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Emergency notification system worked well, Sheriff’s Office says

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Evacuation calls during fire had 84 percent connection rate

By Ramsey Scott

The Jeffco Sheriff’s Office is more than happy with how its new emergency notification system, CodeRED, performed during the Bluebell Fire.

The emergency calls had a successful connection rate of 84 percent, said Mark Techmeyer, sheriff’s spokesman. He said a connection rate of about 60 percent is considered acceptable nationally. 

“We really couldn’t be more pleased,” Techmeyer said. “When you’re looking at 84 percent, it really went well.”

The notification system was used to send about 9,900 emergency-evacuation notices initially in a 4-mile radius of the origin of the fire north of Brook Forest Drive in Evergreen. The evacuation notices affected homes north of U.S. 285, south of Buffalo Park Road, west of Highway 73 and east of the west Jefferson County line. 

Pam and Scott Renney live across from the Maxwell Falls trailhead in the Evergreen Hills neighborhood.

“I first received the … call at home, and it said that it was a Level 2 warning,” Pam Renney said. “I received a phone call, e-mail and a text when it went to Level 3. (The CodeRED) worked great.”

Pam said the warnings came almost simultaneously. Scott was at work down the hill but received a text and e-mail.

However, some residents who were not in the path of the fire and were miles away received calls to evacuate. Techmeyer said that was due to some of the limitations with the CodeRED system.

CodeRED can send out notifications by either address or by radius, Techmeyer said. 

“If we were down in south Jefferson County in the suburbs, if you have a house with a barricaded gunman, it’s real easy to look … and see the perimeter and put everyone on notice for a five-block area,” Techmeyer said. “All those people in those blocks get notified. Another way is just to do a radius. Everyone in a 2-mile radius from that house gets a notification.”

But sending out notifications in the mountains creates challenges in establishing an exact perimeter, since the roads are winding and many houses sit far back from their property lines, Techmeyer said. 

The Sheriff’s Office decided to go big when creating a radius for notifications during the Bluebell Fire, Techmeyer said. Given the nature of the wildfire and its potential for turning into a much larger blaze, he said it would have been too time consuming to notify residents using the address method. 

Techmeyer said that in messages released to the press during the fire, the Sheriff’s Office tried to be as precise as possible regarding which streets within the notification radius were affected.  

“There is always a concern that we don’t want to have people look at these emergency notification calls as crying wolf. But when this fire started, it had every indication it was about to explode, and if it had, we would have been in a real bad situation,” Techmeyer said. 

Techmeyer said that during the next emergency the Sheriff’s Office will try to be more precise about which streets within the notification radius are affected. But Techmeyer said it’s ultimately up to residents to make their own safety decisions. 

Residents facing a potential emergency situation that could turn dangerous should not wait for a notification system to tell them to leave, Techmeyer said. 

 

Contact Ramsey Scott at ramsey@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22, and follow him on Twitter @RamseyColumbine.