Colorado Springs Addressing Problems in Waldo Fire Response

By DAN ELLIOTT | April 15, 2013

Colorado Springs emergency managers said Thursday they are moving to fix problems that arose during last summer’s Waldo Canyon wildfire, which killed two people and destroyed 347 homes.

A self-evaluation by the city Office of Emergency Management identified several deficiencies, including inadequate food and water for some responders, confusion over the boundaries of evacuation areas and inadequate communications among some city employees.

Bret Waters, head of the Office of Emergency Management, said some corrections have already made and others are planned.

The evaluation, released last week, also found much to praise about the city response during the June fire.

The blaze charred 28.5 square miles and prompted evacuations of nearly 29,000 people. Investigators said the fire was human-caused, but they still have been unable to determine whether it was intentional or accidental.

The self-evaluation said some city personnel had plenty of food and water, but others did not, including some in areas where the fire was active.

It said the descriptions officials used for evacuation zones were sometimes unclear to residents. Residents are accustomed to identifying their neighborhoods by name and did not always recognize the street names authorities used to define the boundaries.

Communication problems cited in the report included phone calls to emergency managers that went unanswered because an official had stepped away or was already on the phone, and city employees who did not get updates because their work sites had been evacuated and they did not have city-issued cellphones with access to their work email.

In emails to The Associated Press, Waters said the city has developed new plans and training to get food and water to all responders during emergencies, and in future emergencies, the city will identify evacuation zones by neighborhood name, as well as by street boundaries.

The Office of Emergency Management now has a single incoming phone number and will have trained call-takers ready, Waters said.

The city also has a contract with an emergency notification service to contact employees by several channels, he said.

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