Report Notes Concerns With Wildfire Alert System

March 1, 2013

A report released Wednesday notes concerns with two mass calling systems that were used to send evacuation alerts to the phones of thousands of residents during the Waldo Canyon Fire, the most destructive in Colorado history.

Photo: Michael Rieger/FEMA
Photo: Michael Rieger/FEMA

Former Colorado Public Utilities Commission chief engineer Gary Klug wrote the report for the El Paso-Teller Counties E911 Authority.

He said the Waldo Canyon Fire broke out in June before one system, MassCall, could be fully tested and fine-tuned.

“The Authority was not made aware by the vendor that it needed to review and modify default settings in the MassCall system based on the calling capacities of the central office switches in its area,” the report said.

The other system, known as the Communicator! NXT Server system, seems to provide a useful tool for emergency notifications and providing updates, but it is constrained by the number of circuits connecting it to the telephone network, Klug wrote.

Klug noted several other concerns. He found that a couple who died in the fire was served by a telecommunications provider other than CenturyLink or Comcast that hadn’t provided the couple’s number or location information for a 911 database or emergency notifications. He wrote that it’s unknown whether the couple would have survived if the El Paso-Teller Counties E911 Authority had their information.

Emergency notifications also were hampered by circumstances out of the control of the E911 authority.

For instance, when Colorado Springs Utilities was forced to disable electricity in the Mountain Shadows area to protect against downed power lines and additional fires, cordless phones that rely on electricity were disabled.

Cellphone towers and telecommunication networks also can be threatened by fire and wind.

Sheriff’s officials around Colorado have said residents shouldn’t rely on only one source for emergency notifications.

The Waldo Canyon Fire destroyed 346 homes and caused major damage to 13 more.

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