Colorado wildfires: How prepared a parent would you be?

The Colorado wildfires – like every disaster from earthquakes to hurricanes – make a parents' preparedness antennas bristle. How prepared a parent are you? How prepared do you need to be?

AP/Bryan Oller
Colorado wildfire evacuees – in the Waldo Canyon area – spent time at Colorado Springs' Cheyenne Mountain High School evacuation center June 27, 2012. More than 30,000 have been evacuated – and it makes parents wonder how prepared they are for disasters.

There are a number of news topics that I read differently now that I am a parent.  War stories that involve children are unbearable. Tidbits about work-life balance get extra attention, as opposed to (I’ll admit it) the occasional eye rolls of pre-baby life. And natural disasters of the sort that we’re seeing in Colorado, where fires have displaced tens of thousands of people, are of extra concern – and a bit guilt inducing.

Why guilt-inducing?

Because I’m an American mom, that’s why.  And when I start thinking about what I would do if disaster struck, well, I’m afraid FEMA would give me an F.

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The other day, inspired by the wildfires of Colorado (and imagining parents trying to frantically pack up clothes and children and loveys and diapers, not to mention cell phones and vital documents and flashlights that actually have working batteries) I Googled “emergency preparation for families.”

There is no shortage of information on this subject, I tell you. 

And none of it made me feel any better.

See, according to everyone from Red Cross to the Centers for Disease Control to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, my family should have an emergency action plan. What if we’re not all in the same place when disaster strikes? What if communication systems are down? How will we find each other?

You need to work this stuff out ahead of time.

I mentioned this to Husband and he looked at me strangely.

We live in Massachusetts, he said. 

Yes, but we have a river behind our house that everyone in town says floods once ever few years. And there was that tornado that hit the central part of the state. And there was the Hurricane Irene last fall. And snow – goodness knows there will be snow.

Besides, when you go to the FEMA website, there are all sorts of options for disasters, not just wildfires. Not in the least. No, you should be prepared for hurricanes, thunderstorms (we totally have those, I pointed out), earthquakes, tsunamis, and space weather.

And everyone should be worried about space weather, right?

He looked at me strangely again.

The next step, apparently, is to have a kit. Officials recommend having enough supplies – and that includes food and water – for 72 hours.  The items, from canned food to diapers, should be kept in airtight plastic bags and then all stored in an easy-to-grab container like a camping backpack or unused trashcan.

Families should maintain these kits, making sure food doesn’t go bad and updating them to reflect a family’s changing needs. (Bigger diapers, say.) Batteries should be in working order, and you should have items to help you survive if there are no public systems, such as electricity, working.

(Did I mention that the last time we needed to find a AA battery for – I don’t know, I think it was the grill –  we ended up dismembering one of the baby’s favorite toys to get one?)

There are many other tips for preparing your family for an emergency, but I feel that I have some work to do before I get to the “be a preparedness leader” level.

No, for now, I am going to focus on plans and kits – dubious glances of other family members aside.  And really, the websites are worth a read.

Meanwhile, thoughts and prayers to the parents of Colorado.

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