A Wall of Water Hits Boulder

by Osman Parvez

If you happened to be in Boulder yesterday morning, you may have heard the sirens. Boulder was practicing for a flood evacuation.

While there is little statistical chance of a massive flood rampaging down Boulder Canyon into the City of Boulder, on July 31, 1976 just such a flood did occur nearby.

The Big Thompson Flood killed 145 people, destroyed 418 houses, and caused more than $40 million in damages - in about two hours. Whether or not you live or work in the flood zone, have a plan for you and your family including a safe meeting spot. Flash Flooding is the #1 possible natural disaster for Boulder.

A couple of weeks ago Justin Dombrowski spoke at my Rotary Club about the flood drill and the challenges in coordinating emergency services. He's the Interim Director for the city/county Boulder Office of Emergency Management and works for different agencies in various capacities including FEMA, Red Cross, Boulder Rural Fire District and national incident management teams. His aim is to improve emergency management related to planning, preparedness, response and recovery.

Justin made it painfully clear that communication is the biggest challenge in coordinating emergency response. He's trying to improve Boulder's systems for getting the message out to thousands of residents and workers downtown when there could be 45 minutes or less warning. Possible problems include traffic jams, overloaded cell networks, and potential human indifference/ignorance of the magnitude of the threat.

The photo below is of the mouth of Big Thompson Canyon looking upstream. That's Highway 34 at the left, truncated by the river (by W. R. Hansen, US Geological Service)

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