck driver that has been working for several days straight. Thank the people driving the bulldozers down your street to clear out more mud.
Have you been affected by a disaster? What did you learn from it?