Staying prepared helps when disaster strikes |

Staying prepared helps when disaster strikes

Judson Haims
Special to The Aspen Times
Judson Haims
Courtesy photo

The unexpected emergency. Are you prepared?

Natural disasters are inconvenient and unexpected. Regardless of whether it is a wildfire, heat wave, or a winter storm, natural disasters put everyone and everything in their way at risk. They are nondiscriminating and affect everyone without bias.

Currently, with multiple fires burning nearby, all of us should be aware of smoke inhalation concerns and have an emergency plan in place.

Inhaling smoke from wildfires can have both short-term and long-term effects. In the short-term, allergies, coughs and shortness of breath are quite common. Eye irritation also is quite common. While these effects are generally not long lasting, smoke inhalation can cause more severe complications.

Thinking that if you are not exercising outside or spending much time outside that all is okay isn’t always true. Air from wildfires contain pollutants that are commonly referred to PM2.5. These are particularly fine particles matters that are smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. Our nose does not filter out particles this small. When this happens, particles can make it deep into our lungs and even into our bloodstream causing impaired lung function and cause symptoms of inflammation. People with respiratory diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and chronic bronchitis should be extra cautious.

If you do plan on exercising outdoors, the best time to do it may be in the morning when ozone levels are lower, and winds are calmer. Until the fires dissipate, consider indoor exercising.

Whether you are young or old and regardless of personal abilities, everyone can take steps to prepare for the unexpected. Given our current situation, developing a plan for an emergency could not be more important and timelier.

Be ready: Every home should have fire extinguishers and smoke detectors that have been tested within the past year. Fire extinguishers should be placed vertically in readily accessible places of each floor of the house. You should be aware that they do expire. While most have a pressure gauge that will indicate the level of pressure inside, some do not. If the pressure gauge falls outside of the green zone, it is time to either have it recharged or purchase a new one. If there is no pressure gauge, you should replace the extinguisher every five to 10 years. (Never dispose of old extinguishers in the trash or recycling bin.)

Make sure you know where your shut-offs are for your gas, water, and electricity. Before departing your home in an emergency, turning off these utilities is a good practice for disaster preparedness.

Put together a small shoe box or plastic box with essential supplies and place it near an exit to the home. The box should contain a cellphone charging cord, a battery-powered radio and a flashlight with batteries kept separately (batteries last longer if not installed). Copies of important documents such as a driver’s license, birth certificate(s), passport(s), medication list(s) should be placed in a Ziploc bag. Do not forget to have a written or typed list of emergency contacts. If your cellphone runs out of power or cell towers are down, a land line phone may help — if you remember the phone numbers. Extra eyeglasses or contact lenses are always good to include.

An evacuation plan: Emergencies and chaos go hand in hand. When people become panicked and chaos erupts, making sure all your loved ones are out of harms way and together is imperative. Everyone with your household should know of at least two emergency meeting locations outside of the home — one should be nearby, and the second should be farther away i.e., a friend’s home, a school or religious building.

For those who may have older family members and friends or for those who may be older themselves, preparing for the unexpected emergency will save time and mitigate anxiety. Consider talking to neighbors and friends and develop a plan for yourself and others in your neighborhood. It’s just good sense to have a plan.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Aspen, Basalt and Carbondale. He is an advocate for our elderly and is available to answer questions. His contact information is,, 970-328-5526.