On the morning of September 13 Eileen received a text asking about her availability to deploy to assist with shelter operations in support of the Colorado floods. The request came to us from the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Luckily I was available and allowed to tag along. We left our house a little bit after 1 PM. We made good time until running into the I-25 closure just south of E-470. Not deterred, we found an alternate route on CR1 for several miles until we could jump back on I-25 and continue to the LifeBridge Church. On the way there we passed over the St. Vrain River and it was very evident why the highway had been closed. The bridges were lucky to survive the boiling high waters. We rendezvoused with Max and Jenn at the church. After checking in at the front desk we attempted to identify our assignment. While our role was being discussed I was able to assist my first evacuee – an elderly gentleman who was confused and exhausted, looking for the shower. By the time I got back from that mission, it was decided that our services were needed at the evacuation center at Niwot High School.
Flood damage was very evident along our route. Upon arriving at the high school, we found volunteers everywhere. The Red Cross and the Salvation Army were on scene. Evacuees were being billeted in the gym and pets were kept in the science area. Clothing supplies were plentiful and there was a constant stream of donations coming in. It seemed the only thing in shortage were phone chargers. After getting nowhere with AT&T, I strong-armed Wal-Mart into donating six chargers. Unfortunately, Eileen and I headed out without confirming Wal-Mart’s coordinates. After a much longer trip than necessary, we arrived back at the school as the Salvation Army and Red Cross were pulling out. Max assumed the IC role and went about coordinating with the EOC, Boulder Sheriff and the school district. One of the first things to accomplish was to determine what was on hand and to tighten security up. I was able to assist by counting cats, dogs and cots. Then I maintained watch until relieved by some other volunteers who proceeded to watch the gym and science center all night long.
I managed to grab a nap around 4 in the morning. I woke up to find out that the water system had failed while I was sleeping. It turned out the whole water district had lost water as a tank had not been filling during the day. A plan was put in place for port-a-potties to be brought in. Until they arrived any toilets used were to be flushed with non-potable water gathered from the school’s sprinkler reservoir. Everybody handled the inconvenience with good humor. Breakfast was served by a local church and there was plenty for everybody. Plans were made for laundry and dish cleaning in case the water shortage was extended. During the day there was a constant stream of evacuees.
The speed with which evacuees, volunteers and donations arrived was staggering. Jenn did an excellent job maintaining a list of current residents. Max continued to keep everyone involved throughout the day. During the day I was able to help many evacuees with small little tasks they wouldn’t have needed help with in a normal situation. The stories of many the people were incredible and the spirit of all was great. I think it was amazing that almost every incoming person had a relative or friend they could stay with. Despite the constant flood of incoming helicopters, we had less permanent guests then when we had started.
I felt honored that this opportunity to serve became available to me. The time spent in this deployment has enriched my life and will never be forgotten.