Boulder County’s new evacuation warning system expected to be in place by April

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BOULDER, Colo. (KDVR) – Although there have been numerous delays during the implementation process, a new emergency alert system should be operating in Boulder County by April, according to the director. from the Boulder Office of Disaster Management.

“If we can do everything sooner than that, we’ll definitely go for it,” said Mike Chard, who explained that April is traditionally a more dangerous time of year for disasters than other times.

Chard said the city of Boulder will likely see its new system implemented before the rest of the county.

Issues with emergency alerts for the Marshall Fire

Many people who evacuated from the Boulder County area during the deadly Marshall Fire said they never received a telephone alert from the current alert system to warn them of the dangerous fire situation that was brewing. was unfurled in strong winds.

However, Chard said multiple systems were working to notify people, including emergency officials who were going door-to-door.

“There was nothing done,” Chard said. “That is certainly not the case. For some people, though, it didn’t get an alert, I’m sure that’s how it is, and that’s why it’s also important that we have door-to-door searches.

Chard explained that a wireless emergency alert system that could send mass messages to people in a particular geographic area – whether or not they signed up for the service – would have been a useful tool when the fires rage. are declared, but the implementation has been delayed for various reasons.

EOC Responsibilities, FEMA Involvement

Chard said the Boulder Emergency Operations Center — which works to implement the Federal Emergency Management Agency‘s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System — has many responsibilities that don’t not include emergency alerts.

“We are not here to issue these alerts,” he said. “Our role is to try to help bring that capability into the county, and that’s where we started the journey.”

Chard said that when the initial discussion about implementing IPAWS arose, EOC approached 911 centers and said, “Can you incorporate that? And the desire was there, but it’s a capacity issue.

Chard blamed retention, hiring, training, local disasters — including the Boulder shooting — and COVID as reasons for the delays.

The EOC operates separately from 911 centers — where calls come in and emergency alerts go out, he said.

“The EOC manages all the decisions incident commanders make,” he said. If they evacuate, “there are shelters that are needed, or we need to create animal shelters, or we need to get transportation to help evacuate a long-term care facility.”

Chard said that even when the wireless emergency alert system is fully implemented, “there will still be people during a disaster who will not receive an alert for various reasons, and that will still require a capability to door to door to get in and make sure everyone is out,” he said.

According to FEMA, there is no deadline for an entity to implement the IPAWS tool.

Implementing sufficient training is essential and crucial, said Al Kenyon, head of the customer care arm of FEMA’s IPAWS program.

Earlier this month, for example, Kenyon said someone in Missouri accidentally sent out a statewide alert “from Gotham City, and the vehicle was described as the Joker’s car – purple and green,” he said.

“Mistakes can happen, so it is very important that appropriate policies, procedures and training are in place before setting up an alert facility – especially for an urban area – where very many people may be affected,” he said.

Kenyon said that when everything is working properly, FEMA will take messages from the “alert sender” and eventually pass them on to cellphone carriers. “An alert transmitter can specify a targeting polygon, an area in which the alert should be transmitted, and it is transmitted to carriers,” he said.

“People with newer phones that can tell if they are inside or outside the area will only receive the message if they are within a tenth of a mile of the area described,” did he declare.

This forces people to get newer phones, Kenyon said. He said people who aren’t sure if they have WEA 3.0-compatible phones can check with their mobile carrier.

It is possible that someone who is not in an evacuation zone could receive an alert, Kenyon said.

“Old phones don’t check if they are inside or outside the target area. When they get the alert, they let people know they got it. Newer phones perform this additional check,” he said.

Kenyon said this issue occurred recently in Arapahoe County, with a boil water advisory that was dispersed over a much wider area than necessary.

“They had a well-formed alert,” Kenyon said, “but because of the delivery mechanism. It goes to a cell tower. All phones connected to that particular cell tower received the alert.

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