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Residents get a primer on emergency planning in Montezuma County

The Red Cross hosts multiple emergency preparedness programs each year, including Sound the Alarm. (Courtesy Photo/Sean Killoy)
Presentation informs residents on how to be prepared for emergencies

In February, the League of Women’s Voters in Montezuma County hosted an event on emergency preparedness with Red Cross’s Southwest Colorado Disaster Program Manager Sean Killoy and Montezuma County’s Emergency Manager Jim Spratlen on how residents can prepare for emergencies.

Karen Sheek, who is on Montezuma County’s League of Women’s Voters leadership team, said the presentation taught attendees how to plan and prepare for emergencies and the importance of building a network to utilize during crisis.

“We don’t want to get to a disaster and have everybody passing out business cards,” Sheek said. “We want there to be a network. We want people to know one another.”

Killoy, who covers 11 counties and two tribes in Southwest Colorado for the Red Cross, said working for the Red Cross originally wasn’t on his radar.

“I had no idea I would end up doing this,” he said. “I spent most of my life as a Navy officer.” After Killoy began volunteering for Team Rubicon he “stumbled” into working full-time for the Red Cross.

Learning to be prepared

Killoy emphasized that preparation and resilience are key during emergencies or disasters.

“What we don’t want to have happen is people either panicked and getting in the way of first responders or frozen in paralysis,” Killoy said.

Promoting safety and planning is part of emergency manager Spratlen’s job, and he is part of building mitigation plans for the county. Those plans are updated every five years.

The plans prepare for natural disasters such as wildfires, snowstorms, flooding, wind, lightning and avalanches, along with road closures, power outages, human threats or sickness such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Killoy and Spratlen agree that it’s important to know what to do in an emergency and what to have with you ready to go. What do you need in your car? What do you need ready for a hasty getaway?

Spratlen said the recommendation used to be to have a 24-hour emergency kit, but that has changed. During a wildfire, you might have a few minutes to evacuate, leaving no time to gather what you may need.

“I’m saying be prepared for a week,” Spratlen said. “Just have water, have candles, have games to play and make sure you’re stocked with enough food for a minimum of a week.”

He emphasized the importance of stocking medications if you require medication, and having at least a small generator, especially for those who use oxygen or are on dialysis.

“Have what you need,” Spratlen said. “If there’s 2,000 people in need, I’m not going to be able to get to all 2,000. Get prepared and be prepared so you’re not one of the ones I have to find. Have a go-kit and be ready to bug out.”

“Be aware of what the potential is in your community, what you can do to help yourself,” Sheek added. “How you can help your family not only allows them to be able to deal with that in a less panicky way, but it may actually wind up saving lives. It's better to know some of these things ahead of time than to try to figure it out when, you know, there’s fire in your backyard.”

Nixle emergency texting service

Both Killoy and Spratlen urge community members to sign up for Nixle, a free service that sends text messages to inform residents on any emergencies, road closures, weather, disasters and more taking place in Montezuma County.

To sign up for Nixle, text your ZIP code to 888777 and you will be subscribed to the text messaging services. If you’d like to receive these alerts in your email as well, simply text the same number your email address.

Sign up for Nixle alerts

Text your ZIP code to the number 888777 to sign up for the free service.

Text your email address to the same number to get email alerts.

The service is free and provides information such as road closures, extreme weather, fire evacuations and severe crimes.

Red Cross in Southwest Colorado

In addition to speaking on preparedness, Killoy spoke about the work Red Cross is doing, and the need for volunteers after numbers dropped in the wake of COVID.

Red Cross provides free installation of three smoke alarms per household, in partnership with the Cortez Fire Protection District.

“We’ll check out existing smoke alarms and install up to three,” Killoy said.

For the hearing-impaired, Red Cross also may provide strobe light alarms or alarms that shake the bed. The Red Cross recently passed the milestone of installing over 2.5 million free smoke alarms.

The Red Cross has helped install millions of free smoke alarms for those in need. (Sean Killoy/Courtesy photo)

In the event of a house fire, Red Cross sometimes can help with financial assistance or emergency shelter and with replaced medication or eyeglasses until insurance kicks in.

Killoy also offers classes on first-aid and CPR. Prepare with Pedro (kindergarten to second grade) and Pillowcase Project (third to sixth grades) are geared toward elementary-age students, while Red Cross Ready and Stop the Bleed educate adults.

In the aftermath of the East Troublesome Fire in 2020, which required mandatory evacuations for Estes Park residents, Killoy said he met children who had attended Red Cross classes and were able to coach their families during the evacuation.

“I’ll go anywhere and teach CPR or Stop the Bleed or Red Cross Ready,” he said.

Need for volunteers

In the Colorado and Wyoming region, there are 1,600 volunteers. Thirty of them are in Southwest Colorado, but Killoy said they need volunteers willing to work a few hours each week.

“We are chronically short of volunteers for literally anything,” he said. “The dedication of volunteers is really staggering. It really is our job to train, equip and deploy volunteers.”

To learn more about volunteering or Red Cross classes, call Killoy at (719) 649-3862 or (571) 268-4567. People also may contact the Red Cross directly at 1-800-REDCROSS or through www.redcross.org.

Montezuma County’s hazard-mitigation plans, wildfire protection plans, emergency operations, resources and monthly report from Spratlen can be viewed at https://montezumacounty.org/services/office-of-emergency-management/.