OURAY – Is Ouray County ready for a major emergency?
In a word: Yes, but with a qualifier. A countywide working group comprised of more than 40 government officials, school superintendents, medical professionals, first responders, and members of police and fire agencies has developed an action-plan infrastructure for flood, wildfire, pandemic flu, and other potential emergency situations.
However, all the best planning and state-of-the-art equipment available to address a disaster is useless without public awareness, speakers emphasized at the Wednesday night special presentation at the Ouray County 4-H Event Center.
“We’ve all inputted into the plans, and this has brought the community together,” said Cheryl Roberts, head of the Ouray County Public Health Department, which guided the three-year planning process. “Even if we do the work and have a plan, it still won’t work until we get the ideas to the public and show what we are going to do.
“All will be asked to respond,” she said of county residents. “It’s all about talking the same language and knowing what we are going to do.”
Thanks to an infusion of cash for equipment and training from Homeland Security grants, the Ouray County program is now integrated with neighboring county, state and federal disaster preparedness programs, expanding the scope of response capability while decreasing response time.
The Incident Command group managing the program includes Ouray County Emergency Coordinator Alan Staehle, Roberts, Ouray County Sheriff Dominic “Junior” Mattivi, and Ouray County Weed Coordinator Ron Mabry.
“We can literally talk to the world,” said Staehle. “And every radio system in this whole state is in one [Ouray County] van.” A reverse-911 phone system is now in place so a command center can notify 3,000 residences “at a time” with a telephone call, according to Staehle; those who are elderly or who speak a foreign language will be given special care and consideration in any notification effort.
Mattivi explained that the focus is on local responsibility and “what your role could be.” Citing the example of the telephone grid blackout which lasted for several hours throughout Ouray County in April, Mattivi emphasized the community should brace itself for a longer delay in obtaining outside resources should a big disaster strike.
“We complain when they’re down for several hours. Be prepared to be down for a minimum of three days,” Mattivi said. Sample survival kits for two- and three-day periods were on display at the meeting. Included in the kits were hand-crank flashlights, emergency food for three people for three days enclosed in food storage bins, and a home address kit. Information about long-lasting food items, water purification and portable power stations for computers and automobiles were also displayed.
The two most likely disasters to strike Ouray County, according to the presenters, are pandemic flu and wildfire. A nine-page Ouray County Emergency Operations Plan published in April for pandemic or special-contagion emergency is now available and will soon be posted on the county’s website. The plan contains guidelines and procedures for a pandemic with three possible epicenters: overseas, U.S. and Colorado. A fold-up brochure titled Be Prepared for a Pandemic Flu is available from the county health office. It includes an “assemble-ready kit” to keep at home and at work.
And finally, on the emergency-preparedness front, a recently completed Ouray County Community Wildfire Protection Plan is available on CD or in book form from the county.
For more information, call the Ouray County Public Health Department at 970/ 325-4670.