The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office is blaming a software glitch in the emergency notification system for failing to notify 12 percent of the evacuees during the Lower North Fork Fire.
The sheriff's office didn't realize that there was a problem with the system until they started getting calls from people in the burn zone, saying they believe they are in the mandatory evacuation zone, but hadn't received a call.
"We got enough of those calls that we started to do some research
There was a glitch in the system," said Jefferson County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Jacki Kelley during a noon news conference Thursday.
She said 88 percent of the residents were notified by cellphone or by land line, including Sam and Linda Lucas, the elderly couple who died in the fire.
It's not clear if the woman who remains missing ever received the call, Kelley said.
"We are working with the company that provides that service to get answers," Kelley said. "We want answers as quickly as everybody else does. We are hoping to get answers today."
The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office uses the First Call Network, a system it converted to last year.
However, the president of the First Call Network told 7NEWS reporter Marshall Zelinger on Thursday afternoon that there was no glitch and that the 12 percent were people who didn't pick up their phones.
"We attempted to contact all 100 percent of the people that were in the area and in the system. Those 12 percent were devices that either didn't answer the phone after three attempts or the numbers were disconnected. So they were attempted. It was just people that didn't answer," said First Call Network president Matt Teague.
"When we were told there was a glitch in the system, what is your stance on that," asked Zelinger.
"The system worked exactly as it should have. There was no glitch in the system, no malfunction," said Teague. "If people had already left or they're not home, we're not going to reach them on their land line phone."
7NEWS has requested the communication report that is generated with each emergency notification. According to Teague, the report is an Excel file that shows every single communication made, the exact time it was made and the number of attempts.
Kelley admitted that the first notification sent by the sheriff's office went to everyone in the system and not just the specific fire area.
"We do know that the very, very, very first hit we sent out was way big. After we sent the launch, it affected way, way too many people," said Kelley, who called it a "user error."
Kelley said dispatchers at first, did allay fears by saying that this was a controlled burn.
"Early on, yes, we gave information that this was because of a controlled burn by the Colorado State Forest Service," Kelley said.
As the fire grew, the sheriff's office changed what they said on the emergency alert.
However, Kelley reminded residents that they shouldn't wait for a call from the sheriff's office if they want to evacuate.
"If anyone ever is uncomfortable with the situation they're in, they see smoke, they see flames, anything, you do not have to wait for the sheriff's office to tell you to evacuate. You have a right to leave any time that you're not comfortable
a little bit of self-ownership to the situation. Don't wait for us. Ever," Kelley said.
The sheriff's office said it is still so uncertain about the system that should they evacuate the area again, not only will they implement the emergency notifications, they will have a deputy driving through the area with a siren blasting.
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