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Q&A: How first responders are preparing for the weekend storm

Boulder and Jefferson Counties are asking people to stay home and off the roads if possible with a significant amount of heavy, wet snow expected.

BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. — Ahead of the storm predicted for this weekend, first responders are asking Coloradans to hunker down at home and stay off the roads if possible.

In Boulder County, the Sheriff's Office is preparing deputies for longer shifts and asking adventure seekers to avoid the backcountry. 

Jefferson County Emergency Management is receiving daily briefings from the National Weather Service in Boulder and asking people to prepare their homes and vehicles with food, water, and warmth. 

"It could be busy. I think we always prepare for what could be the worst but I'm hopeful this will pass by us," Vinnie Montez, Night Shift Commander Boulder County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) said.

We asked Montez and Hal Grieb, Jefferson County Emergency Management Director, what more people can do to protect themselves and first responders throughout the storm. 

(Editor's Note: Responses may have been edited for context and clarity.)

9NEWS: How have you been preparing for this storm so far? 

Grieb: We get all of our information from our partners at the National Weather Service Boulder. They're fantastic. They're the experts and scientists behind all the watches and warnings that we receive. So, we've been meeting with them every morning. 

I met with them yesterday morning this morning and that will continue the duration of this incident. Right now, we’re just getting an assessment from our partners and stakeholders within our emergency operations team to understand what their thresholds of need are and what they're not and really just evaluating what they can deal with in their daily operations.

That's really what we've been doing to this point is just making sure everybody understands their roles and has their needs met.

Montez: Right now, we're looking at making sure our deputies are prepared and that we have access to 4x4 vehicles for them. Many of our officers drive the interceptor police packages which are not 4x4 equipped. We're moving some of our assets around to make sure they're available for them to have as the inclement weather comes in.

We want to make sure they’re able to respond to calls for service. It could be busy. I think we always prepare for what could be the worst but I'm hopeful this will pass by us. I'm going to be optimistic but it doesn't sound like it’s going to hit. It could be a weekend for helping people get out of the roadway if they get stuck and responding to calls where maybe power outages are occurring. It could be eventful but I'm still hoping for the best.

9NEWS: Are you making any comparisons in terms of potential impact to previous storms in Colorado like the one that hit in 2003?

Grieb: So, the National Weather Service (NWS) when they compare current storms to analog, historic storms they're still not comparing this to 2003. That's a low probability from what I've been told.

They did compare it to a 2016 storm is the current comparison or analog. But they are looking at the potential that with wet snow comes down power lines and tree limbs and that can cause impacts on structures, roads, and power lines. If you have any of those issues, large span roof, big box stores, those are some of the considerations that you should always keep in mind along with other impacts associated with snow.

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Montez: Utility companies are already prepping to have people stationed if we do have power outages. If you happen to have a downed power line, whether or not it's still charged is yet to be seen. We encourage people to stay away from them and remember, you don't have to be right touching a power line in order to receive potential injury from it. We just want anybody that has a down powerline to report it to the utility company.

What lessons did you and your team learn from those previous storms?

Grieb: When I was talking with some of our public health partners and human service partners, I asked them, professionally and personally, what have you learned in past events. I know everybody's comparing this, in their minds they're thinking of the recent Texas winter storm and they're thinking of previous storms that impacted Colorado. Some of the biggest things they shared were to make sure to take the time to fill up and back up any medical equipment or prescriptions that need to be resupplied. If you have any electronic electrical-dependent medical devices, make sure you have plans in place for backing those up because those are things they've experienced in the past.

Yesterday, our road and bridge director talked about the need for patience with roads being plowed. There’s a priority list on their website. You can find it at Jeffco.us. It lists the priorities for snowplow and we ask if you don’t have to drive, don’t drive. 

If you do have to drive, make sure just like your home, you have food, water, and warmth just in case you do get stranded. In case you do have a longer delay getting to where you need to go. Make sure you plan accordingly for those things now. Make sure you have that preparedness kit, not just for your home but also for your vehicle. And then just please be patient with the road plow removal process because it does take time and there are priorities of roads.

RELATED: Remembering the Denver blizzard of March 2003

Montez: What I remember of that storm is probably all the cars congested along US36, people having to leave their cars, and us having to move cars out of the way. I think that brings up a good point, we try to not leave our cars if we don't absolutely have to. What it creates is a problem for snowplows. They can't get through which then compounds the problem. If we end up starting to get heavy snow, people need to probably stay home. It's not because we don't want people to go out and have a good time and be with their family on the weekends. When people get stranded or stuck, it causes us to use resources.

If we get people on major highways and those start getting congested, we can't get the plows through which then prevents medical and fire trucks from getting through. It just kind of compounds. We just encourage people to be smart so later, once we get through this spring storm, we can move back to the way the normal weekend should be.

For us in Boulder County, one lesson learned is we want to make sure our deputies are prepared for being out longer than their normal 12-hour shifts on patrol. We've encouraged them to bring additional supplies because they may be staying here longer. We're also working with our communication center to secure rides to get our dispatchers in depending on how the weather goes. We’re making those preparations. In the past, we've also learned to have hotels locally available in case we need to have some of our first responders that may loop further out, stay local for a quicker turnaround for the next shift they may have to work.

Also, Boulder County is unique in that half of our county is in the flats and half is in the mountains. There are many people who are outdoor enthusiasts here. Boulder is renowned for its outdoor recreation but we also want to caution people to be very safe. This weekend is not the time to go into the backcountry, especially in any of the counties that have mountainous areas, to try to capitalize on a ton of snow.

People need to be aware of unsafe conditions with the potential for avalanches. If you're out there and you get trapped in the backcountry or something bad happens, we may not have the resources to get to you right away. We need people to be cognizant and we want to urge people to be safe. Think about others and the responses that might be necessary if you get yourself in a bad spot.

How can people get important information or help, if needed, over the weekend? 

Grieb: The major impacts start Friday evening. I think we're blessed a bit with the timing. Hopefully, for those who have to get to work if there's an emergent need, we understand that plan accordingly. Really try to limit your travel. This is a great time to maybe get some games with the family and have some fun. Just try to stay off the roads if you can. Let public works and the road and bridge crews that are out there do their jobs and keep the roads clear because we often see stranded motorists and we want to make sure that we mitigate those now. Again, just plan for food, water, and warmth. Make sure you have a comfortability with being without power potentially if that could be an impact on you.

Again, we do have a code red system for emergency notifications. If you search in your favorite search engine ‘Jeffco CO’ and ‘code red’ that should pop up the emergency notification system that we use from Jefferson communications to send alerts for specific areas. I really encourage residents, guests, and visitors to sign up for those emergency notifications if you're going to be in the area during the storm. Pay attention to the weather and listen to the experts.

Montez: If there's something you're really concerned about and you think it's a safety issue for you or your family, call your local public safety agency. We’ll come out and do the best we can to help you assess the situation. We also want to be cognizant of the fact there will be many people calling in if we get a lot of snow. We can only be in so many places at once. It is a fine balancing act. We want to be there for everybody but we want to prioritize life-threatening events. If someone needs medical assistance or there's an actual medical emergency in place, we want to devote those resources to that as a top priority.

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