Thousands of wildfire warnings undelivered in Colo
July 11, 2012
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — More than 20,000 evacuation calls were never delivered to residents in the path of a wildfire that destroyed about 350 homes around Colorado Springs last month, records show.
It was the second time in five months that Colorado residents said they didn’t get calls to pack up and run as flames raced toward their homes.
Officials in El Paso and Teller counties were trying to determine why two-thirds of the 32,000 impacted residents did not receive calls during the Waldo Canyon fire that began on June 23.
Nearly 10,000 attempts to reach residents in Colorado Springs were abandoned after the calls were not completed, and more than 11,000 calls were not answered, according to records obtained by KMGH-TV (http://bit.ly/NgfyJT) .
Cassidian Communications, the reverse notification provider, said some calls were not completed because of heavy volume. Phone company officials said their phones were working fine at the time.
Ben Bills, spokesman for El Paso/Teller County E911, said his agency wants to know why some calls went through and others did not, and he plans meetings to discuss the problem.
Bill Simmons, who lives in Colorado Springs, said Tuesday he never got a warning call because he hasn’t registered with the city for such notifications.
Simmons said he left his home because police went through neighborhoods warning people to leave as flames neared the city. His home survived, but his neighbors lost their homes.
“Fortunately I was at home when they came by with bullhorns,” he said.
Simmons said agencies that handle emergency phone notifications should send out mail notices telling people how to register.
William and Barbara Everett died in the Waldo Canyon fire, which burned about 28 square miles.
The couple did not receive a reverse notification call to evacuate because they had no landline service or cellphone service registered with the notification system, El Paso/Teller County E911 and Colorado Springs police said.
The system had 13,000 people registered in its cellphone database before the wildfire, officials said. That jumped to 52,000 as homes were burned, and at one point, 1,000 residents per hour were registering their mobile numbers, The Denver Post reported (http://tinyurl.com/cxyglrk).
Some of those people requested that their registration expire within a couple of weeks, so the number is expected to drop, Bills said.
In March, authorities in Jefferson County launched an investigation after some residents who signed up never got a warning about a fire.
About 12 percent of the people authorities intended to notify didn’t get a warning, sheriff’s spokesman Mark Techmeyer said. Some likely hung up after hearing a pause that precedes the automated message, or their phone lines may have been busy, he said.
The company that handles that system, Baton Rouge, La.-based FirstCall Network Inc., said the process worked exactly as it should have. FirstCall provides the alert service to as many as 200 agencies nationwide.