Is your family prepared for disaster?

By Sarah Pridgeon

The Mayans may have mispredicted the end of world, but 2013 could still see even more disasters chalked up on Crook County’s recent list. With an even bigger fire season, drought and potential tornadoes predicted for the year ahead, Emergency Manager Jim Pridgeon and Fire Warden Gari Gill remind residents across the county that personal preparedness is vital.

“Crook County’s key strategy is individual preparedness,” explains Pridgeon. “Everyone should ensure they are able to take care of themselves and their own until we can get to them.”

The county has run the gamut of disasters over the past few years, with the 2012 fire season now officially the largest on record. A total of 325 fires were recorded, with the largest being the Ghost Fire at 1680 acres.

Through reciprocal agreements with Weston County, says Gill, a large number of personnel and fire engines were also provided to help combat the huge Oil Creek Fire, as well as the Skull Creek and Cemetery Fires.

In 2011, Crook County experienced a Presidential-declared disaster in the form of flooding that crippled the county’s infrastructure and caused major damage to the state highway’s infrastructure. Repairs continue even now to replace a bridge at Beaver Creek.

In 2010, tornadoes ravaged the county, one of which hit Hulett with softball-sized hailstones that shattered windows, roofs and cars. As it headed towards the Bearlodge Mountains, it destroyed a ranch, devastating the house and barn and flattening many acres of trees, damaging other homes and structures as it continued on its path.

“Luckily, most were vacation houses and nobody was home,” comments Pridgeon. “We had campers stranded at Cook Lake and the Forest Service cut the road free to allow them out, but the most beautiful thing was that there were no injuries at all.”

In 2009, meanwhile, a severe snowstorm caved in roofs, damaged homes and locked the county up for a day and a half.

The year ahead may bring more disasters still; Gill is forecasting an even worse fire season because the county – and most of the Midwest – is already under drought conditions severe enough for a national disaster to have been requested from the Department of the Interior. This would also create the perfect conditions for tornadoes, Pridgeon explains.

“The only major disaster we don’t have in this county is hurricanes,” he says. “We’ve even had earthquakes nearby that were felt here. We’ll be writing an all-hazard mitigation plan this year so we have a better idea how to mitigate the effects of a disaster through preparedness from local government – and also from individuals. We need everyone to be self-sufficient and aware of how to take care of themselves.”

Crook County depends entirely on the willingness of its residents to step up when disaster strikes, he adds. Every First Responder in the county is a volunteer and each puts his or her life at risk to protect the community.

“Another of our lifesavers is the support we get from industry, for both manpower and supplies during fires and floods,” Pridgeon goes on. “Crook and Weston Counties are among the last places holding out such a sense of community pride – neighbors helping neighbors.”