Nancy Loehr said Boulder County’s call to get residents out of the way of the Dec. 30 Marshall fire came at the nick of time. Loehr’s daughter got her emergency notification just as the deadly blaze advanced on her neighborhood in the Louisville and Superior area.
“They knew it was coming and they just got on with the clothes they had on,” Loehr said of her daughter, her husband and dog. They now live with Loehr and her husband in Erie.
“You never think it’s going to happen to you, but on that day it came too close,” Loehr said. “The notification saved them.”
At least one person’s death was linked to the wind-driven Marshall fire, which destroyed as many as 1,000 structures in Louisville and Superior. The blaze led to the evacuation of both communities.
Sheriff Joe Pelle told reporters that it was “miraculous” that reports of deaths or injuries were so low, given the quick spread of the fire.
But some residents impacted by the Marshall fire questioned the effectiveness of Boulder County’s Emergency Notification System. They asked why they did not receive an emergency notice on their cell phone, like those received for Amber and weather alerts, according to a Boulder County news release.
The sheriff’s office is working towards incorporating a system which will allow location-based cell phone notification, regardless of a subscriber’s address or registration with the county’s software called Everbridge, which initiates emergency notifications through landlines, cell phones, text, TTY/TDD, emails or faxes, the news release states.
Everbridge was one of many tools used by emergency workers to notify residents of the Marshall fire. Emergency notifications were sent along with law, fire, EMS and Search and Rescue officials moving through the impacted communities by car and on foot, announcing the evacuation, the news release states.
A fact sheet embedded in the news release includes detailed information about how emergency notifications work in the county.
The Boulder County Office of Disaster Management (ODM), in conjunction with the Boulder County Communications Center and Boulder Police and Fire Communications is currently working to implement Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) in the county. COVID-19 halted installation of the system, but officials are now on track to implement WEA with the Everbridge system in 2022, the county states.
Everbridge allows law enforcement and fire resources to accurately target emergency notification messages to a distinct geographical area based upon an address. WIth WEA, messages are broadcast to a much wider area by systems put in place by an owner’s cellular provider, the county states.
A WEA is likely to warn residents over a larger geographic area than intended, which could cause traffic congestion and increased calls to 911, the county said. Officials will have to learn to effectively merge the two systems.
“Our goal is to alert or warn residents quickly, over a large area and do so without causing negative secondary effects that interfere with the orderly and effective movements of dense populations away from hazardous conditions,” the county states.