COLORADO SPRINGS — After action reports from some of the biggest and most devastating wildfires in our state’s history show in many cases the effort to get emergency alerts out to people in danger areas came up short. News5 talks to emergency response experts about the challenges facing emergency alert systems and how we can make sure to get the alerts you need.
In 2012 more than 10,000 calls designed to warn people to evacuate during the Waldo Canyon Fire never reached the people they were intended to help, it was an eye opening discovery.
The good news is the El Paso-Teller County emergency alert system has gone through significant changes and improvements since then to try to reach the most people possible, but the best strategy is to make sure you and the people you care about are signed up to get these alerts in multiple ways and on multiple devices.
”To give you an idea, during Waldo Canyon I was manually forcing updates into a system,” said Ben Bills, a 14 year veteran of the El Paso-Teller County 911 Authority.
The Waldo Canyon fire killed two people and burned more than 300 homes. Ever since, Bills has made it his mission to find ways to improve the emergency alert system for people living in El Paso and Teller counties.
”These messages are designed to save people and we can’t always save property right? First responders are doing their best to try to save property, but the whole intent is the imminent threat to life,” Bills told News5.
The recent Marshall Fire in the Boulder area that burned hundreds of homes has emergency alert systems once again facing scrutiny.
”If we’re in a live environment sending out notifications, now you are dealing with the infrastructure that is outside of your walls, how do you deliver a phone call, text message? Is there any infrastructure damaged? That fire moved so quickly. I haven’t followed the reports, but I’d be interested to see what comes out of that,” said Bills.
While work is being done to try to send out alerts by every means possible, the experts say you should take the time to make sure you’re signed up.
”Register as many types of communication that you can because in an emergency, lessons learned from Waldo Canyon, if we start to lose electricity or infrastructure may get damaged, those are all reducing your chances of maybe receiving an alert,” said Bills.
News5 discovered about 63,000 people are signed up for the peak alert system serving El Paso and Teller counties, but officials would like to see that number be between 300,000 and 400,000.
”This is something it takes you three minutes to do,” said Bills. “Create a simple profile, maybe monitor it once or twice a year to make sure it stays accurate that way you can know that we have you on the list to make a notification if you are in the area we are trying to notify.”
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