Colorado-Flooding Lessons: When The Disaster Is Unexpected

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Lessons From the Colorado Floods: When the Disaster Isn’t the One You Prepared For

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, 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, 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?


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  • John G.

    I’m now a full time RVer. I was in Colorado City when the first of the two rains hit. It was fine in CC, but I went out in torrential rain to hook up the trailer. I stayed with m y schedule and headed to Cheyenne; all the way through rain that made windshield wipers useless.
    I wasn’t psychologically prepared for this…the news stories…the pictures…
    I’m in Pueblo, now, and awoke this morning to…more rain.
    The weekend was beautiful, and the Chili Festival was great fun, but I am not over this, yet.
    Be safe, be prepped.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Thanks, John.

  • 1_Eddie_1

    I think the Doctor gave some good advice.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH


  • Doc Hudson

    James, as a Colo flood survivor, I must say that pretty much by definition you cannot be fully prepared for an event that occurs once in every 100-500+ years. Having said that, it certainly helped to have some preps, skills, and training in place. Bottom line; always have clean drinking water stored and have multiple means of filtering/sterilizing water. And if you need to leave, LEAVE! Quickly, safely along a route that you have mapped and scouted in advance.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Thanks, Doc.

  • MalikaBourne

    I have been in a flood before in Iowa. Not fun!
    I hope you are OK. My family is safe adn dry.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      We’re all ok. Thanks, Malika.

  • Renee

    We flooded here in Southwest Wisconsin in the end of June (not sure of the date). My parents’ house is next to a dry gulch, one that had never seriously flooded since the house was built in 1884 (a school then), and it overflowed, washing out both driveways (their neighbor’s as well), washing out half of the bridge, creating sink holes, and traveling a foot deep across the lawn. It undermined the garage, and shattered the basement windows, filling it with five feet of water. They lost electricity to the old section of the house, well, phone (the lines were ripped out from where they were buried), and everything in the basement was ruined. The septic, thankfully, survived and wasn’t submerged, and the fuel oil tank in the basement had been recently filled and was, fortunately, too heavy to tip over and spill. (This was their biggest fear along with whether it reached the breaker boxes. They called the power company as soon as they had reception to cut power. Which they never actually did, so don’t trust it’s off even if they say they’ll cut it!)

    They had plenty of food (just to hedge against delays in payment since dad is self employed), but they hadn’t stored any water! The flood came in the early hours of the morning, and they didn’t even have time to draw water like they do normally when storms roll over. So, lots of food, lots of medical supplies and all other supplies, but no water, no way to cook.

    It took hours for my husband and I to find a safe way in so we could bring them our emergency water. They had nothing for six sweltering days, and they are still doing repairs, cleaning, moving utilities upstairs, and filling the basement entirely due to a support wall slipping off its footing..

    The point of this being, this was entirely unexpected, sudden, and devastating. They reacted quickly, but they simply weren’t fast enough even to evacuate, and afterwards it wasn’t an option due to infrastructure damage. They were prepared for all sorts of things, but not what happened. Also… store water!!!

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Thanks for sharing, Renee.

  • Stargazer

    So the “survival doctor” has his photo taken wearing scrubs and a stethoscope! BAHAHAHA! You are using the Colorado floods to scare people into buying your [email protected]! How low can you go?!

  • Susan Anderson

    This is the intersection in our town – the main way in/out. During the night it turned into this. We had no knowledge of this area ever flooding before nor of the flood any where within 30 miles of us. Some received reverse 911 calls but most did not. All of our access in and out had been destroyed similar to this picture including a month old new road and bridge.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Wow, Susan. Thanks for sharing.

  • Susan Anderson

    I would like to add once you are safe try getting online to – and register yourself and your current situation. Government and your family members can check for your registration. This helps tremendously when the rescuers are sent out to look for people that have in actuality have been rescued or otherwise safe.

  • Jordan Brown

    I would add the importance of situational awareness,such as:
    -looking at and learning the weather
    -checking the bigger picture through technology (forecast and trending weather plus historical patterns, as well as portable al
    ert type weather radios (not just phone apps – you don’t always have signal at those frequencies
    -keep looking at the weather as time goes by and notice things like a stream getting colder or louder/quieter or rising
    -be aware of the surrounding area so as to have at least 3 way of escape or other refuge from a variety of threats, and be aware of what those threats are likely to be or could be

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Thanks, Jordan. Great tips.