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Cuchara evacuation- “Just a drill. If this had been an actual emergency…”

CUCHARA— Cuchara was the scene of a disaster drill on Saturday morning that was to simulate a wild fire event. The participants were: The American Red Cross, Huerfano Sheriff, Huerfano County Emergency Management, LaVeta Volunteer Fire Protection District, LaVeta Volunteer Fire Protection District Auxiliary, Huerfano County Commissioners, and members of Pine Haven POA. The purpose of the drill was to bring these emergency agencies and residents together to replicate an emergency and practice their plans and test their communications. This is important to find any parts of the plan that should be improved. The Red Cross set up a mock shelter and showed local residents how they would move through the process. People would register at the first station and be asked if they had any medical problems. Then they would move on to a medical station set up to address their problems and give assistance with medications if necessary. After registering people that would be staying in the shelter they would be assigned a cot with

two blankets with a kit consisting of soap, dental products, and other hygienic items. Food would then be provided by using the kitchen in the facility, or from an outside service. People would be given daily briefing to update them on the progress of the emergency. The Red Cross would also provide counselors for short and long term issues since this experience could be very stressful. All information about the evacuees in the shelter is kept confidential so people are given privacy while there. Visitors are not allowed in any living area and must meet people in a common area. Members of the press must obtain information through the Red Cross and be escorted into authorized areas. They want to give the press information while protecting the privacy of people. In the event of a real fire this shelter would be at the high school in La Veta where they would be out of the way of the fire. The exercise was a success and residents thought this was an important and useful exercise. The drill was done by 13 Red Cross workers and most were volunteers and by emergency agencies. According to Huerfano Commissioner Max Vezzani, the exercise went quite well, though it showed the communication system had some gaps. At one point, emergency crews, unable to talk with each other over county radio channels, switched to using a simplex car-to-car radio frequency. It was also noted a number of Cuchara residents did not recieve a reverse-911 call informing of the evacuation drill. It was then discovered a number of them had not signed up for the service. “Overall, a good exercise; good feedback and a good after-action meeting,” said Vezzani.

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