Lessons From the Colorado Floods: When The Disaster Isn’t the One You Prepared For | The Survival Doctor

Colorado National Guardsmen help evacuate people in Boulder County, CO, during the flooding last Thursday. “This event has stunned all of us,” said Colorado Senator Mark Udall. Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway called it “a once in 500 years or 1,000 years situation.” (Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Joseph K. VonNida.)

by James Hubbard, MD, MPH

My heart goes out to all affected in the recent flooding here in Colorado.

Maybe one of the very few good things that comes out of a disaster like this is all of us are reminded of the constant, real threat of disasters. (Few saw this coming. Not here. Not now. Not at this severity.) Because of all the modes of media we have these days to vicariously experience such disasters real-time, we learn from others’ unfortunate experiences how to go forward with a better plan for the future.

Here are a few takeaway lessons.

1. Prepare for the unexpected.

It’s been one of my messages since I started this blog, but this disaster has reinforced my concerns.

People on the Gulf Coast know to prepare for hurricanes; West Coast residents know what to do when the earth shakes. But what happens when an earthquake hits the Midwest? (Or massive flooding hits drought-stricken, mile-high Colorado?)

Lessons From the Colorado Floods: When The Disaster Isn’t the One You Prepared For | The Survival Doctor

A drainage ditch in a Colorado mountainside community, normally dry, roars Sunday with water headed to the city below.

We know we should prepare for the most likely disasters in our areas, but we should also have a general plan to cover whatever hits. We should know the basics of what to do for flooding, tornadoes, terrorist attacks; have general supplies—including adequate medical supplies—and know what to do for the most likely medical problems.

2. Take flash flood warnings seriously.

The water looks so meek, so benign. But it’s deceivingly strong and can go from a trickle to a flood in a “flash.”

I saw on the news a driver who tried to cross a fairly small amount of water running across the road. The next thing they knew their car had been swept away, and the only thing that saved them from being carried downstream was some railing. Even so, the car was quickly immersed to its top. (Fortunately rescue crews were on the scene quickly.)

More than one person on foot has been killed recently trying to cross the running water. We’ve even had deaths of people trying to save the ones in danger.

3. Floodwater is polluted.

Whatever chemicals the water goes across—not to mention the overflows of sewage—become part of the flood.

Photos: Cut Off by Flooding, a Town Bans Together

Weather kept even National Guard helicopters out of Lyons, CO, for part of last Thursday, CNN.com reported. Lyons, with its 2,000 residents, is one of the mountain towns that was isolated by the flooding.

Photographer Kenneth Wajda was there, and in a moving photo gallery, he captures neighbors sharing food and encouragement during evacuations that are part of what officials say may be the biggest airlift rescue since Hurricane Katrina.

The residents also used the city’s Facebook page to “hunt for medicine,” presumably from their neighbors, CNN.com reported.

“I think the world can learn alot of lessons in the way these people handled themselves,” Facebook user The Drifters Blog posted in a comment about the gallery, shared on my Facebook page.

“The many helpful people, food donations, smiles in the face of disaster, that enduring human spirit… that’s what gets me,” posted Ginger Hardwick Holliday.

We learned in Katrina that getting in the water without proper protection, such as high rubber boots, can result in some nasty rashes, not to mention a bad case of diarrhea. And yet, I’ve seen videos of kids playing in the flooding around here. Not a good idea.

4. Always be prepared for an unexpected quick getaway.

Many people here in Colorado had to evacuate in the middle of the night with very little time to escape. Keep that bug-out bag packed and ready to grab.

5. Have your stored drinking water, nonperishable food, medical supplies, and essential medications in place at all times.

Many small communities were islanded off without warning, within hours. The roads had washed away. They had no cellphone service, no electricity, no stores. Hundreds of people had to be evacuated by helicopter. But for a while, due to the weather, the helicopters couldn’t even get in.


I’m not trying to scare you here. I’m just trying to give you one more example of why you should be prepared.

What about you? Have you ever had to face any disaster?