'Serious concerns' raised in Waldo Canyon Fire Emergency Notification System After Action Report

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - The author of an after action report on the functioning of emergency notification systems in El Paso and Teller Counties during the Waldo Canyon Fire had "serious concerns" with the system.

The Waldo Canyon Fire stormed over a ridge and into Colorado Springs on June 26. Approximately 32,000 homes were evacuated on the western side of the city, leading to panicked traffic jams under an orange sky.

When the smoke cleared, two lives and 345 homes had been lost.

One of the systems utilized by the county, called MassCall, was added in August 2011. According to the report authored by Gary Klug, it was never properly tested.

"In May, 2012, a 50,000-minute calling block was purchased in anticipation of testing the MassCall system, but the Waldo Canyon Fire occurred before the test could be done," the report said. "Hence, the MassCall system was not tested and 'fine-tuned' prior to its use during the June 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire."

7NEWS reporter Amanda Kost asked if the system had been tested since the fire, and was told it hadn't been. She also asked when a test would be conducted, but was not given a specific date.

Kost was told, however, the system would be tested.

The report also highlighted another problem with the MassCall system:

"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.

"I have serious concerns about the performance of the MassCall system," the author of the report wrote.

That issue was unknown to the 911 authorities until the after action report.

Another problem mentioned in the report specifically impacted customers of Comcast telephone service. A total of 10,507 messages from 49 separate activations of the emergency notification system were not delivered to Comcast customers during the fire.

According to the report, the agency only realized there was a problem after a surge in calls from Comcast customers.

Klug revealed during a press conference that the couple killed in the fire, William and Barbara Everett, did not have a phone number or location registered in the emergency notification database. Therefore, they did not receive the call to evacuate.

The report doesn't suggest the counties change systems. Instead, it pushes for a statewide database and regulations for emergency notifications.

The after action report also includes a disclaimer that residents should not rely on one source for emergency notifications.

The report also found several problems described as outside the control of El Paso-Teller County E911.

At the top of the list was the fact that Colorado Springs Utilities was forced to disable electricity in the Mountain Shadows area. That decision was made to protect people from downed power lines and prevent additional fires, but had the side effect of disabling all cordless phones that rely on electricity.

The findings also pointed out that fires and wind can destroy distribution technology, such as cell phone towers and neighborhood equipment cabinets that connect customers to the telephone network.

"All of these situations, which are beyond the control of the El Paso-Teller Counties E911 Authority, prevented ENS notifications from reaching telephone and cellular customers were present during the Waldo Canyon Fire and resulted in many of the reported 'failures' of the ENS system to provide emergency notifications."

An earlier after action report by the City of Colorado Springs found city officials were undertrained for the fire. In the examination of the 19 days of work against the fire, the report found room for improvement in improving communication among police and fire agencies and disaster training of city employees.

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